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ARE YOU READY FOR MCFOOTBALL? MCMAHON BRINGS UNIQUE VISION TO GRIDIRON.

Byline: Steve Dilbeck Staff Writer

Vince McMahon's voice was booming. As usual he was center stage. No, make that center ring. His hands moved in the air. His face was all contortions. He cocked his head and raised a theatric eyebrow, his barrel chest a swivel to his entire frame.

McMahon was giving his usual spiel against the ``NFL suits,'' bemoaning the league's corporate culture. He called them pantywaists, arrogant, stale and out of touch with the American public.

McMahon claims he is here to change all that. He is here to give America what it wants - real football. This from the man who previously gave us what he's called a combination ``variety show, soap opera, rock concert, action-adventure with a little Comedy Central'' - the World Wrestling Federation.

But McMahon turned that into a $350 million-a-year enterprise, and when NBC signed on as a 50-percent partner for his XFL, his latest creation was suddenly looked upon as more than some carny football league for disenfranchised adolescent boys.

Since McMahon stood at that podium at the House of Blues in Hollywood to announce the L.A. franchise of the XFL, his vaunted hype machine has been in overdrive. The league debuts this weekend, now that the NFL stodgies have gotten that little thing called the Super Bowl out of the way, with McMahon again serving as ringmaster.

The NFL has gone the high road, pointed out the failures of the United States Football League and World Football League, and said it's barely given the new league a thought.

``Is it real, or is it scripted?'' commissioner Paul Tagliabue wondered at an NFL owners' meeting.

Nothing brings a quicker look of disgust from McMahon's XFL troupe. They point out the many former NFL coaches in the XFL. The legitimacy of NBC.

``The XFL will take you back to the way the game was played when it was real football, without being overregulated,'' McMahon said.

``What we want to do is capture the real passion of the game. This is not a corporate culture like the NFL. We'll capture the passion of the play when a wide receiver drops a pass in the end zone and has to walk back and face the coach. You're going to feel the game the way you've never felt it before. No antiseptic type of `Oh, aren't we having fun,' yet none of the uniforms are dirty.''

The XFL will try to bring the fan closer to the game by putting cameras everywhere - on the sidelines, in helmets, in the locker rooms, in the stands. And if there is one thing McMahon knows, it is cameras.

A rough beginning

This is all worlds away from Havelock, N.C., where McMahon grew up in an 8-foot wide trailer with his mother. McMahon said his stepfather beat him and hit his mother. In this month's Playboy interview McMahon said: ``It's unfortunate that he died before I could kill him. I would have enjoyed that.''

McMahon said he learned how not to behave as a man by watching his stepfather, though he called himself ``unruly'' as a teen-ager. Seldom went to school. ``Borrowed'' cars. Once ran moonshine. Would get with a local group of buddies and go fight Marines from the base at Cherry Point.

He was finally sent to the Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, Va., where McMahon claims he was the first cadet in school history ever to be court-martialed. Still, he graduated and went on to get a business degree at East Carolina University, where he met his wife, Linda.

At first he sold adding machines, then cups, then ice cream cones. He thought selling wasn't for him, so he started driving dump trunks for Rockville Crushed Stone.

His father's business was professional wrestling, the same as his grandfather had promoted. After much pestering, he father finally let McMahon promote some matches in Maine. Professional wrestling always had been regional, but McMahon had big ambitions. Soon half his dad's business was in New England. He bought out his dad for $1 million, went national and the world soon learned the term ``Wrestlemania.''

He was a natural showman and promoter. Barnum with men in tights. The WWF was crude, outrageous, more preposterous than ever. It gave birth to new stars - Hulk Hogan, the Rock, Jesse ``The Body'' Ventura. Its show on Monday nights became cable's highest-rated program.

McMahon grew rich, sometimes jumped in the ring with his 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame and helmet-head hair, had fun, controlled it all, and then looked for new worlds to conquer.

A league of his own

The NFL may be dismissive toward McMahon's football creation, but super-agent Leigh Steinberg said the ingredients are there for the XFL to emerge successful on its own terms, and reason for the NFL to be concerned.

``One of the factors that should concern the NFL is the threat that McMahon poses in respect to garnering a youthful audience - young kids, 9 to 20 - which traditionally represented the future of the NFL,'' Steinberg said. ``This is a growing concern with ticket prices at increasingly high levels and corporate boxes dominating NFL stadiums.

``There's no question as to the NFL's primacy as a television and gate giant, but part of the reason Monday Night Football doesn't have the ratings it hopes for is because McMahon's drained away the precise audience that traditionally grew up as football fans - young males.''

McMahon's league won't ban field celebrations, it will encourage them. There will be no fair catches. Punts will be live balls after 25 yards. No special protection of the quarterback. No rules against players mingling with ``unquestionably, the most beautiful cheerleaders that have ever been on the sidelines.'' Players on the winning team will each get $2,500.

McMahon - now 55 and still married to Linda - is bringing his trademark flair to a sport he is certain is in need of a transformation.

``It's time for the XFL,'' McMahon boasts. ``The XFL will be a different brand of football.''

Steinberg, though, has not placed any players in the XFL. And it's not because he doesn't hope and expect the league to succeed, but because he is concerned about the level of violence. His clients include Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who's had 11 concussions, and quarterback Steve Young, who retired from the San Francisco 49ers with the same problem.

``The comments about the sissification of the NFL are ludicrous,'' Steinberg said. ``There's a risk of turning football back into the days of lions and the Christians. I don't think America is really ready yet to watch the first death on a football field.''

McMahon, however, fancies himself a football purist. He wants to give you football reality. This despite the XFL being the first professional league designed for television. Entertainment packaged as sport, or sport packaged as entertainment?

It comes to you this weekend, its product still uncertain, boundaries ready to be pushed, McMahon in control.

READY TO RUMBLE

Eastern Division

--Birmingham Thunderbolts

--Chicago Enforcers

--New York/New Jersey Hitmen

--Orlando Rage

Western Division

--Las Vegas Outlaws

--L.A. Xtreme

--Memphis Maniax

--San Francisco Demons

XTREME LOOK

A glance at the XFL, the new football league from the World Wrestling Federation and NBC:

SEASON

--10-game regular season begins Saturday

--Playoff games April 14-15

--The XFL championship game, called ``Big Game At The End,'' April 21

SALARIES

--Quarterbacks: $50,000

--Kickers: $35,000

--All other players: $45,000

--Winners of each regular-season game will divide a $100,000 bonus equally among players. The winning team in the ``Big Game At The End'' will divide $1 million.

RULES

--No fair catch. Punt returners will have a 5-yard, no-tackle ``halo'' until the ball is caught, and members of the kicking team will not be able to leave the line of scrimmage until the ball is in the air.

--No point-after kick. Scoring teams will have one down to run or pass the ball into the end zone from the opponent's 2-yard line. The clock will run during the play, and intercepted or fumbled balls can be run back by the defender for a one-point score of their own.

--A receiver or defender needs only one foot inbounds to make a catch.

--A quarterback is down when forward progress is halted. Quarterbacks who slide cannot be hit and can be downed by contact.

--The play clock is shortened to 35 seconds after the previous play or 25 seconds after any clock stoppage.

--Kickoffs must be run out of the end zone unless the kick carries through the end zone.

--Defenders may use ``bump-and-run'' tactics downfield.

--In overtime, each team will have the ball at least once and get up to four downs to score from the opponent's 20-yard line.

- Associated Press

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, 2 boxes

Photo: (1 -- color) Vince McMahon poses in Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, one of eight host cities for XFL franchises, which begin play this weekend.

K.M. Cannon/Associated Press

(2) Vince McMahon turned pro wrestling into a $350 million-a-year enterprise and brings a similar approach to packaging his XFL.

Ed Bailey/Associated Press

Box: (1) READY TO RUMBLE (see text)

(2) XTREME LOOK (see text)
COPYRIGHT 2001 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Words:1530
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