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Jimmy The Roman

The WWF's XFL...just another storyline

OK, sports fans, if you're a football enthusiast like me, you probably already know about this new football league called the XFL, run exclusively by the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). Eight inaugural teams have been announced, and even a

few coaches have been hired (Dick Butkus in Chicago, Galen Hall in Orlando and a few other obscure names coaching flashy teams in LA and Las Vegas).

My question is, what is the big deal? On one very basic level, this seems like just another football league trying to cut into the huge marketing pie created by America's "favorite" sports organization, the National Football League (NFL). On the other hand, the people at the WWF are marketing geniuses in their own right, turning what is essentially nothing more than a soap opera into a testosterone party erupting weekly at venues all over the country (and on national television--not to mention the popular pay-per-view events).

I'll admit to having casually watched a few episodes of WWF television over the years. It's hard to escape when you live with a roommate who eats, sleeps and drinks professional wrestling (he even had his own RPG federation, at one point). At times, it's an entertaining bit of drama, but most of the entertainment is derived from laughter, not interest or awe at the athleticism of the "sport."

Professional wrestling, at least what the WWF presents, cannot be considered a true sport. Wait a minute, you say, they look like athletes to me! Well sure, that's the illusion. The reality is that these guys are acting (and badly, in most cases, I might add). They play out a script with a predetermined outcome and winner. Like a soap opera, there is a writer backstage toiling over a computer to decide who will be the next WWF Champion--you know, the guy who wears the gaudy gold belt that is only marginally less tacky than the one my own father wears.

And while it is true that most NFL head coaches go into weekly games with a "game plan" and a set of the first 20 or so plays already scripted, it is also true that no head coach is ever certain whether his team will walk off the gridiron victorious or not. Nor is there a referee or umpire on the field charged with determining the victor.

(l to r) XFL Chicago franchise head coach Dick Butkus and WWF President Vince McMahon present the XFL ball at a press conference

Even the franchise owners have nothing to do with victory on the football field (short of the fat wallets they deplete to hire "good" players). The fact is, football is played, not performed. The players actually play to win. They play without knowing what their fate will be: whether they will win, suffer career ending injuries or, in some rare instances (as has happened in the NFL a handful of times in its existence), die on the field.

WWF performers, on the other hand, play to the script. Every wince of pain, every move they execute in the ring--every alliance and rivalry--is all scripted. The WWF performer is, essentially, a means to an end. It is inherently unreal in terms of sports quality. Nobody really gets hurt (unless they stray from their choreographed moves), nobody really wins the event--truthfully, the matches are played to drive the story and win television ratings (which translate into big advertising dollars). It's not the athleticism that drives WWF's popularity--it's the stories. And while the same may be somewhat true for the NFL, most fans watch football with anticipation to see how the victor will win (and most will play the inevitable role of armchair quarterback, second-guessing their favorite team for the entire 60 minutes of play). The anticipation I feel when I watch WWF is of how truly awful the commentary will be, or how embarrassingly bad the "athletes" will perform between matches in front of the camera (where the real action happens).

So what does this have to do with the XFL? Simply put, a merging of professional wrestling into professional football is about as plausible as merging ballet with Italian opera. Nobody wants to see the fat lady in horns wearing a tutu. And nobody wants to see a football player goading his opponents in between plays or games with over-the-top flexing of muscles, unnecessarily gratuitous yelling and screaming, and false threats. Football players goad their opponents on the field with real grit, real muscle, real contact. Football is a game of strategy and execution--it cannot be a predetermined sport where the winner is already scripted in advance. That completely ruins the whole pleasure of watching football, and totally takes the sport out of the game. A scripted victor is no winner--he becomes the leading player in the drama. Real football is not like that.

Consider how silly the whole concept of the XFL really is. Just what does the "X" stand for? Knowing the WWF, it's probably some ubiquitous representation of "extreme" or "excess." Actually, neither is the case. On the official XFL website, the 'X' is explained quite clearly: "many people assume that it stands for 'extreme,' but that's not the case. 'X' is just a cool letter that has come to identify a demographic and an aggressive lifestyle. Plus, there are a lot of great words with the letter 'X' that we can use to describe the XFL--eXciting, eXhilarating, eXplosive, eXplicit, etc. And XFL sounds a lot more entertaining than EFL."

And there you have it. America's favorite sport--denigrated to the lowest common denominator: entertainment. Sure, I'm entertained by an NFL game. There's no denying it. But not because I'm enjoying the storyline. Rather, I'm usually just enjoying the game. The WWF would be wise to understand that before promoting themselves as "exciting" or "exhilarating." At the very least, they may want to consider how hard it will be to pass block with those big belts on, and I shudder to think what their version of the Lombardi Trophy will look like. Come to think of it, how are they going to wear all those football pads underneath their wrestler briefs?

I'm not even going to go there.

Jimmy The Roman, a salute to the deceased sports journalist "Jimmy the Greek", is a periodic columnist at YourMVP.net

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