From journalist Forrest, a compact account of the ill-fated 2001 launch of a made-for-TV alternative football league.
When historians look back on the “anything’s possible” hubris of American culture at the turn of the millennium, one hard-to-miss boondoggle will be the “extreme” football league that promised to take professional football to new levels of “reality” and gore. The XFL was created by World Wrestling Federation king Vince McMahon, who believed he could bring the spectacular hokum of his popular “WWF Smackdown” to mainstream sports. Drawing its players and coaches from the ranks of NFL-wannabes, the XFL offered a new set of playing rules meant to increase the game’s immediacy and on-field violence. Microphones were put in places they’d never been before; there were bouncy cheerleaders and even some strippers; and former pro wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura, governor of Minnesota, was a commentator. The hype leading up to the league’s debut was huge, but TV viewership fell precipitously even before the first halftime, as McMahon, NBC’s sports guru Dick Ebersol, and other execs listened to the collective sound of the nation tuning in to check out the fledging league and almost instantly clicking away. The problem, explains Forrest, was that McMahon built the WWF’s success on violent “reality” that was in fact carefully rehearsed and designed for maximum impact. The XFL, by contrast, was in the end just a football game and could never be outlandish enough to live up to its own billing. Forrest writes snappily and brings some memorable XFL characters to the page, including Ventura, NFL veteran Dick Butkus, and several of the many who seized on the XFL as a last-chance: Outlaws coach Jim Criner, running back Rod Smart, and quarterback Ryan Clement.
Well-told tale of ego and excess run amok in big-time sports.