When the NFL was young, players forged in steel-mill towns played both ways on bum legs, because missing a game meant missing a paycheck. They were guys with names like Bronco and noses that zig-zagged down their mugs like a drunk failing a sobriety test. Today, if a player's not on his cell phone, he's in his cellblock. And everybody is measured by the size of his contract instead of his heart. And yet, the game has also gotten suddenly fuddy-duddy, with rules stipulating how players can celebrate and hit each other. Soon, defensive linemen will be forced to ask the quarterback: "One lump or two?" before pounding him into the carpet.
Enter Vince McMahon and the XFL, whose profile was raised last week by NBC's decision to join the tag team. McMahon is promising some rules changes that will return the game to its grittier roots and distinguish it from its NFL rival. We' re all for it. It' s about time someone really lowered his head and hit the line (although McMahon' s wrestlers are more adept at hitting their marks and learning their lines). Here are our suggestions:
Redefine out-of-bounds: Right now, it's exciting to see a defensive back scamper with an interception 80 yards down the sideline for a TD. Imagine if, as in wrestling, players on the opposing team's bench could storm onto the field and body slam the guy into next Tuesday. Teams always brag about the depth of their benches; now they'll have to prove it.
Loosen those drug rules: Wrestling has a proud tradition of athletes who bulk up chemically. New rules could allow players to experiment not only with steroids but with chloroform.
Eliminate the face mask: Of course, masks may take on a whole new meaning in the XFL. But putting aside the leather and studs, the NFL's 15-yard penalty for intentionally grabbing a player' s face mask and snapping him to the ground will have to go. Hey, if a player is afraid of a little neck injury, he should take up bridge.
Allow folding chairs: In the NFL, if an offensive tackle is getting beaten like a drum, there isn't much he can do about it. But on the XFL gridiron, he' ll be able to run to the sideline, grab a chair and bludgeon the offending defensive end.
Bring back nicknames: It's a whole new ball game when your team is led by Stone Cold Steve McNair. The right nickname could spell the difference between a Super Bowl ring and your wide receiver sucking sod a yard short of Disney World.
Move over, Lombardi (and take care, NBC); a new Vince is in town.