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FOOTBALL
XFL: Not just bad football, but bad television
Reviewing the Xcruciating new football league.

by S.E. Shepherd
February 11, 2001

XFL: Not just bad football, but bad television_S.E. Shepherd-Reviewing the Xcruciating new football league. If anything good can be said about the WWF's president Vince McMahon, it's that he knows how to market a product. Promising a new football league, full of smash-mouth, old-style roughness of the NFL's glory days, McMahon suckered millions of football fans into watching the schlock that is the XFL. For those who have not yet witnessed this spectacle, the best word to describe this league is cheesy.

How apropos was it that McMahon chose Las Vegas to open his latest sporting venue; in a town known for glitzy showiness, the XFL came across as one more casino act, complete with showgirls. Instead of "real" football, fans saw a hybrid of sub-World League play mixed with the chest-thumping bravado of "Smackdown!" McMahon even went so far as to cross-sell his WWF, by having wrestling stars such as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin appear in taped segments all but challenging NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to a no-holds-barred cage match.

The game began with Dick Butkus further embarrassing himself and Chicago Bears fans alike, first by being associated with this league, and second by participating in the XFL's screwy alternative to a coin toss. Teams chose one player each to run a twenty-yard dash and recover a fumble, to determine which team got the ball first. Viewers were then introduced to both teams' starting line-ups, and of course, the home team's cheerleaders.

Much has been said about the XFL's cheerleaders; that they are sexist and nothing but eye candy geared to attract a target audience of teenage (and teenage minded) males. They have been called bimbos and strippers, but in their defense, the cheerleaders did not take off what little clothing they had, so I would liken them more to exotic dancers. The cheerleaders were seen often during the game, and even interviewed players in pre-taped segments asking innuendo-laid questions such as, "How do you score?" The sexism was so blatant, it was almost parody.

Not that the players were much brighter; with free expression permitted in the XFL, players were allowed to print nicknames and messages on their jerseys in place of their actual name. Thus we were introduced to the talents of "Big Mike", "The Truth", and "He Hate Me". When asked during the game why he printed "He Hate Me" on his jersey, the player responded, "See the way he look at me?" referring to the other team's coach, "He afraid of me! He hate me!" Somewhere, a high school English teacher must be proud.

With such non-football personalities, like wrestler-turned-governor Jesse Ventura covering the games, analysis was weak and banal. The XFL promised new "innovated" camera angles to further highlight the action, but coverage made the viewer feel more like he was watching someone play Nintendo football. Players and coaches were miked during the entire game, causing audio overload on every play. Hearing the signals barked out once or twice would have been interesting; throughout the entire game, it became a distraction. Interviews could happen at any time, and came frequently after missed field goals and interceptions. Sensitivity is not part of the XFL.

While NBC likes to boast of the XFL's 54 million viewers during the first week, it is doubtful the XFL will continue to be a ratings juggernaut. Still, the XFL can and does count on the WWF fan base to tune in faithfully. Fans, also interviewed during the game, gave frightful insight to who is really watching this game. When asked by a sexy female interviewer if he thought "more bodies" would be carried off the field, one fan replied, "I don't know and I don't care! This is extreme football! You gotta be extreme to play extreme football!" Yes, this is truly a Vince McMahon product.

The unfortunate thing about the XFL is that, without the continuous sideshows, the game might have been almost pleasant to watch. Underneath all the antics, there is an actual football game going on. Sure, the play is sub-par and the league is full of NFL and CFL rejects, but every now and then we did get to see a spectacular play.

Some may have wondered if the XFL would be staged, like the WWF. Considering the premiere game became such a blowout, NBC had to switch to the backup game, I would say no. Even McMahon knows lop-sided games are boring and make bad television. Too bad no one told him filling airwaves with lowest-common denominator trash is bad television too.


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