Let’s Rock

These are the obstacles preventing a Roughnecks revival in The Rock’s XFL

These are the obstacles preventing a Roughnecks revival in The Rock’s XFL
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There's a lot that doesn't add up to the headline "The Rock Buys XFL for $15 Million."
First, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson certainly is the headliner, the pitchman, the slot machine that Vegas casinos put by the front door, but he's just part of a group that, pending approval by a bankruptcy judge, is purchasing the snake-bit football league created and paid for by pro wrestling mastermind Vince McMahon.
Joining The Rock in the ownership combine are his ex-wife and still business partner Dany Garcia and an investment group called RedBird Capital Partners. RedBird reportedly is sitting on $4 billion of funds, so $15 million is mere peanuts - which the XFL won't be able to sell at concession stands if the league plays without fans in 2021.
Absolutely $15 million is big bucks, and spending it on the XFL 3.0 could involve lots of whammies. Like lawsuits, bill collectors, a cursed brand and suspicious fans who've been burnt two times by the league.
First, why would anybody buy a proven flop? The original XFL played its one and only season in 2001. Faced with dwindling TV ratings and uncertainty that networks were interested in a second season, McMahon pulled the plug. McMahon brought back the XFL 2.0 this year. Just like 2001, the first week's TV ratings were good but quickly spiraled downward. XFL 2.0 played only five games in 2020 before suspending its season in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, In April, despite pouring $200 million of his own money into the XFL, McMahon announced the league was done. The XFL 2.0 declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy and terminated all of its employees, including commissioner Oliver Luck, who is now suing McMahon for wrongful termination.
Let the record show that the Houston Roughnecks were undefeated with a 5-0 record, in sole first place of the XFL's western division. The Roughnecks' future is up in the air, but they were the league's glamour team and could be rarin' to go in 2021. But like everything else with the XFL, there's a big "if" attached. For example, the University of Houston wants a big chunk of the XFL sale, $800,000, for hosting Roughnecks games last season. Also, the players were officially terminated, the quarterback has signed with the NFL. It may be difficult to get the band back together.
The XFL brand's baggage certainly wouldn't fit in an overhead compartment. If The Rock, Dany Garcia and RedBird wanted to start an alternative football league, wouldn't it be easier, for sure cheaper, to start their own league, with a new name, from scratch?
I'm also not buying that The Rock is buying the XFL. Celebrities, and The Rock is the world's highest-paid actor ($87 million last year), usually don't put up their own money for companies that brandish their name for publicity. In 1989, tennis legend Bjorn Borg declared personal bankruptcy after his sporting goods stores closed. Financial commentators were shocked to discover that Borg had invested his own money in the venture. Baseball great Pete Rose was smarter. In 2016, Rose was in Houston to announce the first of what would be many Pete Rose Hit King Academies across America, where kids would learn to play the game "the right way," like Rose did. There was a whispered doubt that anything involving Rose would be "the right way," and the facility closed a year later. Investors lost their money, but Rose came out smelling like his last name. He was paid up front for use of his name. He invested nothing.
Garcia, announcing the purchase of the XFL, told ESPN that she contacted The Rock right after McMahon threw his league into bankruptcy. She told her ex-husband, "We have something really important to do." She added, "We do sports. We do entertainment. If you look at our resumes, everything points to this moment and opportunity for us, to work with these athletes and build this brand."
So if we smell what The Rock is cooking, this could be the strategy behind buying the XFL. We always hear, for a sports league to survive, it must have rock-solid TV exposure. Who better to get networks and cable onboard with lucrative, long-term deals? The Rock is the most bankable movie star going. He owns and hosts the Titan Games on NBC. He has relationships with FOX and USA cable. While networks may have cast a wary eye on McMahon and his crazy pro wrestling schemes, everybody loves and respects The Rock. TV will want to get in The Rock business.
The almighty NFL has withstood the challenge of alternative leagues for the past 50 years. They come, they fail, they vanish. But what if the NFL is thinking, we could use a minor league like baseball, or a developmental league like basketball? Instead of draft picks and free agents sitting on the bench, or biding time on practice rosters for one or two seasons, wouldn't they gain more from actual games in an NFL-affiliated rookie league owned by one of the most influential people on the planet?
Is The Rock connected? Uh, yeah. In 2011, he was first to let the world know that Osama bin Laden was captured and killed. He tweeted, "Just got word that will shock the world - Land of the free ... home of the brave, DAMN PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN." He wouldn't reveal who gave him the "word," but he later told Movietone, "I got friends in high places. The individuals who were there were proud to let me know. I knew the president was going to give his speech."
As for his own political ambitions, unlike his wrestling career, The Rock doesn't pull any punches: "Right now the best way I can impact the world is through entertainment. One day, and that day will come, I can impact the world through politics. The great news is that I am American, therefore I can become president."
President? That's almost as powerful as NFL commissioner.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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