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Cruz: How the XFL is highlighting a different side of pro sports

The Seattle Dragons opened the XFL season with a 31-19 loss to the DC Defenders. (Getty)

I love professional sports. I love watching athletes perform at the peak of physical competition.

What the NFL can learn from the XFL’s style of football after Week 1

Every aspect of these enterprises is otherworldly – the elite athleticism of participants, the large paychecks they collect, the public notoriety that follows some like a stubborn shadow.

These are modern day superheroes in action. But not much about them is relatable.

Maybe they moonlighted as Clark Kent at some point in their career, but one day these athletes exited the phone booth with an ‘S’ permanently fixed to their chest.

They have no need to recede into the anonymity of their former alter ego and thus they end up wearing capes forever. They never transform back.

Enter the XFL, whose opening weekend resonated with fans for several reasons.

The football product was sound and compelling, but I found myself drawn to the players more than anything. There aren’t many traditional superheroes in the XFL in terms of ability or destiny. But I found that to be a beautiful thing.

Hailing from Krypton is rad and all, don’t get me wrong. You can fly. You can flambé things ocularly. You can take a Mack Truck to the chest. Seeing a bevy of superheroes align and declare war upon their enemies every Sunday throughout the fall is the best show in town. It’s like our own seasonal Justice League.

Watching the XFL this weekend was an opportunity to hear about heroism of a different breed. An infinitely more relatable kind.

Many XFL players went undrafted but still found their way on to NFL rosters or practice squads. Some bounced around in the CFL or tried their hand in the short-lived AAF. Many dealt with the prejudice of being an outlier – too small, too short, not enough (fill in the blank). Others were diverted by injuries. Sometimes multiple soul-crushing setbacks.

There are 416 players on active XFL rosters. Imagine how many times they’ve collectively been told “no.” And still, they persisted. Enter our newest band of heroes stage right.

Most of us can’t relate to Kal-El’s super senses or Russell Wilson’s absurd play-making ability, but we’re all too familiar with the sting of rejection. We know the courage it takes to stand up in the next moment.

There’s no replicating the otherworldly nature of the NFL or the clash of titans that takes place every fall Sunday. There is, however, enough room in most football fan hearts for a different kind of heroism this spring.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Lydia Cruz on Twitter.

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