This Is All You Need to See of the UFL

The merged XFL-USFL spring football league's stars of the weekend were kickers

Jake Bates kicks a 64-yard field goal.
Jake Bates beats the St. Louis Battlehawks with a 64-yard field goal.
Luke Hales/UFL/Getty

On a weekend that was full of sports and viewing options, the United Football League (the merged XFL-USFL spring football league that’s known as the UFL for short by those that are aware of its existence) made its debut and attempted to get a foothold in the ratings with broadcasts on ESPN and Fox. Appropriately, play in the eight-team league was highlighted by a pair of kickers, one of whom performed with his leg and the other, somewhat surprisingly, with his arm.

Play in the spring league, which will more likely than not have a one-and-done season, began with the two-time defending USFL champion Birmingham Stallions prevailing over the defending XFL champion Arlington Renegades in a contest that was only able to attract 14,153 fans.

That was more than the 9,444 to Ford Field who were at Ford Field in Detroit when Michigan Panther Jake Bates, who was a kickoff specialist at Texas State and Arkansas and hadn’t made a field goal in a game since high school, put one through the uprights from 64 yards with three seconds left to topple the St. Louis Battlehawks and make the ex-USFL teams 2-0 against their ex-XFL counterparts.

Bates, 25, kicked one of the longest field goals in pro football, but he was no lock to be a Panther. “I didn’t know if I was going to be working my job selling bricks or if I was going to be able to play football,” he said after the win. “So, yeah it feels good. I feel like I got that sense of relief once we got to training camp.”

Playing on Sunday, the Memphis Showboats gained only 228 yards but were still able to defeat the Houston Roughnecks, who were held to 174 yards of offense. In the UFL’s other Easter game, the San Antonio Brahmas were spurned onto victory by punter Brad Wing tossing a 40-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass to center Alex Mollette in the second quarter to key an upset victory over the D.C. Defenders.

Even if no one watched it, the UFL appeared to have a fairly entertaining opening weekend, but there’s plenty of competition in the ratings department. ESPN and Fox are hopeful that appealing to a younger demographic will help the UFL succeed where nearly every other spring football league has failed.

“The access is the thing that people came to love with the XFL,” says Bryan Jaroch, a coordinating producer at ESPN who is helping to manage the spring coverage. “We can go up to coaches on the sidelines. We can talk to players at any point. We have the access and transparency with the referees and the command central. These are things that heavily resonated with fans last year that we are going to lean on heavily.”

For the UFL’s sake, hopefully, kickers being the stars of the show resonates with fans as well.

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