April 21, 2010

2001: LA Routs Demons for XFL Title

The 10-game XFL season culminated in a two-round postseason capped by the championship game. On April 21, 2001 the Los Angeles Xtreme hosted the San Francisco Demons at the Memorial Coliseum in the contest dubbed the “Million Dollar Game”.

The Xtreme, coached by Al Luginbill, had won the Western Division with a 7-3 record. They were the league’s highest-scoring team (235 points) while QB Tommy Maddox was the individual leader in passing yards (2186) and touchdown passes (18). Maddox (pictured above) had underachieved in the NFL with the Broncos, Rams, and Giants, but after time away from the game and a stint playing arena football, showed improvement as a pocket passer. His primary target was WR Jeremaine Copeland, who led the XFL with 67 receptions (16 more than the runner-up, Birmingham’s Stepfret Williams). At the other wide receiver spot, Darnell McDonald led the league with eight touchdowns.

San Francisco, under Head Coach Jim Skipper, had come in second to Los Angeles in the Western Division with a mediocre 5-5 record (they gained a playoff spot over Memphis thanks to tiebreakers). QB Mike Pawlawski was the league leader in completion percentage (62.6) while finishing second to Maddox in passing yards (1659) and third in TD passes (12). WR Jimmy Cunningham was the top receiver with a third-ranked 50 catches for 408 yards.

The Xtreme defeated the Chicago Enforcers in the first round of the playoffs, 33-16, while the Demons upset the club with the XFL’s best record, the Orlando Rage (8-2), by a 26-25 score.

The teams had split their two meetings during the regular season, but before a spirited crowd of 24,153, the Xtreme dominated. After jumping out to a 3-0 first quarter lead thanks to a 37-yard field goal by the league’s top placekicker, Jose Cortez, Los Angeles took control with 18 second quarter points. Maddox hit TE Josh Wilcox with a one-yard scoring pass early in the period, and DB Reggie Durden returned a punt 71 yards for the next touchdown; in both instances, the extra point attempt (which, as mandated by league rules, couldn’t be kicked) failed. Cortez kicked field goals of 34 and 50 yards just before the half.

LA extended the lead to 31-0 in the third quarter thanks to a 19-yard TD pass from Maddox to Copeland (the run for an extra point was successful) and the fourth field goal of the day for Cortez, from 22 yards. RB Rashaan Shehee capped the scoring for the Xtreme in the fourth quarter with a 10-yard touchdown pass to WR Latario Rachal (Shehee then proceeded to run for the successful PAT). San Francisco avoided being shut out late in the game as QB Oteman Sampson ran for a 21-yard touchdown. The final score was 38-6.

The statistics reflected the Xtreme’s domination. Maddox was the game’s MVP as he completed 16 of 28 passes for 210 yards with two TDs and an interception. Darnell McDonald was the leading receiver with 7 catches for 82 yards (Jeremaine Copeland had 4 receptions for 67 yards, which included the one TD). RB Saladin McCullough (pictured) rushed for 109 yards on 20 carries.

Three San Francisco quarterbacks combined for just 11 completions in 27 attempts for 115 yards with three intercepted (two by safety Ron Carpenter); Pawlawski accounted for 8 of 20 of that total, for 74 yards with two of the interceptions. Jimmy Cunningham was by far the receiving leader for the Demons, with 6 catches for 71 yards. San Francisco was not a very successful running team during the season, and it was evident in this contest as well as the third-string QB, Sampson, was the leading rusher – even without the touchdown run at the end - with 36 yards on two carries.

The game not only decided the league championship but was the last in the XFL’s brief history. While Vince McMahon, the World Wrestling Federation promoter who founded the new football league, spoke gamely of returning for another year, it was not to be. After the first week of telecasts on NBC, viewership had dropped off badly and the network was not interested in televising another season. Football fans were disappointed in the subpar quality of play and WWF-style trappings that further damaged the league’s credibility. The XFL officially folded a few weeks after the “Million Dollar Game”.

Tommy Maddox made the most of his XFL success, returning to the NFL in the fall of 2001 with the Pittsburgh Steelers; he took over as starting quarterback in ’02 and was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year by the Associated Press. He ended up as a member of Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl-winning squad in 2005, although by then he was backing up Ben Roethlisberger.

Jeremaine Copeland went to the Canadian Football League, playing for the Montreal Alouettes and Calgary Stampeders, where he was a member of Grey Cup championship teams in 2002 (Montreal) and ’08 (Calgary). Jose Cortez became a journeyman placekicker in the NFL, appearing with seven teams from 2001 to ’05.