This week, we’re going to do something a little different for Geek Hard.
We’re going to talk sports.
And I don’t mean pro wrestling or UFC either… well okay, a little wrestling, but we’ll get to that.
Sports isn’t something that intersects with geek culture much anymore. It used to. Back when I was first going to conventions, most of the smaller cons were half sports card shows. Most comic shops also carried baseball cards, football cards, hockey cards, you name it. And they had too as it was a great way to supplement the income of a store. At some point, that changed and I’m not completely sure when. It was like one day I noticed that sports cards weren’t carried by comic shops anymore.
Sorry, getting a little off track here. Anyways, while I am a huge geek, always have been, always will be, I do carry a love of some sports outside of pro wrestling. I’m an avid fan of the Toronto Blue Jays. I’m a fan of MMA. One of the sports I’ve never quite cracked was American football. There was a moment however, where I actually tried. For one game. It wasn’t the NFL, nor was it even the CFL, or even arena football. I saw an opening and for a couple of minutes, I gave the XFL shot… and I watched it go down in flames.
Yesterday, I had a chance to view ESPN’s 30 for 30 episode called “This Was The XFL”. Episode is kind of misleading, though. 30 for 30 has managed to make some of the most interesting and well-done documentaries on sports. They’ve covered basic topics like the interesting career of football player Brian Bosworth and Wayne Gretzky’s trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the LA Kings, to a fantastic episode called “Broke” that answers that question you have whenever you see a $100 million dollar athlete declare bankruptcy. These are fantastically put together, even if you aren’t a huge fan of the sport they’re featuring. “Broke” especially, which is more about economics and society than it is about sports. Last year, I heard they were putting together an episode on Ric Flair which excited me. We then got news that before the Flair episode, we would see one on the XFL.
As a wrestling fan, the XFL has always held a fascination for me. In 2000, WWF (now WWE) owner Vince McMahon declared that he was creating his own football league. It was going to be different than the NFL, a bit more brutal and more fun. Now at the time, the WWF was white hot. This was the time of the height of Stone Cold Steve Austin and the rise of The Rock. WCW was starting to collapse. It just seemed odd.
Vince was finally winning. Why in the hell would he want to throw away his money on a football league? Soon after, NBC got involved as they had just lost the rights to air NFL games to Fox and soon the march towards the first XFL game had begun.
“This Was the XFL” documents the creation, very brief rise and incredibly steep fall of the XFL and does it incredibly well. It covers the personalities that were involved, the press views, what worked, what didn’t. Strangely, there is a very sweet side story about the friendship between then head of NBC Sports Dick Ebersol and Vince. It’s very clear that these guys are buddies and you even see a little bit of the Vince persona drop when they talk about one another.
Ultimately, this is a wonderful documentary about how you can pick yourself up after something doesn’t work and in that way, it works for a lot of viewers, sports fans and non-sports fans alike. Don’t get me wrong, knowing the actual history of the promotion and of Vince, there’s a bunch of things that I would have loved to have seen more of. Why Jim Ross isn’t in this, I have no idea as he was a key component of both the XFL and the WWF at the time. Also, due to the WWE’s participation, there are a few things in it that are kind of stretching the truth. Like the end credit about Vince buying WCW to achieve his dream of uniting pro wrestling was a bit of a stretch.
The doc itself is wonderfully put together and captures the feelings of everyone involved masterfully. It’s shot and edited really well. it also managed to capture my feelings on the one day I decided to try and watch football.
For me, football seemed like a sport too impenetrable to get into,like trying to pick up a comic halfway through a storyline and 300 issues into the series. But then the XFL was announced. This would be a league that I could get into from the ground floor and know all of the rules. It would look different and a lot of the fans would be people like me: wrestling fans. I remember tuning in for that first game with three distinct moments. The first was my Dad walking by and being surprised I was watching football. It was then followed by a sigh when he found out which football it was. With Vince’s involvement, my Dad asked “So, it’s bullshit then?”, a question that was asked by tons of people over the life of the XFL. While there is no doubt in my mind that Vince wanted this to work and that he was serious about making a legit football league, the rest of the world hadn’t quite got over the fact that wrestling was scripted. Wrestling was scripted + Vince owned wrestling + Vince owns XFL = XFL is scripted.
The second thing I noticed was how the game was shot. The game was shot better than an NFL game I had attempted to watch before. This was new, this was exciting, this was a modern take on a classic.
Unfortunately, the football was garbage.
I mean, I was still learning but it was quite apparent from the get-go that these players were not of the quality that NFL players were.
So is this documentary worth watching if you aren’t into football? I’d say so. The great thing about a good documentary is that it can always suck you into its topic, even if you weren’t interested to begin with. So check it out.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!