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  March 10, 2001



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XFL shenanigans haven't worked


By BRET HART -- Calgary Sun
 I know that my lack of comments about the XFL have been conspicuous by their absence, so to speak

 Since before they even played their first game, people have been asking me what I think.

 Most people just assumed that because the XFL is Vince McMahon's baby, that I'd put it down before it even got off the ground.

 A lot of guys who play football were counting on the XFL to feed their families and I was hoping, for their sake, that it would succeed.

 I wasn't sure I understood the XFL concept from the beginning. What kind of fans were they hoping to attract with 'smash-mouth' football? The young rowdy male wrestling demographic that brings in the Raw ratings? NFL fans? Sports fans in general? Extreme fans? I wasn't sure how I felt about helmet cams and locker-room cams. I'm not sure any fan needs to know that much. Leave the game on the field.

 And as for sexy cheerleaders, maybe it's just me but I don't think die-hard football fans tune in or not just because of the cheerleaders.

 I felt it was only fair to wait and watch the product before commenting on it. I like football, I've played football, but I asked myself: What does the XFL have to offer me that the NFL and CFL don't.

 The answer, unfortunately, turns out to be nothing.

 What little of the XFL I've watched I find boring. And I've only watched a little because it doesn't hold my interest. With no history and rivalries, it's hard for me to get interested in a bunch of players who, for various reasons, aren't quite ready for prime time. They've been thrown together in fancy uniforms but there's no chemistry. The teams just haven't had a chance to gel but I don't know if the league will be around long enough.

 Then again, I'm the type that when the Super Bowl ends, I'm ready to move on to hockey and basketball. And, by June, I've had enough hockey. I love it and I'm happy to be back in the stands in the fall, but in the summer, I'm watching baseball and the CFL. If the majority of sports fans are like me, and I think they probably are, then we're used to games having seasons. Why would any football fan want to sit in a freezing cold stadium in February?

 Now, if wrestling fans are what the XFL was targeting, maybe that makes a little more sense because wrestling has no season -- because it's also the one major sports industry that has no union. The XFL has no union either, so far, so it's not like they're going to lure superstars from the NFL.

 McMahon created a breed of wrestling fan who is more interested in soap opera than sport. If this is the fan base he was hoping would sustain the XFL, then the behind-the-scenes cameras and attempts to highlight the personalities of the players are his only hope -- but those are exactly the things that I believe are a turnoff to fans who love the game so much that the regular football season isn't long enough.

 I guess there must be a lot of people who feel like I do, based on the dismal, plummeting ratings. The XFL is running commercials now where a cheerleader acknowledges that everyone tuned in the first week and then didn't come back.

 "We're listening ..." and we've made changes. Something about another behind-the-scenes camera -- this one in the cheerleaders' locker room!

 I'm surprised that they just don't get it. If you want to win me over to the XFL -- and I suspect a lot of other people too -- it's actually pretty simple. Show me good football. Maybe even show it to me during football season. And then show me something I can't get in the NFL or CFL -- and I don't mean the promise of sexy cheerleaders. If I want to see strippers and dancers, I can go to a bar where they're not constrained by TV censors.

 Besides, am I the only one who thinks it's strange that one guy can own all the teams in the league?

 That's not sports as I know it. If it doesn't stink now, it will.

 All the gimmicks seem like an attempt to distract us from the fact that in the XFL the football is lousy.

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