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Erskine: Are you ready for some football? In March? Meet the XFL’s cheeky upstarts

Sierra Scolaro, left, Austin Henry and Garett Turner show their support for the Wildcats, L.A.'s XFL team.
Sierra Scolaro, left, Austin Henry and Garett Turner show their support for the Wildcats, L.A.'s XFL team.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

Remember alt-rock? Welcome to alt-football, the nation’s alternative to falling into a funk when the NFL season ends every February. You probably know somebody in a football funk, and it might be you. Honestly, there should be some sort of outreach program.

Now there is: This new XFL, with a boisterous pro football team based in Carson, delivers a jagged little jolt to get us through the NFL offseason.

What’s in it for you? Plenty, at prices that are better than baseball — almost a steal.

The XFL hopes an up-tempo, fast-paced game with a revamped scoring system is the key to capturing the football audience this time around.
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OK, I can hear you scoffing about the product, the caliber of play. But what would you rather be doing this time of year, cleaning the garage?

If you say yes to that, I can’t help you.

So clean the garage on Saturday, if you insist, and schlep to Carson on a Sunday with the family or a couple of buddies — when you’re comfortable with public events again. This scrappy little XFL is a Lambeau-leaping hoot. Last weekend, an ejected Houston player ended up in the stands with the fans, beer in hand.

Sure, there’s a lot of showmanship, as to be expected from a new enterprise trying to catch your eye. There’s sloppy play and misfires. At times, it’s like you’re watching a blooper reel.

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The Wildcat game experience.
Fans celebrate a Wildcats touchdown. Games are friendly and affordable.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Look, if you really wanted to heighten this product, you’d have the Farrelly brothers as coaches, and maybe Will Ferrell too, hurling his clipboard at the ref and firing his defensive coordinator after the first game.

In real life, the L.A. Wildcats fired their defensive coordinator and a team captain after game one, so pretty much anything is possible.

I suppose every new enterprise has growing pains.

Note that there are recognizable football talents out here too. Former college hotshots Connor Cook and Cardale Jones and coaches such as Bob Stoops and June Jones, who made names for themselves over the decades.

But this is too much snoozy, first-date personal info. You just want to know if it’s any fun, what it costs to park, is there tailgating? Are the lines at the loo ridiculous?

L.A. Wildcats president Heather Karatz realizes she’s an aspirational example as one of the few women in a high-ranking job with a pro sports team.

Well, parking is 20 bucks, one-fifth what a day-of-game tailgating spot costs at a Chargers game. Tickets start at $24, which is about what I paid the other day for a stalk of celery at Whole Foods. Tailgating is surprisingly vibrant. Lines at the loo? Manageable.

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The Rams want your mortgage money, and the Lakers want your blood. All the Wildcats want is 20 bucks here and 20 bucks there. By the time it’s over, you’re probably out $100 for parking, a couple of tix and whiskey-sugar chicken wings, maybe the best you’ll ever have.

In short, a Wildcats game is that most elusive of L.A. sporting options: morally priced. You won’t go away feeling fleeced and ready to donate $2.70 to Bernie.

Gotta say, I remember when the early days of the AFL felt like this, a lawless, renegade version of the NFL with all sorts of cheeky, new-kid-on-the-block swagger.

Take Garrett Turner, for example. To celebrate the Wildcats home opener in February, he and his pals Sierra Scolaro and Austin Henry painted their bodies in what appeared to be a loony aunt’s discarded orange lipstick.

Like you, like me, they missed football on an intensely personal level — the parties, the weeklong anticipation, the games themselves. They saw this XFL as football lite, yet they also see it as a ray of hope.

“We want to show L.A. supports this,” Turner explained.

“We really need this,” he added. “We play a lot of fantasy football. We want this to have fantasy too.”

Let’s just recognize that there is probably a future for any league that leads fans to shed their shirts and smear themselves with paint in public (and private) places. It’s cultish, in a good way. Salute them. But if you’re approached, try not to engage.

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More mainstream are Steve and Tyler Murphy, a father-son tandem from Burbank who attended the inaugural home game. They love football too and came to Carson to watch Ray Davidson, a former Cal standout whom Tyler befriended during a summer high school football camp.

Head coach Winston Moss
Wildcats head coach Winston Moss, a former NFL player, has his team in third place after five games. The team hosts first-place Houston on March 29.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

As an example of how capricious a pro athlete’s life can be, last summer Davidson made it to the last cut with the Kansas City Chiefs, who would go on to win the Super Bowl.

On this day, he played lights-out linebacker here with Dallas, the Wildcats’ opponent. The Murphys paid $30 apiece for good end zone seats with fine sightlines, typical of this boutique stadium that started as Home Depot Center, then was dubbed StubHub Center for a while and now is tagged Dignity Health Sports Park, which is really a sonnet of a stadium name, if you ask me. Evocative, with a real sense of romance.

To be fair, there’s not a bad seat at Dignity Health Sports Park, and if there’s an intensive care unit, as there should be given the hospital sponsor, it probably should be down here on the west end zone with the Murphys and the other football nut cases, who booed when the opposing receiver was hurt on the very first play and the Wildcats later blew a chip-shot field goal.

But it was good natured. Like parents encouraging small children. In five minutes, we were all old chums.

On the field, the XFL’s pace of play is rapid enough to hold the fans’ attention. The league’s rules draw interest as well.

Kickoffs look like a line-dancing class. The two teams set up 5 yards apart, presumably to ward off head-on collisions at full speed but also reducing boring touchbacks.

Other rules: You can have two forward passes in the same play, though the league had yet to get that down. I kept waiting for cross-field screens and other razzle-dazzle. If those come, I might even spring for season tickets.

This is certainly a work in progress, but they have the important stuff down. There’s even, for instance, a team gesture for the Wildcats: the Claw, not related to White Claw, the popular truth serum, but I smell some sort of “Claw is the Law” sponsor tie-in.

In closing, I’d like to invite you to try out one of these hoedowns. I’ve been to every type of football game imaginable, every kind of bar fight, a few Oktoberfests, a rodeo or two and exactly one opera.

If you’d like a blendered/crushed-ice version of those activities, Vince McMahon’s new league might be for you.

Besides, without football, America is just another first-world empire trying to find its way.

What to know before you go

The L.A. Wildcats are halfway through their 10-game season. Currently in third place, their next home game is a March 29 showdown against Houston, the league’s top team. Their last home game is April 5. Tickets run $24-$150 and parking is $20. xfl.com


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