When the announcement came two years ago that the XFL would be up and running in 2020, many were excited about the prospect of having an alternative to NFL football. After years of ridiculous rule changes, Vick, Kaepernick, and the very unlikable Roger Goodell, countless Americans had had enough with the league they loved for so long.

In February, the long wait was over. XFL football became a reality.

The new league, comprised of eight teams, got off to a good start. Fans flocked to the stadiums in larger numbers than expected. Those in attendance were a spirited bunch. Thirsty for hard-hitting football without the BS or politics, XFL backers showed up in face paint, jerseys, and gear, ready to root for teams they had never seen before. The message was clear early. This rendition of the XFL, unlike the 2001 version, had a real chance to succeed.

The teams of the XFL showed up with their cool nicknames and showed out with their better than anticipated play. Dressed in eye-catching uniforms, XFL clubs demonstrated right away, that the level of play in this league would be high. The skill position players were exciting. The defensive play was solid. Perhaps most surprising was the play of the offensive linemen. The interior blocking was well ahead of schedule for a fledgling league. The XFL was legit.

After the first weekend’s slate of four games, it was evident that this time around may be a winner for XFL honcho Vince McMahon. The WWE boss put a lot of sweat equity and plenty of fabulous moolah into this project. With serious, smart hires like Oliver Luck, McMahon proved he meant business. Letting the football speak for itself paid off. On the Monday after the first regular season games, national radio and TV shows were discussing the XFL. Largely, the reviews were positive. The games were carried on major networks with major sponsors. This wasn’t your daddy’s XFL. This was the XFL of Stephanie McMahon’s daddy, of Andrew Luck’s daddy. This was real football for real fans.

While Goodell’s NFL continues to institute rule changes that make football fans cringe, the XFL rolled in with some new rules that were almost universally loved. The spotting of the ball, the late clock stoppage rules, the shorter halftime, and the incentive for fourth down gambling were all met with praise. The XFL’s unique kickoff, however, really took the sports world by storm. Fans and players raved about the XFL kickoff regulations. So much so, that some called on the NCAA and NFL to consider adopting the new approach. Both, of course, would be too stubborn to ever admit the XFL beat them to the punch on something, but the mere notion that this was even being discussed gave the new league validity. This, coupled with the inside access fans got when it came to locker rooms and sidelines, made the XFL a hot topic right out of the gate.

Not surprisingly, the XFL crowds had a bit of a WWE feel to them. No stuffy, corporate, elitist fans here. Instead, XFL games quickly were known for things like beer snakes and churro chugging. The crowd was brash. XFL Saturdays and Sundays were a big, wild, weird party. The tailgates and pre-game gatherings were hardcore. The social media interaction and passion for each franchise was palpable. Many Coronas (and every other beer known to mankind) flowed in the parking lots before and after each contest. Then just like that, out of nowhere more so than any RKO, another type of corona brought the entire XFL to a screeching halt. The Chinese Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) shut down the new league with more power than any stout defense could ever display. Like the NCAA, NHL, NBA, MLB, and so many others, the XFL had to stop. Because the season, which was at the halfway point when coronavirus struck, would have run through April, the XFL had little choice but to pull the plug on 2020 completely. While the other, more established leagues are still hoping to return at some point this year, the XFL is done until 2021. Mere weeks after going viral, the XFL had a virus of its own.

The bad news is obvious. McMahon’s league had to cut a promising season short for the most unexpected of reasons. But unlike in 2001, there is good news too. All indications point to a return for the XFL next year. Usually, when a new league can not finish its inaugural campaign, that’s all she wrote. But leagues don’t usually stop for a reason such as this. The money is there for a second swing at it in 2021, and that is tremendous news for XFL brass, players, and fans.

The XFL is not the USFL. Back in the 1980s, the USFL was stacking up as a serious threat to the NFL. Guys like Reggie White, Doug Flutie, Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Doug Williams, Mike Rozier, and Herschel Walker all wore USFL uniforms. That league was star-studded. But, make no mistake, the XFL is no slouch. While we might not be talking about Hall of Famers like White, Young, and Kelly or Super Bowl MVPs like Williams, the NFL is certainly keen enough on XFL talent. In recent days, over a dozen XFL players have been picked up by NFL clubs.

The Houston Roughnecks and New York Guardians have led the way in that category thus far. PJ Walker, the Houston quarterback who was well on his way to winning the XFL MVP has signed with the Carolina Panthers. Two other members of the 5-0 Roughnecks are also NFL bound. Linebacker DeMarquis Gates inked a deal with the Minnesota Vikings while cornerback Deatrick Nichols is headed to the New Orleans Saints. The Pittsburgh Steelers really liked what they saw with the New York Guardians. Both Cavon Walker, the XFL sack leader, and his New York teammate Jarron Jones are off to the Steel City. Dravon Askew-Henry is going places without going anywhere. The corner, who happens to be the cousin of Darelle Revis, is now a New York Giant. So, Askew-Henry will trade in his Guardians uniform for a Giants one, but still play in MetLife Stadium.

Other notable XFLers heading for the NFL include St. Louis Battlehawks quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, who agreed to terms with the champion Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Renegades star tight end Donald Parham, who is now a member of the Los Angeles Chargers.

The NFL signings of multiple players certainly validates that the XFL is a quality league with top professional talent. But XFL fans already knew that. They loved supporting their teams each week. They loved rooting for players that they may have known from college, some they knew from a stint in the NFL, and others they didn’t really know at all. They rooted for coaches they already knew well like Gilbride, Trestman, Chow, Hamilton, and Glanville. But most of all, XFL fans rooted for the spirit of a league they waited for, for so long. Unfortunately, that league was swept away from them. This time though, there’s grand optimism that the XFL will return. McMahon, Luck, and other league officials have a nice sample size of a half-season to dissect. They’ll learn what worked and what did not. They’ll plan on roaring back in 2021. When they do, their fans will be ready.

Follow Kevin Scholla on Twitter @kevinscholla