So the XFL is upon us, and with it the promise of a blissfully violent brand of pro football—more bone-jarring collisions, fewer rules, no silly delays between bursts of brutality. This league, in the words of World Wrestling Federation chairman Vince McMahon, who plans a February 2001 launch, isn't for "pantywaists or sissies."
Titans free safety Blaine Bishop must be thrilled. Bishop, an undersized underdog, stands for everything good and noble about the NFL, the league to which McMahon's venture hopes to provide a leaner, meaner alternative. Bishop, you'll recall, made a head-on hit during the Super Bowl and spent several scary minutes facedown on the Georgia Dome turf before being lifted onto a stretcher and transported to a hospital. Thankfully he had only sprained his neck.
This is the danger of football unchained, of equating unscripted physical destruction with entertainment. Yet as easy as it is to write off the XFL as another half-baked offering in a sports world oversaturated with junk leagues, there's something about this one that throws the frustrated football fan a very appealing bone. For as dominant and viewer-friendly as the NFL is, the grand old league has a flabby underbelly: its utter lack of playfulness. If nothing else, perhaps the XFL will give the No Fun League a swift kick in the butt by reminding everyone why football is cool.
For an alternative league to work, it has to be ABA-style funky, and to that end the XFL says it will offer a blend of retro-chic combat and futuristic technology. Among the concepts: no TV timeouts, the return of the head-slap and bump-and-run, no fair catches, and microphones and cameras everywhere. "We won't stifle our players' individuality," says Basil DeVito, the XFL's executive in charge of league development. "We feel the NFL has moved away from the core game that really hooked America. We envision a basic, more visceral game."
It sounds intriguing, but if the XFL really wants to rattle the NFL's cage, it should start with two not-so-gimmicky steps: Hire some African-American general managers and head coaches, and ban artificial turf. Oh, and one other thing: When a player is lying motionless on the grass, slow things down, remove him with care and don't go harrumphing about what a sissy he is.