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Savran: XFL succeeds in being unlike NFL

Sunday, February 11, 2001

There is water skiing and there is snow skiing. The only thing the two have in common is that both require boards being strapped to the feet.

The NFL and XFL share two letters and a similarly shaped ball. Even at that, the balls are different colors. If you add a few differences in the rules under which they play, what you end up comparing are apples to apples -- different shapes and different tastes for different audiences.

Several "analysts" decried the level of play in the XFL's inaugural weekend on the basis that it wasn't nearly as good as the NFL's.

Really!

Did they figure that out all by themselves?

Only an idiot would expect it to be as good. Nor will it ever be.

And I'll let you in on a little secret. The XFL has no interest in getting to that level of play because it would cost too much.

Repeat after me. The XFL is not in competition with the NFL, and it shouldn't be evaluated on that standard. It should be evaluated on its own merits. And objectives.

One guy, in this very newspaper, ripped the league in a column last Saturday morning.

Unfortunately, the league didn't make its debut until Saturday night. Might be a good idea to at least wait until you see it before you rip it.

The detestable talk host Jim Rome trashed the league and its target audience -- the wrestling crowd. Talkin' all that phony juvenile smack, who does he think comprises his audience, members of Mensa? The next properly constructed sentence he utters will be his first.

Why do these people feel the need to disembowel this new venture based on a perceived challenge to the NFL, which the clear-minded understand it is not?

Why do they somehow regard this as a personal affront?

Why do they feel a need to become spin doctors for Paul Tagliabue?

Vince McMahon is seeking a niche and an audience he understands. Because he appears to be able to slide through a keyhole without Vaseline, the very first thing he had to do was prove that the competition was legitimate.

Whether it was good football or not, people had to be assured that the outcomes weren't predetermined, as it is in his wrestling shows.

As for the level of play, some of the teams looked inept, and ineptitude is hard to watch and even harder to fix.

There was a bit too much of the wrestling persona for my taste. There's plenty of testosterone in the game of football. You don't need to manufacture it.

But these people are smart marketers. They'll figure out a proper balance eventually. You may not like what they do, but you have to admire how they do it.

On the positive side, I was impressed by some of the names playing in the league.

True, most of them are NFL has-beens or wannabes. But some, like former No. 1 picks John Avery and Rashan Salaam, bring credentials.

There's an awful lot of college football being played today, and there are a lot of players who never get a look or ren't quite good enough. That doesn't make them poor players.

Some of the technology, camera angles and audio opportunities, were intriguing, if a bit overdone. But it does give you a fresh look and feel.

What I liked best (and perhaps NFL ostriches ought to extract their heads from the sand and take notice) are the rules changes.

When's the last time you saw a separated shoulder during the coin toss, the Steelers' debacle in Detroit notwithstanding?

A mandatory run or pass for the extra point is an excellent idea.

One foot in bounds for a reception is an effective way to open up the game.

And when's the last time you were lifted from your seat by a fair catch?

I expect the XFL's remarkably good TV ratings will hold this weekend. Those who won't watch again will be replaced by those who will because of the buzz during this past week.

And that's critical because this is, after all, a studio league. Much like its wrestling counterpart, who and how many it attracts on TV will determine how many it attracts to the live venues.

But whatever it is or isn't, whatever it does or doesn't, it isn't a challenge to the NFL.

It was never intended to be.


Stan Savran is host of a sports talk show weeknights from 8-9 on WBGG-AM (970).

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