McMahon Ready to Put a Governor on XFL Analyst

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There is no telling how much longer the XFL will be around, but Gov. Jesse Ventura's days as the lead commentator may be numbered.

"He's on thin ice," Vince McMahon said Wednesday during an interview on the state of his new winter professional football league.

"We've made mistakes, and I think our biggest one was our selection of announcers," the XFL founder said. "We need football announcers, not WWF announcers."

Ventura is a former wrestler who became nationally known as a commentator for McMahon's World Wrestling Federation, using that fame to help get elected governor of Minnesota.

"Our research shows people don't like him on the XFL," McMahon said. "He's too over the top.

"Hyperbole turns people off. They know when you're not telling the truth."

Efforts to reach Ventura were unsuccessful.

McMahon said the plan now is to put more emphasis on the football and less on what is viewed as the WWF aspect of the XFL.

"We've got a wonderful league here, and we're in it for the long haul," McMahon said. "I hope NBC hangs in there with us.

"Frankly, we've made some mistakes, and, going in we knew we would. Things such as crowd control and beverage sales have all been part of our learning experience.

"We've done our research, we've listened to our audience, we've listened to the media, we've learned what appeals to WWF fans and what appeals to football fans, and we've made changes."

The NBC announcing lineup has been undergoing changes almost weekly.

After the first week, McMahon yanked play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian off the main NBC team and put him on the backup team.

"That may have been my single biggest mistake," McMahon said. "Any criticism we got for that was fair. I viewed Matt more as a baseball announcer and thought he needed to show more enthusiasm on football. He went to the backup team and honed his skills."

Vasgersian, who is also a Milwaukee Brewer announcer, sees it differently.

"You've got to have a product to be enthusiastic about," he said. "We didn't want to tell the fans how great this was without having seen it first. Had we only been allowed the parameters we were promised initially and been allowed to poke fun at the league, to have fun with it.

"We would have never made fun of the players, but we sure would have goofed on all the stuff taking place on the sidelines.

"Vince says I've honed my skills. I'm certainly the same announcer today as I was six weeks ago. As for not showing enthusiasm, I'm a guy who can dress up a Luis Lopez base hit to make it sound like Mazero-ski's 1960 home run."

Jim Ross, a WWF announcer, temporarily replaced Vasgersian, who is now back on the main team with Ventura.

When first dispatched to the backup team, Vasgersian hooked up with Jerry "the King" Lawler, another WWF announcer. Lawler abruptly quit three weeks ago after his wife, a WWF performer known as "the Kat," was fired.

"We fired her because she was difficult from an attitude standpoint," McMahon said.

Dick Butkus, the XFL's director of football competition, was brought in to replace Lawler the past two weekends. But McMahon said Wednesday that Dan Hampton, a former Chicago Bear, has been hired to work with Ross on the NBC backup game.

"Dick was gracious enough to fill in and did a great job," McMahon said, "but we need him doing what he does best--communicating with the teams and providing inspiration to the players.

"The type of announcers we are looking for at are all tied up by Fox."

Meanwhile, the XFL continues to get hammered by critics across the country.

Jim Rome, one of the severest critics, told The Times, "It is what it is, inferior football. And that's what McMahon is asking people to watch right after they've seen really good football, NFL football.

"It doesn't appeal to football fans because it is bad football and it doesn't appeal to wrestling fans because it isn't wrestling. What you're left with is a prime-time slot with nobody watching."

NBC, which started off with a 10.3 rating, has dropped to a 2.4.

J.K. McKay, vice president and general manager of the Los Angeles Xtreme, says he can't understand the critics' motives.

"It's not just criticism, there are those who seem hysterically opposed to the league," McKay said. "What have we done to deserve it?

"We've got a good product, inexpensive ticket prices, players who are not pampered and overpaid, and we drew good crowds to our first two home games despite terrible weather."

The Xtreme sold 35,813 tickets for the first home game and 18,341 for the second.

"We've succeeded in every area but one--national TV ratings," McKay said. "Locally, the TV ratings are fine. The day Stanford-UCLA played, we got a 3.5 and that game got a 2.7.

"And we're created jobs for a lot of people.

"As for the quality of football, people such as Rome who criticize that just don't know football."

Coach Al Luginbill said, "If we played [national champion] Oklahoma, it wouldn't be a contest."

McKay said, "We could score 100 points on Oklahoma."

He said the criticism is frustrating, but even more frustrating is the lack of media coverage.

"We play the Orlando Rage Sunday afternoon at 1 in the Coliseum," he said. "It's probably the game of the year in the XFL.

"You've got the teams with the two best records in the league. The winner probably gets home-field advantage for 'The Big Game at the End.' The Rage is the XFL's only undefeated team. We're coming off a big win over Birmingham in which Saladin McCullough rushed for 124 yards.

"We should have great weather and a big crowd. But you might not even know we are playing."

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Wrestling fans are loyal, but they certainly aren't flocking to the XFL games. C1

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