A Look Back at Vince McMahon’s XPL: The Xtreme Polo League

Nearly 20 years after its much heralded but ultimately failed single-year run, Vince McMahon of the WWE announced that he’s bringing back the much maligned XPL, or Xtreme Polo League. It was pitched as a more aggressive and exciting polo league, and promised to be much more entertaining and chaotic than the boring old polo produced by the National Polo league (NPL). It’s not yet clear if the new XPL will bring back any of the stuff which set it apart the first time:

• The XPL’s slogan was “No saddles. No helmets. No rules.” Audacious for sure, but actually wildly inaccurate. The XPL did, in fact, have many rules. Among those rules were, in fact, “no saddles” and “no helmets.”
• Instead of the traditional inflated, leather-covered polo ball, the XPL employed a ball made out of steel, and it had a hole in it from which angry killer bees occasionally escaped. (Also, instead of being white or yellow, it had flames painted on it because that’s cool.)
• Counter to the NPL’s strict rules against performance-enhancing substances, the XPL didn’t mind the use of drugs. It even let teams pull lucky fans out of the stands to inject the horses with powerful stimulants.
• Players were required to hold their polo mallets in their right hands. In their left hands, they were required to carry extra-long nunchaku.
• Instead of using the standard 300-by-160-yard field used in the NPL, the XFL’s field was a tight and difficult to maneuver 40-by-40 yard square, or, as it was called by the league, “The Xquare.”
• Teams were allowed to distract and sabotage the other team by sending “sexy” lady horses in thick makeup and skimpy outfits out onto the field in the middle of games.
• Human riders and horses alike were allowed to print their nicknames on the backs of their jerseys. Many XPL participants opted to do so, from riders like Winthrop “The Ascot” Thorndike and Prescott “The Golden Prince” Breckinridge, to horses such as “Buttercup,” “Patches,” and “Skyfire.”
• Players were required to salute the American flag during the pre-game national anthem. Horses had to bow in deference to the flag.
• “Horsejacking,” or the act of stealing an opposing player’s horse, was banned by the NPL in 1952. It was encouraged by the XPL, which would play a thundering voice intoning “YOU JUST GOT JACKED, JACK” over a stadium’s PA system whenever it happened, which was a lot.
• One of the most exciting—and dangerous, and controversial—elements of an XPL match was how possession was determined. While in the NPL, an official would roll the ball onto the field, and whoever was closed whacked it with a mallet, the XPL had a scramble, or “Xcramble.” The ball was placed at midfield and a player from each team started at the far end of each side of the field and rode toward it at full speed. (There were a lot of horse crashes.)
• Teams represented polo-crazy cities that didn’t yet have NPL teams. Among the league’s biggest draws were the Westchester Maniax, the Newport Xtreme, the East Hampton Tax Dodgerz, and the Greenwich White Collar Criminalz.
• Sports historians say the one thing that ultimately killed the XPL was its notorious “Five Minutes of Madness.” For the last five minutes of regulation play, riders and horses switched places, meaning the horses rode the players. Not one XPL human rider survived their first “FMOM” and the league folded immediately after each team played just one game.