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Day 1 for the Tampa Bay Vipers: “The XFL is for real. This is going to happen.”

The Vipers begin their offseason program in Plant City.
Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Aaron Murray tosses the ball during practice Thursday in Plant City. "It's grind time," he said. [XFL]
Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Aaron Murray tosses the ball during practice Thursday in Plant City. "It's grind time," he said. [XFL]
Published Dec. 6, 2019
Updated Feb. 4

PLANT CITY — From the outside, it had the feel of an abandoned hospital, a drab and desolate hulking mass of concrete.

The scarlet red paint had faded, succumbing long ago to the relentless Florida sun.

The concourses where vendors once hawked hot dogs and Cracker Jack were quiet.

The grandstands were empty, metal rusting and paint peeling.

The only guests were the birds perched atop the fences behind home plate.

At the apex of the infield diamond, a 10-gallon Gatorade container sat on a stool. Hall of Famer Barry Larkin used to field ground balls and turn double plays here, and yet there wasn’t a single footprint on the freshly-raked dirt.

In left field, under the bleachers, someone dumped a collection of bases. A crumpled wax paper Pepsi cup trapped beneath one of them fluttered in the breeze.

In right field, a blue and white sign warned ballplayers: No soft toss against the fence.

On the outfield grass, white lines. A makeshift 80-yard football field.

Welcome to Plant City Stadium, the former home of baseball’s Cincinnati Reds.

This is the XFL 2.0. And this is the place where, on a Thursday afternoon in early December, the Tampa Bay Vipers, a fledgling professional football team, took their first steps toward kickoff in February.

MORE XFL: Here is what the Vipers will look like on game day

About 70 players — some of whom have played in the NFL, some of whom dream of one day making it and some of whom never will — sprinted from the edge of the infield to the outfield chain-link fence as coach Marc Trestman, the general of this grand experiment, looked on.

Because the players were wearing hoodies and sweatpants they had just pulled out of their suitcases, reporters struggled to make out who was who. Team employees tried to help, but this was the first day of practice. They’re new here, too.

Before afternoon shadows swallowed the field, Trestman called it a day. He didn’t want to overwhelm the players, many of whom just got into town a couple of days ago.

About 15 minutes after practice ended, Trestman took questions outside an adjacent building the team is sharing with the Plant City Parks and Recreation Department. The XFL gets the left half. The Parks and Recreation Department gets the right half.

MORE XFL: How the XFL will be different from the NFL

So, coach, is this going to work?

“One thing I did tell the players,” Trestman said, “the XFL is for real. The commitment to Mr. McMahon is serious. This is going to happen.”

The XFL is wrestling promoter Vince McMahon’s creation. He reportedly expects to spend half a billion dollars over the first three years of the league’s existence.

Trestman, though, isn’t thinking about 2021 or 2022. He’s thinking about getting his players through the day, one day at a time.

“At some point in time, later in the week, I’ll show them the calendar,” he said. “I’ll show them a little bit of the light at the end of the tunnel and how this thing is going to work.”

Former USF star Quinton Flowers was next.

“I always felt like I’d be back home,” he said. “I just didn’t know when.”

Quarterback, former Plant High standout and de facto Vipers spokesman Aaron Murray closed out Day 1.

“The sun is brutal,” he said, squinting as he stepped in front of a gaggle of phones and cameras.

It’s grind time, Murray said.

“It’s not (time to) mess around, go out and check the town out,” he said. “There will be time for that on an off day. When you’re in the building, when you’re working, it’s take as many notes as you can. Study at home every night.”

Murray’s done the spring football thing before. Earlier this year, he played for the Atlanta Legends of the defunct Alliance of American Football. He insists the XFL is different. Case in point: This time around, his team isn’t working out at an LA Fitness.

“We have our own facility. We have our own fields. We have our own weight room,” he said.

“It feels like a more legit team.”

Contact Thomas Bassinger at Follow @tometrics.


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  2. The XFL begins its 10-week regular season Feb. 8, one week after the NFL's Super Bowl.
  3. Vipers' Quinton Flowers (9) said it's been difficult to get into a rhythm with quarterbacks moving in and out. Is that why the Vipers have struggled in the red zone so much?
  4. Tampa Bay Vipers defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville drove race cars in between football stints over the years.
  5. Tim Tebow, who is in spring training with the Mets, says he wants to be "all in" on baseball.
  6. A closeup detail view of the XFL ball. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)
  7. Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Taylor Cornelius warms up before last week's XFL opener at the New York Guardians.
  8. Tampa Bay Vipers wide receiver Daniel Williams (81) runs off the line during an XFL football game against the New York Guardians, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. The New York Guardians won 23-3.
  9. Former USF quarterbacks B.J. Daniels, left, and Quinton Flowers, right, could square off when Seattle plays host to Tampa Bay in an XFL game Saturday.
  10. Tampa Bay Vipers defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville would prefer to use just one headset to relay plays, but in Sunday's opener he had to use two.
  11. Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Aaron Murray calls out a play before the ball is snapped during Sunday's season opener against the New York Guardians in East Rutherford, N.J.
  12. XFL television ratings are strong through the opening weekend, with the Vipers' first game doing best nationally.