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The XFL turns out to be...football

Despite some innovations, the new league looks a bit familiar, says Kristen Baldwin

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Jesse Ventura
Ventura: Bruce Kluckhohn

The XFL turns out to be…football

This past weekend, World Wrestling Federation mastermind Vince McMahon unveiled the XFL, a league he proclaimed would offer salvation to football fans who are disgusted by the NFL’s transformation from a beloved American sport into a corporate money gobbling machine. Not being a huge football fan, I don’t really have an opinion about the purported corruption of the NFL; what I can say after watching the XFL’s debut — the Las Vegas Outlaws vs. the New York/ New Jersey Hitmen — is that this newfangled game…well, it looks a lot like football.

I’m a big WWF fan, and I’m always interested in what that twisted genius, Vinnie Mac, has to offer. And the first game, airing last Saturday on NBC, had an auspicious beginning: Instead of a staid and boring coin toss, the Hitmen and the Outlaws had to ”scramble” for possession of the ball. The XFL’s game differs in other, mostly violence promoting ways, like prohibiting fair catches and allowing something called a ”bump and run” play (I’m sure this means something to those who actually understand football). Still, even with the player mics that allow us to hear every grunt and growl, and the ”intrusive” camera angles that get fans closer to the action, ultimately the Hitmen- Outlaw game looked like your typical gridiron matchup.

That doesn’t mean the XFL was devoid of entertaining innovations. The biggest difference between the NFL and Vince’s league is the XFL’s promotion of the players as personality driven characters. They have nicknames like ”Chukwagon” and ”Baby Boy” on their uniforms, and before the game they introduce themselves and talk a little trash directly into the camera. So far, none of the players we met Saturday night appeared to have the charisma of The Rock or Stone Cold (both of whom made appearances via videotape), but hey, the season just started and I have high hopes for a Hitman everyone kept referring to as ”the big Mamu.”

Oddly enough, I was way more entertained by the glorification of the buxom cheerleaders, who do many of their bouncy, wiggling routines right in the stands with the crowd. (Those are some brave women.) Perhaps the funniest moment of the Hitmen- Outlaw game was the introduction of one such pom pom girl, Paola, who was shown dressed primly and sitting in front of a laptop computer. ”By day, I’m a law student,” she declared. ”And by night” [pause as Paola removes her glasses and lets down her hair] ”I’m an XFL cheerleader!” The XFL website promises these girls will play ”an integral role” at games, so I’m looking forward to more high camp moments from Paola and her pals.

The XFL may have not turned me into a football fan, but given the preliminary Nielsen results — which counted an impressive audience of 14.5 million for Saturday’s game — it clearly doesn’t need much help finding a following. Just let me know if Stephanie McMahon becomes an Outlaw cheerleader or if Vince decides to officiate the games himself. In that case, I might be persuaded to learn what ”first down” means. Maybe.