The Million Dollar Game was The XFL’s championship game at the end of its inaugural season in 2001. At first it had no special name, then it was going to be called “The Big Game at the End”, but eventually it received the name “The Million Dollar Game” because a pot of one million dollars was to be split among the players of the winning team (with each team having 38 players, each player would receive approximately $26,316 for winning). The game was played on Saturday April 21, 2001 at The LA Memorial Coliseum.
The game was between the Western Division champion Los Angeles Xtreme and the western runner-up San Francisco Demons. The Xtreme defeated the Eastern Division runner-up Chicago Enforcers 33-16 in the first round while the Demons beat east champs Orlando Rage 26-25. Orlando had finished the 10-game regular season with The XFL’s best record, 8-2. Los Angeles was 7–3 while both Chicago and San Francisco each finished 5–5 (Making Orlando and L.A. the only two of the eight teams to finish with winning records in the regular season; the Memphis Maniax were also 5-5 but San Francisco won the playoff berth on a tie-breaker).
The Los Angeles Xtreme was led by regular-season Most Valuable Player Tommy Maddox. The Los Angeles Xtreme ended up winning The Million Dollar Game 38–6. The game’s MVP was Xtreme kicker Jose Cortez, which was ironic considering the reduced role a kicker had in the XFL, which did not have a point after touchdown (extra point) kick in its rules and also paid kickers the least per game on its salary scale.
After each had been released by National Football League teams earlier in their professional careers, both Maddox and Cortez eventually found themselves back in the NFL. Maddox signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2001. He replaced Kordell Stewart in the 2002 season and led the Steelers into the playoffs. That performance earned NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors. Maddox lost his starting job to Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, and was released in 2006, however still became the first former XFL player to be a part of a Super Bowl champion after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL over the Seattle Seahawks.
On the other hand, Cortez did not enjoy the degree of success Maddox had. Although he scored over 100 points in the 2001 and 2002 NFL seasons, he was mostly a journeyman, called in to fill in for a team’s injured kicker.
The XFL’s Million Dollar Game was able to generate a 2.5 preliminary Nielsen rating, less than a quarter of the 10.3 NBC got for the league’s debut game in February of 2001, but the best the XFL has drawn since a 2.8 rating in the league’s sixth week. The game was watched by 24,153 fans in attendance. The XFL drew an average attendance of 23,000 per game during its inaugural season, which is respectable and in line with the average 25,000 the league was hoping to draw.
Days after the game, Sports Business Daily reported that it’s not home game attendance but television ratings and the departure of NBC as a partner that determined XFL’s fate and that eventually forced the league to cease operations entirely in May 2001 a month after the championship game.
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