One of the most famous figures of the original attempt at the XFL spring football league, and a man with Florida ties, had been missing for several days, but has now been found safe.
Rod “He Hate Me” Smart is arguably the most known player from the one and only season at the XFL played in 2001. That’s because he not only had a humorous nickname, but put it on the back of his Las Vegas Outlaws Jersey. Then, Smart became a nationally known, almost immediately, and would go on to play in the Super Bowl.
Smart began his ascent at Western Kentucky and eventually found his way to the NFL and the Carolina Panthers. His career in Charlotte included, being part of the Super Bowl run in 2003 where Smart participated in football’s biggest game in their narrow loss to the New England Patriots.
However, in recent days his family and friends in South Carolina had become concerned, because Smart had not been heard from in almost a week. Tuesday night authorities in Lancaster County, South Carolina, however, reported that Smart had been located and is safe.
Smart’s rise to XFL Fame began at Lakeland High School, as a member of the Dreadnaughts and one of the more famous programs in the state. Smart was not a starter for much of his senior season but did contribute, as both fullback and running back on the 1994 team.
Smart’s grades were not good enough for him to get an opportunity at the Division one level, but he ended up at Western Kentucky playing for their legendary coach, Jack Harbaugh, and running for over 2,100 yards and 21 touchdowns in his Hilltoppers career.
Not surprisingly, Smart went undrafted in the 2000 NFL Draft, but was signed on by the San Diego Chargers before being cut at the end of pre-season.
That’s when Smart hooked on with McMahon’s start-up XFL in the spring of 2001 and after being allocated to the Las Vegas Outlaws chose the nickname “He Hate Me” for the back of his jersey instead of some variation of his name. Smith said at the time, and has repeated in interviews since that he basically used that as a mantra for his own self confidence. And, that he was going to make others “hate him” for how good he was ,and how hard he was working to make it as a pro football player.
McMahon and the XFL marketed the nickname and Smart as the league got off to a fast start with a bunch of television audience the first two weeks and Buzz. As you probably know by now, all of it fizzled and the XFL folded after just one season. (As a side note, they are trying to make a comeback 19 years later in the spring of 2020.)
Back to Smart. After the XFL showcase opportunity, he signed on with the Panthers (above) and eventually, became an excellent punt and kickoff return weapon for them. Smart returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown in the 2003 season against the New Orleans Saints. And, he also famously took the opening kickoff for Carolina against New England in Super Bowl 38 and later returned four punts for 74 yards during the Panthers narrow 32-29 loss.
Injuries befell Smart in Carolina and later with Oakland Raiders ending his career in 2006.
Now in 2019, smart had settled in South Carolina holding jobs a school guidance counselor and football coach over the past decade, but his family became concerned when no one had seen or been able to communicate with him since the middle of last week. So, on Tuesday the family alerted authorities to help find Smart fearing for his safety.
About six hours after the initial reports went out about “He Hate Me” being missing, authorities located in Lancaster County, which is about 20 minutes south of Charlotte just across the South Carolina border, found him.
It’s a happy ending for a guy that’s certainly latched on to a great marketing gimmick and etched out a place, even temporarily, in our football consciousness earlier this century
Time for concern after XFL TV ratings declined again last week?
For the second consecutive week, the XFL televison ratings continued to slide in the wrong direction. And, the troubling part is that if the trend continues, the XFL will have no leverage for sponsors and revenue to keep it going long term.
First, here are the specifics on the bad viewership news: According to Showbuzzdaily.com all four XFL broadcasts last Saturday and Sunday afternoon had lower ratings in their slot than the previous week.
That includes the Tampa Bay Vipers home debut against Houston, which was the early game on ABC Saturday. And, while that window had 400,000 less viewers than week 2, the bigger concern is ABC has lost almost 40% of the audience from the 3.3 million average that watched their Week one debut game on Saturday afternoon.
The ratings downward trend is following the same pattern as last Spring’s Alliance of American Football, where the ratings dwindled to under a million fans for broadcasts by week five and eventually the league shut down after just eight weeks. This was in part because of concerns on how the AAF could make any revenue, through television in specific, if they had very little audience for the end of year one and to sell off of for year two.
Now, WWE owner Vince McMahon, who folded the XFL the first time in 2001 in large part because the television audience plummeted over the course of the first month or so of its existence and never recovered, has the same issue in 2020.
And, as we wrote previously, this audience decline while negative is far less McMahon’s original XFL and it’s first season of 2001. That’s when, it debuted on its first Saturday night on NBC with a massive 10.1 rating, which translated 18 years ago to more than 9.5 viewers on network TV. A Smashing success.
However, the XFL’s ratings plummeted starting the following week and had fewer than 25% of that opening night audience just a month later with the games still being shown on a Saturday night coveted slot on NBC. It doomed the league from a P.R. and sponsor standpoint and McMahon pulled the plug.
Now, in 2020, McMahon reportedly has money to burn and is apparently prepared to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in year one. So, even if the XFL TV ratings continue come down significantly, it will not spell the end of the XFL (like it did nearly 20 years ago) after just a single season.
At least, that’s what we think.
Vipers better but drop third straight game in home opener
Although their play was improved offensively, in the end it wasn’t enough for the Tampa Bay Vipers after they dropped their third straight XFL game to start the season 34 – 27 to Houston Saturday afternoon in Tampa.
Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, as Houston scored early in the fourth quarter to go up by seven and held off the Viper the rest of the way.
The Vipers offense came to life after they had failed to score in the offensive touchdown in either of their first two games. Both of which were losses on the road. Quarterback Taylor Cornelius, subbing for starter Aaron Murray who missed his second straight game with an injured foot, once again had modest numbers 16-31 for 193 yards 1 TD, 1 INT.
However, he did pull the game even at 18 – 18 at the half after scoring on a one yard QB sneak and Tampa Bay got the two-point conversion.
Still, the former Oklahoma State quarterbacks day was inconsistent and the home crowd at Raymond James Stadium began to chant the name “Flowers, Flowers” for former USF Star Quarterback Quinton Flowers, who played sparingly for the third straight game in a reserve role.
Flowers got Tampa Bay’s first offensive TD on the young season with a seven yard run in the first quarter, but only played QB sparingly in the game, again. He was just 4-6 for 57 yards passing with 29 yards on six attempts on the ground.
Meanwhile, the former Temple star Walker found receiver Cam Phillips for the third of their three touchdown hookups from 17 yards out to give Houston a 34 – 27 lead with just over 10 minutes to play. Phillips devastated Jerry Glanville’s Vipers defense for 194 yards receiving on eight catches with the three TDs.
The Vipers look like they were going to have a chance to re-tie the game when Cornelius (above) completed a pass to his top target on the day, Jaylen Tolliver, at the two-yard line. However just like a week ago in Seattle when a critical fourth quarter drive stalled and Tampa Bay came away with no points in a 17 – 9 lost the Dragons, the Vipers got no points after Cornelius threw incomplete on second, third and fourth downs.
Many in the crowd and observers in the media were curious, as to why coach Marc Trestman didn’t go to Flowers as the dual threat running QB to at least try something different on one of those plays? Flowers even questioned why he did not play more after the game to the media.
The Vipers got the ball one final time, but Cornelius was picked off near midfield with just over a minute left to seal the defeat.
The Vipers played the first spring professional football game in Tampa, since the closing of the USFL 1985 season. That’s when Steve Spurrier’s Tampa Bay Bandits were a popular item at Old Tampa Stadium. Saturday’s home opener drew and announced crowd of 18,117.
However it’s little consolation for former Bears and CFL coach Trestman and his team, as they remain winless on the season. The L.A. Wildcats playing Sunday are the other 0-2 team in the league, currently.
And, you have to wonder whether Trestman will be forced to go to Flowers for the start when they host the D.C. Defenders next week.