In 2000, the WWE could do no wrong. They were at the top of the ratings chart with Monday Night Raw, The Rock was just hitting his stride as one of the greatest performers in wrestling history, and the company made it’s way public, becoming listed on the New York Stock Exchange. So when the WWE announced they had plans to create a new football league, to say people were interested is putting it mildly.
This Was The XFL is a documentary detailing the life and times of the failed football league the WWE and NBC created. It’s a warts and all look at what went into the creation of the league and the events that led to it’s demise.
What struck me about the documentary was the confirmation of something I’ve already suspected and that’s the fact that Vince McMahon put no real thought into the development of the league. The league went from initial press conference to playing on the field without taking the time to create an infrastructure that would support the league for the long haul. The XFL had plenty of great ideas which the NFL picked up after the league went under but as a fan, it appeared the league was changing things up on the fly which made it tough to maintain interest. Add to that the fact that they gave the players no time to gel as a team and what we ended up seeing on the field would make high school football players embarrassed.
One part of the documentary they didn’t focus on enough was the musical chairs the league played with their announcers. It seemed the announcers were getting changed up every other week which again made it tough to maintain interest in the games. Add to that the pressure the announcers were under to essentially give a WWE type of performance and you’re left with the only announcers who did any real substantial work with the league being Jim Ross and Jesse Ventura, two WWE announcers. Jim Ross had experience calling football games, being a former play by play radio man for the Atlanta Falcons. Add to that his mastery at getting you the viewer emotionally invested in what you’re seeing on the television made his work with the XFL one of the few bright spots. The fact that Jim Ross was not interviewed or featured in the documentary is one glaring omission that stands out like a sore thumb.
The XFL was a failure. There is no denying this. Too many things went wrong from the outset of the league that prevented it from getting a foot hold in the sports fans viewing habits. Yet to deny the fact that the XFL didn’t have an impact on the game of football as presented on television would be foolish. With a little more planning, the XFL could have been a a popular spring alternative to the NFL. The NFL is the only sports league with no official minor league system. If the play on the field were better and the league itself didn’t make it a point to piss off traditional sports fans, they could have potentially survived that first season.
This Was The XFL was a great look at a massive failure from two giants of the entertainment industry, Vince McMahon and Dick Ebersol. Yet just because it failed doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned from what went wrong with the league. The documentary was an unvarnished look at the creative process from two men who have a tremendous footprint in modern popular culture, Vince of course with the WWE and Dick with his help in creating Saturday Night Live as well as his work with NBC Sports. This Was The XFL will replay on ESPN and is also available for sale on iTunes.