X-FL Marks the Spot

Feb 6, 2001 6:36 AM

The Xtreme Football League is making an impact in Las Vegas.

On Saturday night, the Las Vegas Outlaws and the New York/New Jersey Hitmen opened the league’s inaugural season at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. The Outlaws won a rather boring game, 19-0, and covered the opening spread of –4 and closing number at –6.

But much of the excitement came off the field, and that’s what XFL founder and World Wrestling Federation CEO Vince McMahon wants.

"We opened the game up," McMahon said of the NBC microphones and cameras on the sidelines and in locker rooms. "This is work in progress. We will sit down and look at what we can do better."

Fans across the country seem to like it or just watch it for curiosity. NBC drew a 10.3 national rating (17 share) on the two games shown Saturday night (the other being Chicago and Orlando in fewer markets). Las Vegas drew a 17.7 rating. Last season, NBC Saturday night NBA games drew under a 4.0 rating.

"We were hoping for between a four and five (rating)," McMahon said after the game Saturday night.

Twenty-four players and both head coaches (Jim Criner of Las Vegas and Rusty Tillman of N.Y/N.J.) were on microphone during the game.

"I didn’t notice it," Tillman said. "Once the game started, I don’t worry about the crowd. I just concentrated on the game."

Tillman said he liked the sold-out, enthusiastic crowd of 30,389.

"I’m not surprised" by the crowd size, said Tillman, who was an assistant coach in the National Football League. "I came on board to be successful. It’s like buying a stock. You research it. The only thing I’m disappointed in was our play."

Criner coached in NFL Europe, where he won a World Bowl title in 1996.

"Anyone had to be impressed with the show," he said. "I thought NBC did a beautiful job. The football matched it. I think (the level of play) was a heck of a lot better than NFL Europe. I think the players demonstrated that tonight."

The league also has a sex appeal, with cameras spending a lot of time on the Outlaw cheerleaders on two podiums (one on each side) near the 20-yard line on the south end of Sam Boyd.

"I don’t think there was enough sex," McMahon said joking. "There was the right compliment of sex and the right compliment of football. We thank the players that the fans got to experience what they experienced."

The league also has different rules. The one rule many fans talked about post-game was the scramble for the ball before the game by two opposing players to earn the right to kickoff or receive.

NBC color commentator, Minnesota governor and former WWF wrestler Jesse Ventura, enjoys his weekend job.

"It’s great football and great entertainment," he said. "You need to see it for the entertainment part. I was in full confidence of what we did. We bring football, business and entertainment. The fans had a good time. We turn the game over to the fans. You saw and heard a lot of honesty (from the players)."

The league seems aimed at fans, predominately males below age 40 and somewhat blue-collar and that’s who showed up Saturday night. There were at least two fights at Sam Boyd.

A random survey of 20 people after the game did not find one bettor.

Digger Knott of Henderson, who fits that blue-collar male category, said he didn’t bet because he just didn’t know what to expect. He came to the game with three friends.

"We weren’t sure about the line," Knott said. "We were worried about the line. I wanted to see what it was all about."

But Knott said he’d consider betting the Outlaws against Memphis in this Saturday’s road game.

"Most definitely," he said. "After seeing it, we might go for it."

NBC play-by-play Matt Vasgersian did mention at kickoff that Las Vegas was a 5½-point favorite.

Adam Maas of Los Angeles bet the game and watched it at a casino.

"I bet Las Vegas because they were the home team and I was here watching it in Las Vegas," said Maas, who comes to town about 13 times a year to bet. "How many times can you bet in Las Vegas on a Las Vegas team?

"It was exciting," he said of the game’s nuances. "I like the new feel to it. I like the camera angles."