XFL Kickoff Puts a Yawn in ‘Smash Mouth’ Football


What a bummer, what a fraud.

After that full nelson of a buildup from Jesse Ventura, who moonlights as Minnesota governor, and Vince McMahon, the billionaire farceur who heads the World Wrestling Federation. After they and their fellow funny men at NBC promised “Gladiator” with goal posts. After an advertising blitz guaranteed to boil the blood pressures of those wimps and pantywaists in Congress hoping to impose passivity on our savage airwaves.

After all of that.

What did their new XFL give America Saturday night in its first regular-season telecast featuring the New York/New Jersey Hitmen versus the Las Vegas Outlaws?

No blood! No gore! No broken noses! No gouged eyes! No knees below the belt. Not one homicide, not even a body slam! Even in winning 19-0, Las Vegas acted less like outlaws than in-laws.


The cattle herded into Sam Boyd Stadium for this Vegas debacle would have seen more action from Wayne Newton swinging his microphone. Siegfried and Roy hit harder.

The evening began with a pregame show from New York introducing the two teams’ gyrating, tush-wiggling, breast-bouncing cheerleaders, who were obviously on loan from “Temptation Island.”

Were those Hitmen girls nasty or not? Sample: “I am Envy. I love you too, baby.” And another: “Hi, guys. I’m Dee. Hoboken!”

Actually, it was exactly like Miss America except that no one here wanted to be a brain surgeon. Although one was desperately needed, for lapping this up was a room full of hooting, hollering, panting Stanley Kowalskis with dog food stains on their faces. Doesn’t New York have a leash law?

As for the game, coaches and quarterbacks were miked, and NBC was all over the field with close-up cameras, hoping to capture the disgusting, bone-crunching behavior that the XFL was promoting. Oh, sure. In pregame introductions, an Outlaw told the camera, “I love you, Dad.” Why didn’t they just go ahead and fit him with a diaper?

What happened to the old-fashioned “smash mouth football” talked up by Ventura, who was known as “The Body” in his career as a professional wrestling goon?

If these guys were real men, why were they wearing helmets and pads? When the Outlaws didn’t get a play off on time, they should have been beaten with nail-headed clubs instead of getting a mere 5-yard penalty. What is it, also, with these pass-interference calls? Smash mouth, remember? And personal fouls? In smash mouth, the only personal foul that gets a penalty is beheading.

This was smoosh mouth. Did you see that 320-pound blob writhing on the field, claiming an injury? What a ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-by!!! Give the ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-by his bottle. If this were true smash mouth, he would have been disemboweled on the spot.

Actually, the most abused person in the stadium was not a player but Fred Roggin, the KNBC sportscaster hired to do sideline interviews on the shaky assumption that anyone there would say something worth hearing. Lot of good his XFL jacket did him. He was generally ignored, including by the Outlaw who was speaking on a phone when funny Fred made his pitch: “I know you’re on an important call, but could you put the phone down?”

As if McMahon were goosing them, meanwhile, announcers Ventura and Matt Vasgersian tried desperately to make this game sound like the vicious war it wasn’t. The offensive and defensive lines couldn’t be just big, they had to be “big and ugly.”

“What a pop!” howled the excited Mattster about a collision that would have been a tap on the shoulder in the NFL. And an ordinary hit became a “Wow!” or “Wham!” to Ventura, his own mouth doing more smashing than the Outlaws or Hitmen. Or their coaches.

The XFL had its cameras in the locker rooms at halftime, with Ventura promising that the Hitmen coach would explode at his losing team. When that didn’t happen, Ventura was apologetic: “He’s coaching tonight instead of yelling.” They’ll have to talk to him about that.

The new league is supposed to be about sex too, of course, the shrewdness of its wit evident in taped comedy bits that included a Vegas cheerleader cooing that the Outlaw quarterback “knows how to score.”

This was written before UPN’s telecast of the Los Angeles Xtremes opener against San Francisco on Sunday. So disastrous was Saturday’s premiere, though, that NBC abruptly switched in the fourth quarter to the XFL’s more competitive Orlando-Chicago game, where another pair of Hee-Haw announcers was trying out its own jokes: “The cheerleaders were lovely. They had their backfields in motion all night.”

This game also had its own Roggin, a sideline reporter who was snubbed himself when asking the Orlando coach a question.

He too was coaching, for despite growling about being distinctively outrageous, the XFL is just another football league, with fringe and over-the-hill players who are surely serious about what they’re doing, but putting on a tedious, inept show while doing it. Roller Derby beats it any day.


Howard Rosenberg’s column appears Mondays and Fridays. He can be contacted by e-mail at