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Friday, May 11, 2001

SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column

Joke's on smug Vince

By ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

  Minutes after the XFL made its debut in front of a packed Vegas stadium and a healthy TV audience, Vince 'He Hate Me' McMahon sat gloating in a packed press tent.

Wearing the smug look of a man who felt he had just proven every XFL critic in North America wrong, he may as well have answered every single question by simply raising his middle finger.

Perhaps confusing the real world for a wrestling world in which such a gesture draws senseless ovations, he was as defiant and classless as most of the WWF characters he invented.

Sneering and rolling his eyes at media types who he eloquently suggested should kiss his butt, the shameless braggart turned the XFL's only triumphant moment into a public scolding.

For a man trying hard to market the notion his cartoon football loop was a legitimate sport, it was, perhaps, his biggest mistake.

The man who made millions from the art of confrontation, finally met an opponent he couldn't beat -- the media.

Unable to prove his upstart league was ever even intended to become a legitimate alternative for football fans, McMahon's vision was crucified long before two glorified tackling dummies chased a ball at midfield for the inaugural coin toss. Among the league's many flaws, his lack of credibility was perhaps the main reason the XFL was little more than a punchline.

While the long list of piecemeal rules could have added to the product if properly presented and applied, they were mocked in newspapers, on radio and on TV.

In a sports world where perception is everything, he misread the landscape, mistakenly believing his bravado and arrogance would help, not hinder the league.

After tuning in Week 1 to see he'd clearly gone too far with the "sizzle," fans cared not about the fact the steak was adequate, if not mildly entertaining. It was an obvious flaw hammered home by the media, influencing fans not to consider it as mainstream entertainment ever again. The league's die was cast. Even the staunchest of wrestling fans couldn't have given the league a second thought.

"I've questioned myself on that," said McMahon yesterday, when asked if he regretted his defiant stance against the media.

"There was a misunderstanding with the media of what (viewers could) expect. That was another failing on my part. Could I have been a little more gracious? Well, I've gotta be me. I am who I am whether I'm arrogant or straightforward. I would put no blame on the media, this is all on my shoulders. It was my vision. The buck stops with me, ultimately."

Contrary to what millions of North Americans believe -- and several failed spring leagues have proven -- NBC bigshot Dick Ebersol and McMahon both insist their spring league could've survived had they given themselves more time to ensure the on-field and TV product was "more consistent." The price they paid for their errors in judgment: $35 million for McMahon and closer to $50 million for NBC.

While abysmal ratings dictated the league would likely fold this summer or next, it was NBC's refusal to air the league in prime time and the failure to keep UPN on board that prompted McMahon's embarrassing announcement yesterday. It came shortly after a humiliating phone call to the NFL to see if there was interest in using the XFL as a development league. The call went unreturned.

Personally, I was prepared to give the XFL every opportunity to succeed. After attending the first game, I was one of the few journalists in North America that tried to look past the schlock. However, after a few weeks I grew tired of defending a football product forever tainted by McMahon and his antics.

It didn't take long for me to concede the XFL was a joke.

Look who's laughing now, Vinnie.
Eric Francis is a sports writer at the Calgary Sun and can be emailed at

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