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XFL to Bring Brasher Version of Football to Television

Aired February 2, 2001 - 4:45 p.m. ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: A new sports league opens play tomorrow night. The XFL is promising some hard-core bashing, with rules at least somewhat different than the NFL's. This won't be your dad's version of pigskin play.

CNN's Frank Buckley now with a preview.



ANNOUNCER: There's a new brand of football coming.


FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's called the XFL.


BUCKLEY: The players, former NFLers and castoffs from other football leagues. Hungrier players, say promoters, making no more than $50,000 a year.


DICK BUTKUS, DIR. OF FOOTBALL OPERATIONS: How about this? Kill the guy with the ball.


BUCKLEY: Old-school great Dick Butkus is the league's director of competition, but modern-era media mogul Vince McMahon is the man behind the league.

VINCE MCMAHON, XFL CREATOR: The XFL is a live reality show inside arguably the best sport on television: football.

BUCKLEY: McMahon is also the man behind this: the highly- successful World Wrestling Federation. McMahon says the XFL will not be faked football. But there will be cameras in the huddle, different rules to speed up play, no "in the grasp" rule to protect quarterbacks, no watching a ball roll dead on punts. BUTKUS: You can make your move to the refrigerator or the john when you see it's fourth down. In our league, I think it's going to create a little excitement because there is no fair catch.

BUCKLEY: The league is marketing itself to young males.


ANNOUNCER: The XFL cheerleaders: Don't worry, we'll teach them how to cheer.


BUCKLEY: Cheerleaders allowed to date players and display their personalities on TV.

KARLA, CHEERLEADER: I think the XFL cheerleaders are going to start a new stereotype for cheerleaders.

BUCKLEY (on camera): Some XFL teams will use the same stadiums used by NFL teams, like Giants Stadium here in East Rutherford, New Jersey. But critics of the new league say the level of play in the XFL will fall short of the NFL.

(voice-over): Others say it will play -- to the lowest common denominator.

PHIL MUSHNICK, "NEW YORK POST": The XFL's game plan is the same as the World Wrestling Federation's game plan. It is to sell sex and violence under the cloak of some sort of a quasi-sport or some sort of a competition that really serves as just a prop.

BUCKLEY: But players, like Charles Puleri, a backup quarterback in other leagues and a bit player in the movies -- he's the fireman loading Ben Stiller into an ambulance -- see the league as an opportunity to shine.

CHARLES PULERI, QUARTERBACK: Between the white lines, it's going to be professional football. What happens outside of the lines is: Who knows?

BUCKLEY: Other leagues, like the USFL have come and gone. But this one is backed by McMahon's marketing machine and NBC, "Jesse the Body" the Governor Ventura providing color commentary on its broadcasts, McMahon predicting his new league will set the bar for the NFL in the future.

MCMAHON: They're going to say: Geez, why can't the NFL be more like the XFL? And, quite frankly, they're going to have to be, because we're going to break new ground and allow the fan access to this game, which is something the NFL has never done.

BUCKLEY: Frank Buckley, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHEN: And joining us from our New York bureau today, Brett Forest, a freelance writer who contributes regularly to "Gear" magazine. Brett covered the first XFL minicamp back in November.

Brett, I guess you spent some time watching these guys; are they really going to be a different league?

BRETT FORREST, "GEAR" MAGAZINE: Oh yes, definitely. I mean, I think, you know -- Vince McMahon made an important point, and that is that these are real football players.

But this is going to be the "Survivor" template applied to sports. You know, there are going to be cameras in the huddle, there are going to be cameras in the locker room; there's even a report that there are going to be cameramen dressed up in helmet and pads actually on the field during play.

So this is going to be something where, you know, you get to the know the players away from the field, too.

CHEN: So we're going to be watching player-cam on the field there.

Now, look, I mean, they say it's going to be more extreme, more brutal; they have these, like, big dramatic names. But really, I mean, how much harder can you knock somebody's helmet off? How much harder can you dislocate somebody's knee?

FORREST: Yes, exactly; well I think, you know, a lot of that strategy is barred from the WWF. Listen to some of the names, you know, Maniacs, Enforcers, Outlaws, Demons; it's all just part of the big marketing ploy to draw people in.

But I think it will be slightly more violent because some of the rules that are in place to protect players in the NFL are no longer there in the XFL. But overall I just think it brings more attitude to the whole thing.

CHEN: Tell us, though, really about -- I mean, you're going to have to talk to talk to me, and I'm not a big football fan; tell me, really, how the play is actually different.

FORREST: The play itself?

CHEN: Yes.

FORREST: It's going to be pretty much the same, I mean, expect that the players themselves aren't going to be as good as the players in the NFL. It's going to be football...

CHEN: Well, gee, that's something to look forward to, isn't it? Players who aren't as good as the ones from the NFL.

FORREST: Well, yes; nut the thing is, this isn't going to be just about football. You;re going to know which quarterback is dating which cheerleader; you're going to know about the wide receiver who wants to date the same cheerleader. You're going to hear when a guy drops a winning touchdown and he comes off the field and he gets yelled at by his coach.

You're going to know much more about everything else, you know, besides just football. So that's going to bring a lot more people in. You know, it's not just going to be football, it's going to be a reality-based TV show.

CHEN: I am not entirely sure how much I want to know about the private lives of football players that we haven't seen bandied about in headlines. In any case -- but tell us a little bit about the sex element, too, and some of these girls who are cheerleaders. I like the one who's quoted saying: "We're going to start a new stereotype."

FORREST: Yes, she sounded a little confused, I have to say. You know, these are -- this is something that Vince McMahon is no stranger to -- you know, playing up the sex aspect. And he takes a lot of heat for that. But, you know, I don't think Vince McMahon is some evil person bent on polluting young minds everywhere.

You know, think about Barnum who, you know, was lionized for exploiting the grotesque and the disenfranchised. This is what Vince McMahon does, too. And, you know, if you're looking for overt representations of evil, look no further that the NFL, who reserved its highest award for a man who was directly related in a double murder.

CHEN: You know, the football side show -- I guess the other thing that I heard that struck me as interesting is 50,000 bucks per player -- that's it; i mean, is that the top end of the salary, top...

FORREST: Yes; well, each player gets $45,000. The quarterbacks get a little bit more and the kickers get a little bit less. That's just a way to curb the, you know, the greed that a lot of fans -- have driven a lot of fans away from pro sports. You look at a guy like Alex Rodriguez in baseball who gets, you know, an incredible contract that's bigger than the annual budgets of most small countries.

CHEN: Yes, a lot of people are tired about that.

FORREST: Yes, people are tired of that; and this is a way that people like Dick Butkus and Vince McMahon can sort of bring that old- school mentality back -- like these guys are not playing for the money, necessarily, they're playing to win.

CHEN: Yes, well $50,000 to get your helmet knocked off. We'll see if it's worth it.

Brett Forrest, who covered the first XFL minicamp, appreciate your joining us with your insights about the XFL.

FORREST: Thanks, Joie.

CHEN: See you.



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