British Columbia

Goofy rules and good football: former B.C. Lions reflect on time in XFL

When pro-wrestling tycoon Vince McMahon announced Thursday that he will take another run at launching a professional football league, memories came flooding back for a pair of former B.C. Lions.

Bobby Singh won a championship with the Los Angeles Xtreme and Paul McCallum scored XFL's first points

Vince McMahon, seen here in file photo, announced the return of the XFL on Thursday. (Ed Bailey/Associated Press)

When pro-wrestling tycoon Vince McMahon announced Thursday that he will take another shot at launching a professional football league, memories came flooding back for a pair of former B.C. Lions.

Before Bobby Singh and Paul McCallum helped B.C. defeat the Montreal Alouettes to win the Grey Cup in 2006, they were rivals playing in McMahon's Xtreme Football League.

The XFL was a financial flop that crashed and burned after its first and only season in 2001.

It was widely mocked for its WWE-style theatrics but Singh says the league was also ahead of its time in many ways.

"I think the XFL got a bad rap because McMahon wanted to add that wrestling touch," Singh said.

"As for the game itself? There were really good football players."

Before Bobby Singh won a Grey Cup with the B.C. Lions in 2006, he played for the Los Angeles Xtreme in the XFL. (CBC)

Football vs. wrestling

Singh, who played for the Los Angeles Xtreme, says the XFL did plenty of silly things to hurt its credibility.

WWE commentators handled the play-by-play, cameras would visit the cheerleaders' locker room during halftime, and games started with a "scramble" instead of a coin toss.

In a scramble, the ball would be placed at midfield and a player from each side would race for it.

The first player to scoop up the ball would win possession for his team.

"It was like a gladiator mentality and one of the first guys to do it separated his shoulder and was out for the year," Singh said in a telephone interview.

Both he and McCallum spoke Thursday to the CBC about their time in the XFL, and shared their thoughts on the new league.

"If that wasn't a sign of things to come, I don't know what would be."

He Hate Me, aka Rod Smart, was one of the most memorable things of the XFL's first go-around. Wrestling promoter Vince McMahon announced Thursday he is bringing the football league back. (Getty Images)

'He Hate Me'

XFL players were encouraged to have nicknames printed on the back of their jerseys instead of surnames.

The most famous handle belonged to McCallum's Las Vegas Outlaws teammate Rod Smart, who had 'He Hate Me' etched on his uniform.

McCallum says McMahon made it clear that he loved the nicknames when he met with players shortly before the first game.

"Guys wanted me to put 'Laces Out' on my jersey and walk out on the field with a cigarette in my mouth like the kicker in The Replacements," McCallum said, referring to the movie about a fictional football league.

"For McMahon that would have been entertainment and you laugh about it, but I was taking it seriously. It wasn't a joke."

While the league was mocked for many of its gimmicks, it also deserves credit for bringing some new ideas to the football world.

For example, NBC broadcast an entire NFL game this season using the SkyCam — a camera suspended from cables that allows the viewer to watch from the view of the quarterback — which was first used by the XFL.

Former Lions kicker Paul McCallum spent a season with the Las Vegas Outlaws in the XFL. (CBC)

Record holders

Thanks to the XFL, Singh is the answer to an obscure sports trivia question.

He won the Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams in 2000, an XFL championship with the Xtreme in 2001 and a Grey Cup with the Lions in 2006, becoming the only player in history to win a championship in all three leagues.

"When [the sports highlight show] Sports Page was happening back in the day, they had that as a question," he laughed.

McCallum is in the XFL record book too.

"I was lucky enough to get the first points in the league," he said.

"We played in the first game and I made a field goal, so that was pretty cool."

Will new XFL work?

McMahon says the XFL will feature eight teams and play will begin in 2020.

He says unlike last time, there will be no crossover with the WWE brand and the focus will be on giving fans an entertaining brand of football.

McCallum and Singh agree that if McMahon has learned from his mistakes, it's possible the league will be a success in its second go-round.

"You're not trying to reinvent the wheel," McCallum said.

"It's football, so get some football people in there. Do it right."