Plus: Watch the exclusive trailer for the new 30 for 30 doc.

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Professional wrestling under WWE chairman Vince McMahon is all about three things: drama, big hits, and the drive to be an unparalleled media spectacle. But what would those attributes look like when affixed to football? ESPN's upcoming "30 for 30" documentary This Was The XFL — out Feb. 2 at 9 p.m. ET — answers that question by detailing the bombastic and doomed venture.

The XFL was a joint project between McMahon and legendary NBC Sports executive and Saturday Night Live developer Dick Ebersol. The former instantly brought the flair at the introductory press conference. "The NFL stands for the ‘No Fun League,'" McMahon said. "The XFL is going to be the ‘Xtra Fun League.'"

In terms of theatrics, it definitely bested the NFL with its pro wrestling DNA, changing rules to encourage more violence and creating a broadcast-friendly game. But the league never got close to the NFL's popularity or quality of play. Ratings dropped quickly after its stratospheric launch. The XFL ultimately burned bright and fast, lasting all of one season.

"I hadn't seen my father fail at anything. It felt like another one of those crazy ideas, yeah, that they were going to figure out," director Charlie Ebersol, son of Dick, tells EW. "From my perspective, it seemed like these guys had figured how to make everything else work. It's just going to be another one of those things. I don't think I realized that anything other than that was actually possible."

See This Was The XFL‘s new trailer above, exclusive to EW, and read on for more from Charlie Ebersol.

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Credit: ESPN Films

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why was the story of the XFL so important for you to tell?
CHARLIE EBERSOL: For me, it was largely because I'd seen my father succeed in everything he ever touched, and this is something that's widely considered a gigantic failure. Having lived it, and then also knowing what the backstory was, I knew it was a much more complex, interesting story than that. I really wanted to do it. When ESPN came to me and asked if I wanted to do something on the XFL, I told them that I wanted to do a love story. They were like, "What, are you nuts?" When I made the film, they saw what the relationship was like between my dad and Vince, they understood what I was getting at. It's this incredible story of these two guys who are unlikely friends who really got it. Hopefully, it was brought to life with the film.

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What do you remember from the first game?
Insanity. Total insanity. From a scale perspective, when they announced the league a year earlier to the day, they had nothing. They had no teams, no coaches, no stadiums, no GMs — nothing. Here we are a year later, there are 40,000 or 50,000 fans in Vegas who showed up hours before with their faces painted for a team they had never seen, freaking out. It defied all understanding. That was so representative of what the experience was. I went to a handful of games, and this was always the case. Five out of the eight stadiums were sold out through the whole season. The live side of this business was very robust; it worked. There's this dichotomy of people saying it was failing and the network saying it, but then you'd be there in the stadium, and it didn't seem like it's failing.

It seemed like that was the case. Vince had some choice words for the media, and also had that contentious interview with Bob Costas on HBO's On The Record.
The cool thing about this film, from my perspective, was everyone that I asked to show up and do something remarkable, they all did. I got these incredible, very honest and straightforward interviews from people who really were telling what happened. Your first question on why I made the film: part of it was, Vince and my father said a couple times now that they wouldn't have done the film with anyone else. It took me a couple of months to convince both of them to do it. They had seen films I had done before, obviously, but also I grew with them.

When I was 4, my dad and Vince did the deal to create Saturday Night's Main Event. I grew up going to wrestling and watching that insanity come to the big screen and being insanely successful. Saturday Night's Main Event is the highest-rated Saturday programming of all time. One in three televisions were tuned in once a month to watch Saturday Night's Main Event, which was completely the brainchild of my dad and Vince, and they created that in six weeks and put it on the air. The idea that this wasn't going to be a success didn't calculate in my head.

Vince McMahon is such a polarizing figure, and I imagine you wanted to show all sides of him. Was that difficult, and how did you go about doing that?
That's the biggest reason that I was the person who had to do the film because, without exception, everyone who's seen the film and given me notes on it has said the single most shocking part of the whole thing was this was a Vince no one had ever seen. Keep in mind, the guy has agreed to do zero interviews about anything ever with anyone. For him to sit for a couple of hours for an interview with me and then subsequently, I had him and my dad have dinner after they both finished their interviews, and they sat and talked the XFL with each other for the first time. It ended up being this very, very powerful moment between the two men that's really emotional.

We screened it at New York at the premiere, and I had a lot of people coming up to me with tears in their eyes having watched the end of the film, and was [I] surprised this type of film would make someone cry. Like I said, I sold this film as that love affair, and that love affair that came to life on screen was largely built around how these two guys felt about each other and what they meant. You're right, Vince is a polarizing figure, but I think he's polarizing in large part because people have trouble separating in their minds the Vince McMahon that they see marching around and yelling at Stone Cold Steve Austin on screen, and the actual man who is an entirely different beast.

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