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THE XFL IS FOOLISH AND LAUGHABLE - AND DANGEROUS TO CAMERAMEN

It was real football all right. Real, real boring. The premiere of the XFL on NBC Saturday night scored big time ratings for NBC. But before the Peacock Network has the league's artificially-enhanced cheerleaders shout "2-4-6-8, who do we appreciate, Vince, Vince, Vince (McMahon)," let's remember that curiosity seekers drove the USFL to a higher opening rating.

NBC's presentation clearly was much more interesting than the football played by athletes who might not make the roster of the Buffalo Destroyers.

With cameramen on the field following the play and microphones picking up every sound but the stadium toilets flushing, I can't remember feeling as nauseous watching entertainment since I foolishly walked into another over-hyped event, "The Blair Witch Project."

After all the talk of smash mouth football, the people who appeared to be in the most danger were the cameramen who ran several yards behind the play. If something goes very wrong, you can envision them getting an up close and personal view of a player's forearm.

The camera angles made following a play as difficult as finding a player whom you had heard of - unless he was a No. 1 draft choice bust.

The much-hyped, no-fair catch rule didn't really endanger any punt returner because the league doesn't appear to have any special teams players capable of getting downfield quickly enough to hit anyone as the ball arrives.

The one amusing new wrinkle was the contest that determined who got the opening kickoff. Two players race to get a football. Unfortunately in another game, the folly of that opening was revealed when one of the contestants separated a shoulder.

So much emphasis was placed on getting the sounds of the game and in the stands that a viewer's head had to feel like Rob Johnson's after one of his concussions.

The sounds on the field certainly were more interesting than the hyperbole in the booth from play-by-play man Matt Vasgerian and analyst Jesse Ventura.

"I love it, a reverse on the opening kickoff," said Ventura, setting the tone for his excessive cheerleading for the league.

Ventura is rougher on players than most analysts, questioning one quarterback's toughness after he was shaken up by what looked like a routine hit.

But for someone who coaches high school football and was an NFL analyst, Ventura offered few interesting observations. At one point, he noted that a defense was playing a lot "of cover two" out there but never explained what it meant. For all a viewer would know, it meant two cheerleaders were going to have their scantily-clad bodies covered up.

I watched the first quarter and some of the fourth. If I didn't get paid to watch, I probably would have lasted as long as my teenage son. One series. And he was a fan of McMahon's wrestling programs and is in the demographic that the XFL is seeking. McMahon may have forgotten that many of the males in the 12 through 24 demographic he is seeking are the ones who prefer wrestling on Mondays to Dennis Miller and the boys on Monday Night Football.

The XFL really is football for people who are more interested in technology than the sport.

We get to hear what coaches have to say on the sidelines. We get to see players interviewed after they get personal foul penalties and make big mistakes. We get to hear the play call at the same time as the quarterback. One problem. We don't understand the terminology, and it's hard to care what these low-level players or coaches have to say.

"Dual left, 88 Trojan," repeated the quarterback.

And what was the play? A screen pass to No. 22.

At one point, a miked coach considered trying a fake field goal, a play that might have lost some of the surprise element because the stadium scoreboard shows the game on a five-second delay. Let's face it, no self-respecting player would be involved in a league that asks them to tape suggestive comedic bits with cheerleaders and to invent nicknames to place on the back of their jerseys.

Will the league have any impact on the NFL? Doubt it. The XFL innovations are the kind of things that the real league would only use in a meaningless game, such as Sunday's Pro Bowl. Once the hype wears off and viewers will have to root just for Kirby Dar Dar, Tommy Maddox and the player who put He Hate Me on his back, McMahon may hate to look at the XFL's ratings. This is a league that belongs on cable and is only on NBC because the network doesn't have any more self-respect than the players in the league.

That said, Western New Yorkers clearly were interested in Saturday night's premiere. The game opened with a 17.5 rating on Channel 2, quickly dropping to a 16.3 in the first 15 minutes when Vince spoke, slipping to a 13.4 in the next 15 minutes. By game's end, it had dropped to a 10.7 and assuredly has gotten a horrible word-of-mouth.

Still, it averaged a 12.8 rating here, well above the national average. The Sunday afternoon game on the local UPN affiliate, WNGS, had a 1.9 rating. That's well below the national average but a pretty good local number for WNGS and about what the league deserves.

The local news stations clearly had differing views on the first game Saturday. Channel 2 sports director Adam Benigni and anchor Mike Corbin were shilling for the league almost as much as Ventura, talking about how interesting the camerawork and presentation were.

Channel 7 sports anchor Erin Flynn, meanwhile, somehow managed to go through an extensive sportscast without showing any XFL highlights before news anchor Luke Moretti made a joke about the omission.

The opening ratings for this overblown, oversexed, oversold show can't hold up next week, but all NBC needs on Saturday nights is a 4 rating. If it gets it, the joke will be on all of us who hate the influence that Vince McMahon is having on the nation's youth.

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