Amy and I went to see an XFL game last week (Week 4). The San Francisco Demons (2-2) took on, and subsequently got spanked 16-9 by the Western Division leading Las Vegas Outlaws (3-1). Click here to see our pictures. As a football fan from way back, I’ve been following the league since its inception and have embraced the idea of extending the football season past January with open, track-ridden arms. Aside from hockey or roller-derby, no other sport is as addictive nor warrants wasting an entire Sunday afternoon.
I was somewhat surprised to learn that Vince McMahon, president of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), didn’t learn from either the USFL and WLAF. (Specifically, that most people don’t need, or want, a new American football league.) Regardless, using his impressive WWF fortune and extensive media connections, Vince created an entirely new football league for "real" football fans. Ironic, since he’s best known for his "unreal" (i.e. fake) wrestling.
Creating the infrastructure for a new league and marketing it to the masses was the easy part. After all, this IS the third time somebody has thought a new football league was a good idea, so he’s not exactly breaking new ground. Finding players who are good proved to be the tough part. And it shows. As a result, the league is populated by castoffs and/or not-good-enoughs. Guys who couldn’t make the pro cut, or are too old to play in the NFL. Or both. (Hurtful taunts include "You can’t defend, that’s why the Colts cut you!")
A league of second-rate players begs the question, "Does that make for bad football?" Um, well…kinda.
Fortunately, the actual game wasn’t a priority for us. Amy and I were going primarily to see the inside of Pac Bell Park, a "must-see" baseball stadium from what we were told. A baseball stadium whose insides we would probably "never-see" due to my severe aversion for watching America’s favorite pastime. So this was a perfect opportunity. And, after checking the joint out, I can attest to its impressive faux-old world charm and theme-restaurant design aesthetics.
There were really only two blights on the Park, the worst was the garish and ubiquitous advertisements clustered about in every spare inch of real estate. The expense of building such an attractive park doubtlessly was bankrolled by corporate sponsors like Coca-Cola who erected a tasteful, phallically angled wireframe Coke bottle that lights up neon during night games.(Did I say tasteful?)
The second, and far worse blight, was the XFL ticket holders themselves (ourselves included). (Click here to see our pictures.) There were lots of young families with kids dressed head-to-toe in Officially Licensed XFL Merchandise as well as t-shirtless, Demon-Red-painted 18-34ers repeatedly raising their plastic Inaugural Season commemorative beer cup (only $6) to "their" new football team.
Despite the availability of (albeit pricey) alcohol, the crowd was neither as rowdy nor violent as we’d expected from a Vince MacMahon production, but that could have been attributed to the venue’s location in the West Coast’s capitol of uptightness. I expect it’d be more raucous in the Midwest or the South. (Sadly, SFers are not known for their humorous and drunken parking lot brawls.) In fact, we only saw one fight, between a large inebriated Demon’s fan and an unfortunate 20-something man who’d made the huge error of wearing the opposing team’s hat to the game. Several friends of the rotund local had to hold him back from—and I’m guessing here— sitting on the poor Outlaws fan. (Even Vince probably didn’t expect such fan devotion and zealotry until week six at the earliest.)
The cheerleaders, not surprisingly, were a large draw for the XFL. As any strip club proprietor can tell you, no one ever went broke showing beautiful girls in skimpy clothing. Still, I was surprised to learn that most of the women had other jobs. Non-stripping jobs even! One was an elementary teacher. Another was a marketing manager for a silicon valley high-tech company (out of business by now, no doubt). Typically, most were "dance instructors". Still, the best commentary on the cheerleaders came from the 45-year old guy sitting ahead of us. As the girls made their rotation around to the front of our end zone seats, he observed, "Look, here come the hookers."
Sure, the level of play isn’t as good as the NFL, but what do people expect? All the really good players already have jobs! Besides, we weren’t paying NFL prices. Field Level seats are only $20. A far cry from the arm-twisting, rob-you-at-gunpoint prices that "real" NFL football commands. And 34,000 people packed the place to prove that Americans love football better than they love the NFL.
The player talent was certainly as good, or better, than many local college teams that people pay good money to see without complaining. But for those fans who never went to college (almost all of them from the looks of it), they now have a local team to support. Thanks to Vince, Joe-Six-Pack has a football team he can afford to take his whole family of future assembly line workers to see.
If nothing else, the XFL presents people with "something to do". It’s a chance to get out of the house and go see a "pro" football game you’d probably never get to see without knowing people in the media who can get you free tickets.
Sure, it’s not bringing in the best Nielson ratings, but it’s televised on Saturday, for crying out loud. The people to whom this is aimed DO have things to do. They’re out living busy, dynamic lives. Driving drunk and getting into bar fights. Hey, you gotta keep your priorities straight. Bar fights don’t pick themselves.