February 02, 2001|By CHRIS GRANT, Sports Editor

I've seen this all before.

First there was the United States Football League, then Canadian Football tried to move into the United States, didn't it? And what about the World Football League? Yes, I seem to remember that vain attempt at claiming a part of the football market.

So I wonder why am I supposed to want to watch Saturday's debut of Vince McMahon's XFL. Just what is supposed to be different about this newest of football leagues?

Well, the people at the XFL, World Wrestling Federation and NBC all seem to have plenty of reasons to watch. Let's see, there are the sexy cheerleaders, the funny camera angles and sideline interviews after spectacular plays.


Then there is the violence and that, along with the cheerleaders, seems to be what is being pushed. Yes, the No. 1 selling point of the XFL appears to be the fact that there is no fair catch and that the cheerleaders wear little clothing. They would have us believe that this is "throwback" football, that people are going to bleed and all the while we'll be able to look at pretty girls in short skirts.

Vince McMahon has long preyed on America's love of sex and violence. The WWF feeds the country's need to see men bleeding alongside barely clothed women, and I guess it serves its purpose. So it is not surprising Vince has branched out and taken a shot at extending his stranglehold on the male youth market and that is exactly what the XFL is about, playing up to teenage boys.

If you want an example of the XFL's attempt to paint a violent picture then look no further than one of the league's first hires, former Chicago Bear Dick Butkus. Butkus was a bruising linebacker, one of the NFL's best and he was not above the occasional clothesline or cheap shot. Now he is one of the primary spokesmen for the league. I think that very fact says enough about just what the XFL is trying to sell.

It seems, however, that the people at the XFL are missing the point and that point is most fans don't just want sex and violence. They want violence with a flair. They want the biggest, fastest and strongest men on the planet delivering skull-numbing hits and that is why the XFL, like those many leagues before it, will eventually fail.

The players stocking the XFL rosters are castoffs from the NFL, castoffs from the CFL, hell, some are castoffs from the Arena League. They are nowhere close to being the biggest, fastest or the strongest. These are players who aren't even on NFL scout teams.

This does not mean I will not keep an eye on the XFL. It certainly has a few drawing points beyond the cheerleaders and funny rules.

For instance, it will be nice to see former Texas A&M standouts Sedrick Curry, Toya Jones and Eric England get a chance to play some more football. It also will give Brawley Union alums Brandin Young and Dustin Owen a shot at continuing their careers. And don't forget Jim Skipper, another former Brawley-ite working as head coach of the San Francisco Demons.

I like the ball too. Black and red are quite a color combination (as I tried to convince my beautiful wife when we were selecting colors for our wedding reception). The uniforms, however, seem a bit gauche, but I guess that's to be expected from a league that is the offshoot of the WWF.

Of course, there is a way for the XFL to succeed and that's to get some quality players. I think Vince McMahon and NBC should open their purse strings and buy Michael Vick or maybe sign some high-profile NFL free agents. Pretty girls are fine, but when people are watching football they would much rather be looking at Warren Sapp, Eddie George or Ray Lewis than a former Penthouse Pet.

And that's the only way this thing is ever going to go over. Sex and violence are a fine appetizer, but the main course needs some sort of substance and that substance must be talent. Without it the XFL is little more than arena football on a much larger field.

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