XFL spells opportunity for ex-Seahawk

  • Scott M. Johnson / Pro Football Report
  • Thursday, November 2, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Ryan Thelwell’s bosses at Coldwell Banker will have to forgive him for being a little excitable this week. Professional football players get that way when mini-camp is just a few days away.

We’re not talking about the NFL here, or even the Canadian Football League – both of which have offered Thelwell opportunities in the past. These days, the former Seattle Seahawk practice-squad receiver is on the verge of becoming one of the pioneers of the XFL.

“It’s exciting to know you’re going to be one of the first,” said Thelwell, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Xtreme in the third round of the XFL draft this week. “There are a lot of critics saying it won’t last, but I think it might. It will be interesting.”

A Canadian citizen, Thelwell was also drafted by the B.C. Lions of the CFL last month. He’d rather give the XFL a try, with curiosity being one of the biggest lures.

You’ve probably heard of the XFL, a new professional football league started by World Wrestling Federation president Vince McMahon. The eight-team ‘X’ has promised to offer competitive football with more of a brash, extreme feel. The league will feature miked players and coaches, cameras in the locker room, and a few rule differences (the most intriguing of which does not allow for fair catches on punts).

And while the NFL has been cracking down on wild celebrations, the ‘X’ promises it.

“I’ve played football all my life, and not been allowed to do that type of thing. Now it’s, like, encouraged,” said Thelwell, who spent two months on the Seahawks’ practice squad last season. “It’s going to be great. If I score a touchdown, I can run to the middle of the field and do a dance – and not get penalized.”

The talent level in the XFL is at least a notch below that of the NFL. The former Seahawks drafted earlier this week are as anonymous as Thelwell. Guys like Cordell Taylor, Daniel Collins, Jim Arellanes, Hillary Butler, Phil Savoy, Steve Johnson, Joey Eloms and Reginald Swinton are almost as unfamiliar as the team nicknames (New York/New Jersey Hitmen, Orlando Rage, Memphis Maniax – to name a few). There were also a few veterans selected with slightly more name recognition, like James Willis, Mike Croel, Carlester Crumpler and Charles Jordan.

Ex-Huskies like Rashaan Shehee, Mario Bailey and Jason Chorak were also drafted, as was former Cougar Steve Gleason.

The XFL will hold minicamps next week, open training camp in January and begin its inaugural season in February. Once the NFL season ends, football fans might want to give it a try.

But the league is not for everyone. Former Seahawks tight end Deems May, 31, was drafted by the Chicago Enforcers, yet isn’t even going to give the XFL a try. He’s still trying to hook on with an NFL team, or possibly start a new career in coaching.

“I don’t think he necessarily has anything against that league,” said Jack Bechta, May’s agent. “But it’s probably not the way he wants to go out.”

Thelwell, 27, doesn’t want the ‘X’ to be his last stop, either. Maybe the game tapes will give him another shot at the NFL.

If not, he won’t go home empty-handed. His salary will begin at $45,000, with as much as $50,000 more to be made in weekly incentives. And if it doesn’t work out, he can always go back to his job at Coldwell Banker.

“I look at it as, football is football,” Thelwell said from his Southern California home. “I just look at it as another league. I don’t look at it like I’m worse than the people in the NFL.

“It’s going to be a high-quality league.”

Maybe, but more likely it will resemble the former USFL and the current World League. Most of us will have to wait until February to find out.

  • Kickoff: 1:15 p.m. Sunday at Husky Stadium.

  • TV/radio: Local television coverage is blacked out; KIRO radio (710 AM).

  • Stars to watch: Chargers – QB Jim Harbaugh, 36, isn’t exactly in the prime of his career, but he’s the best the Chargers have. Harbaugh won six games as San Diego’s starter last season, the most by a San Diego quarterback since Stan Humphries won seven in 1996. TE Freddie Jones is the NFL’s third-leading receiver at his position, catching 40 passes for 422 yards. LB Junior Seau recently signed a new five-year contract, which essentially makes him a Charger for life. That’s an appropriate tag for the team’s undisputed leader. S Rodney Harrison leads the Chargers with 70 tackles.

    Seahawks – QB Jon Kitna is back in the driver’s seat, which may not be a good thing for Seahawks fans. Kitna’s quarterback rating (66.4) is better than only two other AFC starters. Rookie RB Shaun Alexander probably won’t start, but he may be relied upon to help injured Ricky Watters take on San Diego’s seventh-ranked rush defense. WR Derrick Mayes, the Seahawks’ leading receiver last season, will make his first start at the flanker position since Week 1. S Jay Bellamy had two interceptions last week and leads the team with three.

  • Breaking down the game: The only things going right for these two teams might cancel each other out. Seattle’s running game has been solid this season, but San Diego has the NFL’s seventh-best run defense.

    An earlier meeting between the two teams went down to the wire, but the Chargers played it with Ryan Leaf at quarterback. The veteran Harbaugh has been more consistent this season, meaning San Diego’s offense might get into the end zone – which it failed to do in Seattle’s 20-12 win Sept. 24.

    Harbaugh had better get something going, because San Diego has the worst rushing offense in the NFL. In fact, points should be hard to come by on both sides of the ball.

    Seattle should score enough to win, especially at home, ending a five-game slide in the process.

  • Pick: Seahawks, 13-10.

  • Injury report: Chargers – CB Reggie Rusk (knee) is out; RB Kenny Bynum (hamstring) is questionable. Seahawks – QB Brock Huard (concussion) is doubtful; RB Ricky Watters (toe) is questionable.

  • Little-known fact: The last time two teams with a combined two victories faced off this late in the season was 1994, when the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Oilers entered a Week 10 game with identical 1-8 records. Houston lost that game, 34-31.

  • Miami (6-2) at Detroit (5-3), 10 a.m. Sunday: South Florida’s dirty little secret, Jay Fiedler, is 7-2 as a starter. Not-so-secret is the fact that old geezers go there to feel young again, which might explain why Lamar Smith and Trace Armstrong are having career years. Now explain how Detroit, with the NFL’s 27th-ranked offense and 26th-ranked defense, has won five games. Or why we think Dave Wannstedt, who has posted a career 16-34 record in games against NFC Central opponents, will win this one. Pick: Dolphins, 16-10.

  • Pittsburgh (5-3) at Tennessee (7-1), 10 a.m. Sunday: The Steelers have turned things around so quickly that Bill Cowher should be cited for an illegal U-turn. A win Sunday would put the left-for-dead Steelers one game out of first in the AFC Central. That road goes through Tennessee sooner or later, and the Titans may be the NFL’s best team right now. Pick: Titans, 30-13.

  • Kansas City (5-3) at Oakland (7-1), 1:15 p.m. Sunday: Imagine how good the Raiders would be if Ricky Dudley and Darrell Russell were playing up to their potential. Kansas City is the only opponent with a winning record that the Raiders have faced since Week 3, which will make for another close battle. But Oakland hasn’t won a division title in 10 years. Pick: Raiders, 20-17.
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