Let me quickly set the stage for you. WWE (then known as the WWF back in 2001) was riding high at the end of the Attitude era. The company had officially bought out their competition in WCW and ECW and then did an invasion angle which, well, happened. Stone Cold Steve Austin had briefly turned into a heel (a bad guy) at Wrestlemania 17, winning the WWF Championship. Then they realized this wasn’t a good idea and changed him back.
Within all this was the creation of the XFL – the brainchild of Vince McMahon for those who thirsted for a springtime option for football (and, weirdly, a go-between into the wrestling world). Honestly, that’s not a terrible idea in theory – so much so that the league has been resurrected for a third time to try this again this year.
I was one of the 14 million people who tuned into the first-ever XFL game between the NY/NJ Hitmen and Las Vegas Outlaws on Feb. 3rd, 2001. Admittedly, I dropped off shortly after that – the gimmicks and things implemented weren't enough to cover up that there just wasn’t good football played. On the eve of the second resurrection of the XFL, I went back and watched the first game again – and yeah, it’s still not great. However, I just wanted to go over a few thoughts I had watching this again.
- I remember the knock on the XFL was that it had a shroud of the WWF/sports entertainment aura around it. Maybe various wrestlers doing promos before and during the game didn’t help that. The Rock (who partially owns the XFL now) doing the people’s eyebrow and telling all the players and coaches to “just bring it.” – I get why they wanted to do this, but I’m not sure this would sell a football game outside of somebody who watched wrestling. Look, there’s the American Badass version of The Undertaker.
- Vince McMahon addresses the fans in Las Vegas just like he would on an episode of RAW in Boston.
- Jessie “The Body” Ventura really sold the fact that the players in the league did not get paid at all when they started to practice the November prior; nobody got paid for it — almost as if they were going off to battle. What? This is football — especially in a league where you have a scramble for the ball at the start and no sliding for the quarterbacks. Why did players do this?
- The “Play for Pay” scales are kinda crazy — $5,000 for Quarterbacks, $4,500 for everyone else, $3,000 for kickers, and a $2,500 bonus for everybody who wins. I’m not sure the NY/NJ Hitmen got the memo.
- The opening scramble got the Vegas crowd involved, but boy, this was a bad idea in hindsight. No wonder people got hurt.
- Some good things to take away from the Hitmen’s first drive and game in general. One, the sky cam is pretty good, and so are the player introductions. The players being mic’ed up on the field is fun as well. It was the first time the world was introduced to Rod “He Hate Me” Smart. The Hitmen pretty much marched down the field; then there were on-field interviews in between plays that much had to get bleeped out.
- Poor NY/NJ Hitmen quarterback Charlie Puleri had a rather tough night at the office. They couldn’t get anything going, and he looked lost when they interviewed him on the sideline later in the game.
- I’m not sure if this was an omen, but the game's first touchdown came off a deflection from Outlaws QB Ryan Clement to TE Rickey Brady. The sideline reporter made sure he rubbed salt in the wound interviewing Brady, saying, “sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good.” It didn’t look like Brady appreciated that one. This actually becomes funnier as a theme of the night when Hitmen players get asked about routes that went wrong and various other things.
- Why are the cheerleaders dancing on a ramp directly in front of the fans with very little distance? Also, leave it to Vince McMahon to make these WWF-style vignettes as we’re coming off the “Attitude Era.”
- I almost forgot that Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler also did commentary and on a far superior game between the Orlando Rage and the Chicago Hitmen. Jim Ross is into it and doing the best job he can, while Lawler is just playing up his wrestling persona because he’s just engaging with the cheerleaders.
- During the game, Puleri gets hit, and on the sidelines, he says he has difficulty focusing. Ventura looks at the reply and says, “he didn’t get hit that hard. He didn’t take one to the head,” as Puleri is getting a status check.
- After the Outlaws scored 19 points, it’s pretty much dead air at that point. Maybe this wasn’t the best choice to present the league, thinking back. But hey, I was sports entertained.
Here’s a full video of the first game, which you can also view at YouTube.