X Marks the Splat

Let's get ready to fumble!

Aside from rule relaxation, not-so-mock carnage and a game-night atmosphere more appropriate to Hulk Hogan than Dave Logan, how good will the actual football be? Hard to say. But a glance at XFL coaching staffs, player rosters and salary structures reveals a couple of things: Despite its bloody intentions, theatrical bluster and flagrant misogyny, the XFL may provide a second (or third) shot at some kind of glory for a few participants, and there will be incentive to win.

Among three dozen or so ex-NFL players trying it again: ex-Dallas Cowboys star receiver Alvin Harper is suiting up for Memphis at the tender age of 32; his new teammate is former Colorado Buffalos running back (and Heisman Trophy winner) Rashaan Salaam, who worked for the Bears, Packers, Raiders and Browns in just five seasons. The Birmingham Bolts have signed a pair of memorable ex-college quarterbacks, Florida State's Casey Weldon and Alabama's Jay Barker, along with Iowa State's record-setting tailback, Troy Davis. Former Maryland quarterback Scott Milanovich, whose entire NFL career consisted of two passes good for nine yards at Tampa Bay in 1996, has resurfaced with the Los Angeles Extreme. His teammates now include former Broncos linebacker Mike Croel, who left Denver in 1994, and every Denver fan's favorite first-round draft choice, inept ex-UCLA quarterback Tommy Maddox. Another failed and unloved Bronco, wideout Marcus Nash, is playing for Memphis. A pair of cast-off Ryans from the University of Wyoming -- fullback Christopherson and receiver Yarborough -- are with the XFL's San Francisco Demons and Chicago Enforcers, respectively, and CU's Marcus Stiggers has also landed in the Windy City.

If you're a stone college football fan or a committed NFL historian, you'll surely ferret out some other vaguely familiar names once Jesse Ventura starts tongue-lashing NBC audiences on Saturday nights. But age and mediocrity look to prevail in the league where Dick Butkus makes the rules and Vince MacMahon pumps up the sleaze. As for motivation, kickers will earn $35,000 in flat salary this year, quarterbacks $50,000 and all other players $45,000 -- but every time a team wins, each player and coach will get a $2,500 bonus. In April, the league champions will get a million bucks to split between them -- almost enough to cover Shannon Sharpe's annual limousine bills, or Troy Aikman's mortgage. This is throwback football complete with throwback paychecks.

Will America buy it? At least the part of America that drives a Chevy Camaro, gets pierced in every extremity and lusts after the latest testosterone-fueled CD from Slipknot? No telling. But if you believe in omens, make what you will of this: Two weeks ago, the new XFL Spalding blimp, a 143-foot-long approximation of the league's black-and-red football, emblazoned hugely with the three initials that make the hearts of McMahon and Ebersol sing, was completing its maiden voyage from Las Vegas to Northern California when it crash-landed unceremoniously on the roof of a restaurant in downtown Oakland. Not even naked cheerleaders could reinflate it.

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