The XFL's opening game took place on February 3, 2001, one year after the concept of the league was announced, and immediately following the NFL's Super Bowl. The first game was between the New York/New Jersey Hitmen and the Las Vegas Outlaws at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. The game ended with a 19-0 victory for the Outlaws, and was watched on NBC by an estimated 14 million viewers. During the telecast, NBC switched over to the game between the Orlando Rage and the Chicago Enforcers, which was a closer contest than the blowout taking place in Las Vegas. The show had a 9.5 Nielsen rating.
Outlaw Paul McCallum got his team on the board first by nailing a 23 yard field goal in the first quarter and the Outlaws never looked back. Not wanting to be outdone by their offense, the hardcore Outlaw defense made plays all night.
Moments before the XFL's first red-and-black football was kicked into the desert night, Vince McMahon stood alone at the 50-yard line of Sam Boyd Stadium. Deafening cheers poured down from the packed stands.
"We welcome you to our game!" McMahon shouted. "Thank you for the privilege of competing before you tonight!"
Both sport and entertainment, both circus and sideshow, the XFL muscled its way onto the national sports scene with its first two games Saturday night. Though the quality of play wasn't much better than that of NFL Europe or the CFL, the game was only part of the spectacle.
"What you saw was an honest game tonight," McMahon said.
With exuberant cheerleaders and trash-talking players sharing center stage, the Las Vegas Outlaws beat the New York/New Jersey Hitmen 19-0, while the Orlando Rage beat the Chicago Enforcers 33-29 in Florida.
As in most early season football games, the XFL's defenses appear to be ahead of the offenses. Ryan Clement threw for 188 yards and two touchdowns in the Outlaws' victory, while Orlando's Jeff Brohm threw for four touchdown passes.
Though the slow, choppy and one-sided game in Las Vegas -- which included a scoreless second half -- left much to be desired, the XFL's scores and highlights might be secondary.
Only the World Wrestling Federation impresario would have the audacity to script something like this upstart league, which unveiled its unique combination of old-fashioned football, technological innovations and a heavy dose of marketing savvy.
"This is the culmination of a lot of dreams and a lot of hard work for everybody out here," McMahon said. "This is all about football, pure and plain and simple."
Actually, it was anything but. From the on-field cameramen to the ubiquitous wrestler-politician in the NBC broadcast booth, the XFL looked like the furthest thing from simple football to the 30,389 fans who watched the league's first game.
"People are here to see what this is all about," said Dick Butkus, the Hall of Fame linebacker who's the XFL's director of competition. "They know what Vince can do, and they like the combination of Vince and football."
The XFL already has made a splash in Las Vegas, a town where garish spectacles are routinely and unabashedly embraced as quality entertainment.
The parking lots began to fill with RVs and tailgaters five hours before kickoff. By game time, there was a buzz in the stadium, where merchandise shops nearly outnumbered food stands. Ticket scalpers lined the road to the game, which was sold out on Friday.
"We're the first tailgaters in XFL history -- or at least we're pretty close," said Don Bracia, 41, who made sandwiches on the open tailgate of his truck. "This is a great time of year for football. Nobody ever gets tired of football, and Vince knows that."
Two hours before kickoff, McMahon and NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol were still fine-tuning their creation. McMahon jogged through the stands carrying a yellow legal pad and wearing reading glasses, while Ebersol traded notes and cigars with Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who's providing color commentary on weekly telecasts.
"I have so much respect for the players out here," Ventura said. "They're doing this just for the love of football. I just know this league is going to grow into something special."
After a fireworks display, the Outlaws ran a reverse on the opening kickoff. The play was shown on a strikingly clear 1,000-square-foot video board looming over the north end zone. The first points came on a 23-yard field goal by Outlaws kicker Paul McCallum, who makes $1,000 per game less than his teammates in the XFL's pay scale.
But the game dragged in the second half, when the teams traded punts and turnovers in a game that didn't offer nearly as much distraction as the cheerleaders in hot pants and leather trenchcoats.
"I don't think there's ever enough sex," McMahon said. "I thought that there was the right complement of sexuality and a right complement of confrontation and the right complement of real good, hard-hitting football. I think that the viewer experienced the game."