Who's Afraid of the XFL?

I am no fan of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), nor am I one of its detractors. Who am I to hammer people for enjoying pro wrestling? After all, I enjoy watching outdoor soccer and listening to

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I am no fan of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), nor am I one of its detractors. Who am I to hammer people for enjoying pro wrestling? After all, I enjoy watching outdoor soccer and listening to pop music of the '60s and New Wave tunes of the '80s.

Sports is something else I enjoy, particularly football. So, it's with some interest that I have been following the development of the XFL, the spawn of a NFL-less NBC and the aforementioned WWF.

Following its launch on the weekend of Feb. 3, commentary throughout the national media was almost overwhelmingly negative. For months the new league promised good old-fashioned "smash-mouth" football upon its debut.

However, there were concerns that the more over-the-top aspects of the WWF would graft themselves onto the XFL. Those fears were, at first, unfounded. But as ratings and attendance has dipped, the XFL is succumbing to the temptation to mimic its more successful sibling.

Kicking off on a Saturday night from Las Vegas' Sam Boyd Stadium, the new league found itself in front of a sold-out facility and a TV audience twice the size of what NBC had projected.

From the start, the league boasted its differences. There is no coin toss. To determine which team will take the initial kick-off, one player from each of the opposing teams races downfield to try to grab possession of the football.

Cameras are everywhere, and microphones are placed on players and coaches. This is perhaps the most fascinating wrinkle. Mike Golic of ESPN's morning radio program was quick to point out that ESPN-TV had done the same for their Arena League coverage. But it's still intriguing.

In the third quarter of the game between New York and Las Vegas, New York's head coach asked his assistant if a fake field goal could be an option should they fail to convert on third down. At halftime, cameras are in the locker room. As a fan, I've often wondered what a coach tells his team at this point, especially if they're trailing.

The network also experimented with different camera angles, often using the "sky-cam" to shoot from up and behind the quarterback. This would have worked better if the announcing team — including Jim Ross on play-by-play and Gov. Jesse "The Body" Ventura as color analyst — would have offered more insight. Here is where the weak links appear. TNN's team of Craig Minervini (play-by-play) and ex-NFL player Bob Golic (color) are a much better duo, and generally focus more on the game itself.

We heard players and coaches calling plays and developing strategy, but NBC's broadcasters seemed more concerned with yelling about how cheerleaders were going into the stands. Speaking of which, I'm all for chesty cheerleaders, but I really don't need more than a five-second shot going to or coming back from a commercial.

The XFL is getting slapped around by the critics, as it were, largely because it failed to focus on its best ideas. The on-field play wasn't going to be any good in Week 1 — we knew that going in. The first week of the USFL in 1983 was a festival of dropped passes and missed tackles. No big surprise.

Spring football is a good idea. If it weren't, why would we be saddled with NFL-Europe? I'm sorry, but on paper I have more interest in teams from Chicago and Las Vegas than from Barcelona or Rhein (wherever the hell that is exactly).

It seems, however, that the XFL simply wants to borrow too much from the WWF, and that the rough waters are pushing them further in that direction. I'm not sure this is what football fans want to see. In fact, I'm sure it's not.

Football fans want to see football. The question is, are there truly enough hardcore football fans out there to support a spring league? Perhaps you need the theatrics to bring in the marginal fans. I hope this isn't the case though, since the peripheral activities really detract from what's happening on the field.

What is wrong can be fixed very easily. The WWF faithful watching the XFL won't miss the extra, created drama, but the true football fans will appreciate its absence. Trim the fat, and they might be onto something.

This weeks XFL games: Saturday 8 p.m. Las Vegas at Orlando, NBC. Sunday 4 p.m. New York at San Francisco, TNN. 7 p.m. Los Angeles at Birmingham, UPN (Channel 25).

contact P.f. wilson: [email protected]

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