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December 06, 2001

Don't Give Me an X
By Dan Patrick

The XFL debuted this weekend, in case you were snowed in somewhere without cable. We know that the "X" is for extreme. And from what I saw, the "F" is for forced.

Rod Smart
Las Vegas Outlaws running back Rod Smart chose the catchy phrase "He Hate Me" for his jersey.

We knew the football would be strictly Grade B and it was. We have the NFL and the college game to measure quality football and the XFL is a clear notch below both of those games. These days Rashaan Salaam would not last a day in an NFL camp. The quarterbacks made Trent Dilfer look like Johnny Unitas. If you thought you would see some good football this weekend and tuned in looking for it, you won't make that mistake again.

Aside from the football, the XFL promised to be a lot of things that the NFL is not -- wild, edgy, provocative. The problem is, you can't force being "edgy." You either are or you're not. It's an observation someone else has to make about you or your product. It's not something you announce or declare about yourself.

As a result, the non-football stuff (which was all the league had going for it) was very weak. A cheerleader exclaimed, "He really knows how to score!" And a nation groaned. Cutting edge all right. Cutting edge with a very dull knife. The only sharp knife involved with the XFL belonged to a very busy plastic surgeon.

The league allows the players to put just about any phrase they want in the space above the number on their backs. Lots of guys went with their names. But that's not "edgy." That's too "safe," being able to identify the players. Rod Smart of Las Vegas came up with the catchy "He Hate Me" -- as in, the guys on the other team hate me. That's a puzzler. Though I must admit the word "Smart" would have been equally out of place.

Will the XFL succeed? If these first few games are a good sampling of the league, only if it gets more edgy -- which will obviously require an awful lot of midnight-oil consumption. They certainly don't need to worry about the football. Nobody tunes in to the WWF to see wrestling techniques and creative holds and pins. Vince McMahon is master marketer. He'll come up with something. If his partners at NBC do spit takes and start stammering at idea meetings, McMahon will be on the right track.

The old fogies decrying the XFL need to be quiet. "He Hate Me" is not trying to impress you and neither is his employer. They know "You Hate Them" already. They are going after your youngest children. Your stern dismissals are just a sign for the kids to tune in.

Some of the technology and camera work was interesting and innovative. But does that make it a sport? No. I hope we stop running the XFL on SportsCenter. As a rule, there are no highlights if the game is played by minor leaguers. We don"t run CBA highlights on SportsCenter and we wouldn"t start even if they had nude cheerleaders ... I think.

The XFL is entertainment wrapped around football. Sports just happens to be the environment. Sports is just the neighborhood. The more they try to entertain, and the less they try to play up the athletes, the better the XFL will do.

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