(This post refers to American football. For the purists out there, please replace all references to "football" with "bananas.")
I was in undergrad, doing my best to avoid sports fans in general, when the XFL began, and while my memories are not as detailed as those in McMahon and Sex, Lies and Headlocks, they're informed by opinions about football and wrestling, sports and sports entertainment, that haven't changed much after these recent readings. I didn't know or care much about wrestling at the time, but had a sufficient grasp of the essentials, i.e. it was scripted, the fans knew it was scripted, and it walked an odd sort of narrative/sport line that seemed to work for pro wrestling, but seemed highly inapplicable anywhere else. (Years later I'd realize videogames had been riffing off this tension in their own way, but that was later.)
I grew up among football fans, and what I knew about that culture seemed entirely incompatible with wrestling culture. Authenticity is something to be played with in wrestling, one element working in conjunction with many others to create a spectacle, but it's invisible in football, because, well, it's a sport, and everyone treats it as such. The refs are utilized in such a way as to let them actually do their stated job of enforcing rules, and the fans treat the game itself as the center of the experience. Sure, there are rivalries, and flamboyant personalities, but mostly it's the game. And since that game is firmly within the tradition of agon, in which rules attempt to reduce all advantages that aren't based on skill, anybody who can win does, and they'd goddamned better be trying to do so. There are injuries, but few fans I knew seemed to think the game would be better with more of them; few even seemed to consider "danger" to be an appealing element of the action. If anything, injuries just screwed up the season.
So, hearing all the buzz about this new "smash-mouth football," a term I never did quite understand, I began to wonder just what the hell the XFL backers were thinking, attempting to create a new football league that seemed to be identifying itself in terms of sexier cheerleaders, a few obscure rule changes (which were always implied, if not accurately, to make the game more violent and dangerous), ridiculous "edgy" team names, and...what? Who in their right mind would want to PLAY for a league that combined the respectability of pro-wrestling with the injury rates and comparative anonymity of football? We've seen attempts at futuristic, "no holds barred" neo-football games in fiction, for the very good reason that it would be insane to attempt to do so in real life.
And, it collapsed. McMahon offers a convincing double-explanation that a) it was a calculated risk, they lost, but who can complain? and b) the media was out to get them and conspired to destroy the XFL. Fine, whatever. Sex Lies & Headlocks suggests that even Vince wasn't willing to sacrifice a half hour of Smackdown to keep it afloat, which suggests that he at least knew when to quit.
But, really, what the hell were they thinking? Are there any fans here who could explain it to me?