WWF Jumps Into Football Ring

It will be real. And it will be real fun.

It's football as envisioned by World Wrestling Federation mastermind Vince McMahon, who took time out from peddling the endless line of WWF merchandise Thursday to unveil his latest creation: the XFL, a new pro football league set to open in February 2001.

No scripts. No sideshows. Just football.

No, really.

"Why football?" asked McMahon, echoing a question no doubt pondered from coast to coast. "Some have suggested the NFL is the `No Fun League.' The XFL will be the extremely fun league. This will be a blast."

It's a new world for McMahon, the "sports entertainment" impresario who converted professional wrestling from a lowbrow, oft-mocked pursuit into a lowbrow, oft-mocked multimillion dollar business.

But that was done with writers creating wild scenarios, and bigger-than-life characters such as Hulk Hogan and Mankind, and phony feuds and bogus friendships.

The football league, McMahon promised a crowded news conference, will be real.

No, really.

"The WWF is 100 percent entertainment," McMahon said. "But the XFL is 100 percent sports."

So the outcomes will not be scripted?

"Nooo," said McMahon, his eyes rolling skyward in the WWF's midtown Manhattan restaurant. "Nooo."

You want reality? McMahon said the startup costs for the eight-team league will run him "somewhere south of $100 million." There are already teams in New York, Miami, Orlando, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco, with two more teams to be announced.

Ex-Dallas Cowboys star Drew Pearson is on the league's football advisory committee, and 15-time Emmy-winning broadcast executive Michael Weisman is working on its television team.

There's no immediate word on a television contract, although negotiations are continuing, league executives said. McMahon boldly predicted the league could turn a profit within three years.

History doesn't support that view. Investors in the USFL, and the WFL, and assorted other 'FLs have long since taken their balls and gone home.

McMahon said his league will succeed by attracting the young viewers already tuned into the WWF, along with the football fans suffering post-Super Bowl withdrawal.

He also promised innovative television coverage, from helmet cameras to sideline and locker room access.

But don't expect to see wrestlers like Triple H and the Undertaker in pads and cleats: "Their interest in the XFL will be as fans," McMahon promised.

A reverse crossover, with football players climbing into the ring, could happen, McMahon said. That's old hat for McMahon, who paid Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor a reported $500,000 to appear at Wrestlemania XI a spectacle unseen since Wrestlemania X.

McMahon leveled several potshots at the NFL during the course of his news conference.

The XFL woul not feature "an overregulated, antiseptic brand of football," he promised. "The XFL will take you places where the NFL is afraid to go because, quite frankly, we are not afraid of anything."

Later, McMahon announced, "This will not be a league for pantywaists or sissies." Toward that goal, players on winning teams will receive bigger paychecks than the losers.

"That's really the American way," said McMahon, sounding dangerously like Don King.

Despite McMahon's confidence, there are many XFL skeptics, from Wall Street experts who wondered about the affect of the move on WWF stock to entertainment figures.

"I'm pretty much calling it a joke," said Ryan Schinman, president of the entertainment and marketing firm CMB Entertainment. "I look at Vince McMahon as an innovator, a pioneer, a marketing genius. That's what baffles me. Why do this?"

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