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Touchdown Meets Smackdown.

Can Vince McMahon score big with his new XFL, football done WWF style?

Take the NFL and WWF, add a dash of Real World, and jam it into a blender. Out comes spine-jangling pigskin action drenched in attitude, with cameras and microphones everywhere. That's Vince McMahon's recipe for his new football league, the XFL.

The maestro of the scripted, sweaty, nasty soap opera that is pro wrestling is now revamping pro football. "If the NFL stands for the `No Fun League,'" says McMahon, chairman of the World Wrestling Federation, "the XFL will be the `Extra Fun League.' This is gonna be a blast!"

With the inaugural games kicking off on February 3, the XFL is going to be something, all right. McMahon is hoping to attract the millions of teen viewers who watch his WWF shows. Though the XFL won't have steel cages, WWF stars, or, most important, fixed outcomes, the wrestling influence will be there.

The vision of the 8-team, 10-game XFL is one with fireworks and pounding anthems to introduce the teams, screaming fans in cheap seats, players talking trash, and scantily clad cheerleaders encouraged to date players for the sake of real off-field storylines. In-your-face celebrating after a touchdown, which in the "no fun" NFL draws a penalty for taunting, will be expected in the XFL. Team names even sound like WWF gangs: the Memphis Maniax, Orlando Rage, New York/New Jersey Hitmen.

On the field, the game will have a few tweaks to the NFL rulebook, mainly to encourage more heavy hitting. Fair catches, where a player can opt to safely catch a kick without fear of being tackled, are forbidden. Extra points after touchdowns must be scored with a pass or run, not with a kick. A quarterback is fair game for a sack even if a defensive player has his arms around him--reversing a touch-football-style rule in what McMahon calls the "pantywaist" NFL. "This can't fail," he says.

Most other upstart sports leagues have failed, including the United States Football League, which lasted for three spring seasons in the 1980s. To hold down costs, McMahon will split the XFL's $100 million start-up with NBC, which, along with UPN and TNN, will broadcast the games. The XFL will pay most players $45,000, plus a $2,500 bonus per win. The average NFL salary is $1 million.

The XFL will get what it pays for: teams made up of NFL castoffs and college has-beens. The biggest name could be Jesse Ventura, the wrestler-turned-Minnesota-Governor, who'll be an XFL TV commentator. Yet the nearly anonymous players are being urged to flaunt their personalities, assuming they have any. After all, had you smelled what Dwayne Johnson was cooking before the WWF made him The Rock?

To create new stars, the XFL is treating football like an amped-up reality show. Players, coaches, and officials will wear miniature microphones, and locker rooms will be wired for sound and video. If a coach has a chair-kicking, garbage-can-dumping, half-time tirade, viewers will see it. Players will be required to speak their mind. If a quarterback throws a game-losing interception and refuses to mouth off about it, McMahon could rush from the stands to fire him.

Despite' McMahon's bravado, the success of the XFL's formula remains to be seen. Drew Pearson, a former NFL star who is now general manager of the Hitmen, acknowledges that the league will face growing pains. "This won't be NFL-level football from Day 1," he says. "We'll need other things to keep fans interested at the start. Eventually, we won't need those things as much."

If McMahon can put on a good show to hook viewers, the league has a chance. The XFL may not have the best football, but who watches the WWF for the wrestling?

Taking It to Extremes

With the WWF putting a headlock on football, here's what could happen if it gets its hands on other "pantywaist" sports.

MAJOR LEAGUE MANIA

There are no bases in this gloves-off baseball, so nowhere is safe. Bats are used for hitting the ball and for self-defense. You're out only when you're knocked out-by any means necessary. The one-game pay-per-view championship? Ball Is War, of course.

SOCCER DIVAS

An all-women's league plays on an anything-goes field littered with folding chairs, collapsible tables, and lead pipes. The winning players are required to rip off their jerseys to expose Chyna-style outfits.

TAG-TEAM BLADING

Say goodbye to the classical music, bright sequins, and graceful spins of pairs figure skating, and hello to classic Metallica, black leather, and gruesome slices. Instead of only two skates for your feet, the number of skate blades you can strap on is limited only by the size of your body. The rink is dry ice: You fall, you stick.

CLUB WARS

Far away from wussy, oversize lawns, this golf is played in deserts, mine fields, and junk yards. One golfer at a time tries to complete a course while hunted by the Fearsome Foursome, a band of evil caddies who swing into battle with the catchphrase, "Welcome to my club!"

WORLD BADMINTON FEDERATION

The WBF replaces the friendly birdie with a flaming one and crisp white outfits with wrestling trunks. The goal is to smack down the birdie over the barbed-wire net and hit your opponent. The first to scream "uncle" loses.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:XFL football
Author:Sandomir, Richard
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 5, 2001
Words:886
Previous Article:Fox's Hunt.
Next Article:Rap's Next Revolution.
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