Oh boy, it’s a great time to be a New England Patriots fan. They just won their 5th Super Bowl, Tom Brady is now the undisputed G.O.A.T. and the victory parade in Boston was glorious. As happy as things are right now for this pigskin fan…. Well, let me explain.
On Feb 3, 2001, I was that guy proudly wearing a NY/NJ Hitmen hat as the XFL was just hours away from their inaugural football game on NBC. I even bought an entire box of XFL trading cards thinking that I had made a smart investment that would pay off down the line.
Sadly, I’m not joking.
Do you want to know what’s really sad? Taking a story about the unmitigated disaster of Vince McMahon’s “smash mouth” football league and turning it into the ultimate puff piece where the positives are accentuated to fit a narrative that puts minimal lights on the overwhelming negatives.
This was the XFL is the latest installment in ESPN’s critically acclaimed series 30 for 30. It was surprising to see this episode stray away from the series norm of well-balanced accounts. Once I learned that the son of one of the leagues’ co-founders, Charlie Ebersole, directed the documentary…well, I hardly expected him to throw his father under the bus.
Dick Ebersole and Vince McMahon were heralded as a freight train of creativity and risk taking. The XFL was well marketed by the duo and they introduced some technological production advancements that the NFL adopted right away. Scantily clad cheerleaders, low quality of play on the field, dismal ratings and someone forgetting to put gas in a power generator were discussed as a string of unfortunate events.
WWE and NBC each lost $35 million dollars, which caused the famed network to pull out of their deal after one season. With the damage past the point of repair, the XFL folded one month after their championship game, which was won by the Los Angeles Xtreme.
The documentary doesn’t lie but delivers a nice spin and polish job of the XFL’s exploits. They did leave out some things such as the players on the Xtreme having to pay for their championship rings because Vince McMahon refused to foot the bill or how live attendance was inflated due to a massive amount of free tickets given away as the season progressed.
XFL was a great idea on paper that was marketed well but horribly flawed in its execution. With teams and coaches given only four weeks to practice before the season began, along with confusing rules that could be “changed at any time”, Vince McMahon and company spent the least amount of time developing the most important thing: the actual game.
Anyone looking to make a trade for my mint condition “He Hate Me” rookie card?