It may have been lost in Jesse Ventura's rants from the TV booth
and the track camera hanging over the field and the quasi lap
dances given fans by buxom cheerleaders and the helmeted
cameramen scurrying on the field, but a football lesson was
imparted in the Nevada desert during the XFL's first weekend of
play. "America," Las Vegas Outlaws quarterback Ryan Clement said
last Saturday night, "saw that this league's not a joke."
If nothing else, the new pro league could well be the land of
opportunity for NFL wannabes. The XFL, which during its formative
stage last fall freed more than 30 players under contract to sign
with NFL teams, will not stand in the way of players who want to
jump to the NFL after the inaugural season ends in April. A scout
for one NFC team, who saw all eight XFL clubs scrimmage last
month, says he expects an average of 10 to 12 players per team to
be invited to NFL training camps. A few of those players made
themselves known in America's living rooms on opening night, in
the Outlaws' 19-0 win over the New York/New Jersey Hitmen and in
the Orlando Rage's 33-29 win over the Chicago Enforcers.
The Las Vegas defensive line--former Washington Redskins end
Kelvin Kinney and ex-Chicago Bears tackle Carl Simpson, in
particular--overwhelmed the Hitmen's offensive front. In passing
for 173 first-half yards, Clement, though lacking a great deep
arm, showed NFL teams they might have missed a bet by not giving
him even a free-agent tryout after he came out of Miami in 1998.
Rage quarterback Jeff Brohm, a onetime backup to Steve Young
with the San Francisco 49ers, picked apart the Enforcers'
secondary with four touchdown passes, while Chicago running back
John Avery, a first-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins in
1998, sped through the Orlando defense for 250 total yards. On
Sunday, San Francisco Demons quarterback Mike Pawlawski
completed 31 of 47 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns in a
15-13 win over the Los Angeles Xtreme. In the Memphis Maniax'
22-20 win over the Birmingham Thunderbolts, former Heisman
winner Rashaan Salaam rushed 27 times for 156 yards and two
Approximately 10 NFL teams scouted the league in some form during
training camp, though apparently no scouts attended games last
weekend. Most will wait for XFL game tapes so they can see the
entire field, not just the predominantly tight shots that TV
offered. Kansas City Chiefs pro personnel director Bill Kuharich,
who watched parts of the games on TV, said on Monday that the
quality of football "was about what I expected. A lot of
penalties, a lot of guys still getting used to each other because
they haven't been together that long. But if you watched L.A.-San
Francisco, with the home team winning as the clock ran out, what
a fun game to watch! It was a good game."
Nevertheless, the opening weekend confirmed what NFL scouts
expected to see in the fledgling league: precious few quality
offensive linemen, even fewer cornerbacks and a handful of
quarterbacks and other skill-position players who should make NFL
"There are all levels of players in the league," said Kuharich,
who scouted every XFL team in January. "Our thrust is to find the
guy, or maybe three or four, who might be the next Sam Mills [a
USFL grad], the next Kurt Warner [an Arena ball star]. The
history of these leagues shows there are usually good players to
The one thing that stood out in Week 1? The brutality.
Questionable hits and kill shots at players already
out-of-bounds might earn you five-figure fines in the NFL, but
in the XFL they'll get you kudos from Ventura and a live
interview on the sideline seconds after the play. "That's what I
like about it," said the gold-toothed Kinney. "You can knock the
crap out of the quarterback and you don't have to be looking
around for a flag." Will Kinney be back in an NFL camp come
July? If he plays as he did during his two-sack performance
against the Hitmen, there's little doubt that he will. "It'll
take four or five weeks to really get a handle on the talent,"
said Kuharich, "but everyone's looking for good defensive
Not everyone is so sure, though, that the new league is stocked
with hidden gems. "After all the hype, I expected some crazy,
futuristic, Rollerball-type stuff, but it turned out to be
regular football--and not very good football," said Tampa Bay Bucs
defensive end Chidi Ahanotu. "At least when the USFL came out,
they had some guys in their prime. Not to disrespect these guys,
but most of their better days are behind them."
In the end, if they do get a chance to move up the food chain,
the Kelvin Kinneys of the world will be judged by how they
perform against NFL-quality players, not against the weaker XFL
competition. "If Kinney plays like that for nine more weeks,"
Kuharich said, "we'll try to sign him and see if he can make
those kinds of plays against the Willie Roafs and the Tony
Bosellis. You can't rule him out, but you can't think he's a poor
man's Jevon Kearse either. That's what training camp is
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO IN YOUR FACE XFL cheerleaders, including this Demons supporter, get up close and personal with their team's fans.