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SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, February 9, 2001

Talking pig skin

Eric Benner
By ERIC BENNER
Special to SLAM! Sports


A weekly
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At least the waiting is finally over. That's what I was thinking, cynicism in one arm and pessimism in the other, as I sat down to watch the debut of the XFL, live this past Saturday on NBC. The Las Vegas Outlaws were at home, taking on the New York/New Jersey Hitmen. Well, perhaps ‘taking on' isn't so much an appropriate term as ‘stepping all over'. Having finally seen some of Vince McMahon's "smashmouth football", I now feel safe to venture a few opinions on the subject.

Lots of sports writers have already taken issue with the XFL. Negative criticisms, comments, and mud-slingings were apparent in every major paper in the continent on Sunday and Monday. Simply adding my name to the list of people with an opinion would be of little use, though, so I'm here to offer some more constructive criticism of the league's debut.

By and large, I liked what I saw of the XFL's first outing. I certainly enjoy watching NFL football on Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings, and so my perspective going into this was largely hoping that the XFL could duplicate that success.

From the get-go, though, I knew this would not be the case. Any success of Vince McMahon's XFL would be its own, and would undoubtedly have nothing to do the NFL's programming on Fox, CBS, and ABC.

There were a lot of things to like about the game. It had a wide-open feel that doesn't really exist in NFL games. I live in Montreal, so regional program directors have decided that I'd most like to see this year's Superbowl-losing New York Giants compete every week on Sunday, but I can't stand that team. I think they're about as dull as they come. I enjoy watching unpredictable but stable offenses like Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts and Drew Bledsoe's Patriots. Of course, no one beats Doug Flutie's Buffalo Bills. Though I didn't recognize any of the names of these XFL players, the game at first had the feel that anything could happen, and I liked that. Of course, then the Outlaws proceeded to pound New York/New Jersey into total annihilation, but that's football for you.

I also enjoyed the fresh take on the game. Football has always been a very stuffy sport. Not necessarily that much more so than other big professional sports, but certainly an argument could be made that NFL football could be looser and more open. Interviewing coaches and players was certainly an interesting twist, save for a few errors in judgment as to when it is appropriate to do that.

Generally speaking, I liked that the XFL was different. When analyzing the minutia, though, there was a lot to dislike about the Xtreme Football League. I understand that this was their first game and I am in no way suggesting that this should have all been perfected prior to ever setting foot on the field, but it's still important to recognize what wasn't done well.

The first thing that irked me the wrong way was the constant WWF connections. I understand that this is a Vince McMahon enterprise, but I think it will only succeed on its own merits. Having McMahon do a WWF-style promo and following that later with promos by some of the WWF's top stars was unnecessary. I don't want to be watching WWF action when I'm watching football. Just because I like both doesn't mean I want them at the same time.

The football itself was obviously terrible by NFL standards, but I actually attribute this more to the teams having new newly-formed than the ‘inferior' players of the XFL. That's really a plus more than anything, as I think there were several instances where receivers and backs showed plenty of talent.

I wasn't too fond of the announcing, specifically of Jesse Ventura. I like his character, but I don't need him calling my football. I'm kind of a John Madden mark, and listening to Ventura is a very different experience. Teaming him up with Jim Ross will not improve this, but it's better than teaming Ross with Lawler, who were even worse together. In fact, I don't think Lawler is much of a football commentator, despite the fact that he's my favourite wrestling colour man. The announcing didn't help distance the XFL from the WWF, either.

The cheerleading stuff was way overdone. The cheerleaders weren't talented and they didn't look like they'd even had much practice. That kind of T&A has its place, and I'm not saying I don't appreciate a little of it, but this was excessive, or at least poorly done.

There's a reason the NFL uses high-angle camera shots. If you shoot from too low, the players will block the camera's view of each other, and we won't see the play as clearly. Many columnists have thought of this before I, but it looked like the XFL was imitating a video game, which probably isn't the way to go. I like my camera angles to simply illustrate and underline what happened on the field, nothing more.

I'm not a pro football player so I have no idea, but I can't imagine what went on in the locker rooms during half-time was what really goes on most of the time. I would expect a lot more yelling, certainly from the losing side. Perhaps knowing that there's a camera pointed at you would subdue you a little bit too, as I suspect it did to the losing coach, but I can't shake the feeling we were missing something. I also couldn't shake the feeling that the half-time stuff was really boring.

Now, lots of this stuff is sure to improve as weeks go by, and I'm pretty I'll give the XFL a couple more chances before I write them off as something I don't want to see, but if serious efforts are not made to improve performance after the first game then they will be in trouble. It seems like it might be obvious that they would work to improve the things that I and everyone else have had problems with, but Vince McMahon is a wrestling promoter, and traditionally the easiest way to fix a problem in wrestling is just to convince fans that it isn't a problem. The problem is, that won't work here.

It's not wrestling, so I won't be tackling (haha) this issue every week, but I couldn't resist weighing in with reactions from the first effort.




Here's the mailbag.

Corey Gavin, from cgavin1@attcanada.ca, writes:

Hey Eric
I have to say that I must disagree with your recent column "The End Is Near". Sure you've got the Big Slow, back, fat as ever, stumbling around the ring (has he actually lost weight?). And you've got Drew Carey, lasting longer in the Rumble than Tazz (why are they burying this talented wrestler?). ECW is falling apart. And I won't even get into how bad WCW has been lately. But, look at the bright side. Good old HBK is on his way back to the WWF. He is the most talented individual ever to step into a ring in my opinion, and will surely spice things up. And the WWF has loads of talent, like Jericho, Edge and Christian, Tazz, and recently signed Justin Credible. Not to mention Kurt Angle, Triple H, Kane and the other main eventers right now. And things seem to be looking up for WCW under the guidance of Bischoff. In my opinion, things can only get better for us wrestling fans.




Hey Cory,

I'm glad someone has a positive attitude, but I think you may be overreacting to the above elements of good news.

To start, Shawn Michaels is not the best there ever was. I say this simply because if he were, he would have found a way to do it without sacrificing his body in the process. No offense to him, I enjoyed his work tremendously and I appreciate all he's done for fans over the years, but few would argue that Ric Flair also sells offense as good as anyone, and he's still ticking after all this time. It's important to emphasize longevity if for no other reason than quality of life, and I think that's an aspect of who really is the greatest wrestler. Now, Michaels is likely a shell of his former self, and I doubt he'll be wowing us nearly as much in the ring – though outside of the ring, anything is possible.

As I do every week, I watched the stars of the WWF do their thing on Raw. Edge and Christian haven't really evolved in an entire year. Tazz, as you mention, is being jobbed out. Chris Jericho is just barely better off in the WWF than he was during WCW in his heyday.

I'm still too far on the pessimistic side with this angle, but it was mostly a joke. You, sir, are still too far on the optimistic side.

That's all for this week. Thanks for tuning in, I hope you enjoyed it. Have a great week!




Send email to ebenner@hotmail.com.


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