Tillman/Ventura spices NY win

by Fran Stuchbury
March 2, 2001 - XFL (XFL)

Tillman/Ventura story line shadows Hitmen win

by Fran Stuchbury

Four weeks into the inaugural XFL season, the two main topics of conversation are the low ratings and the heated feud between NBC commentator Jesse Ventura and NY/NJ Hitmen head coach Rusty Tillman.

People should be talking about how the Hitmen kept their season alive by beating the Enforcers, 13-0. Instead, all the rage this week has been focused on the Ventura/Tillman story line.

In the Hitmen's first game of the season, in which they lost to the Las Vegas Outlaws, 19-0, Ventura was very critical of Hitmen coach Rusty Tillman and what he called his poor coaching throughout the game. The Hitmen offense looked lackadaisical at times and was very unproductive.

At the press conference following the game, Tillman fired back, saying Ventura isn't a knowledgeable football announcer.

Let the battle of words begin!

The next time NBC sent its main broadcasting team to cover Tillman's Hitmen was last week in Chicago. Well, Ventura was at it again. During a heavy freezing downpour, Tillman opted to kick a field, instead of going for a touchdown on a fourth-and-one play from the two-yard line. Ventura lashed out at Tillman, calling him "gutless" for not attempting, at the least, to go for a first down.

Ventura followed those comments with some cheap shots later on. "If anybody is capable of blowing a 10-point lead with 7:50 to go, it's Rusty Tillman," he said.

To make matters worse, with two minutes left in the game, Ventura left the broadcast booth to get an interview with Tillman. Surprise, surprise, Tillman simply ignored him and went to the lockerroom. Ventura's response was, "I've got him intimidated, no doubt about it. The man is afraid of me."

Tillman decided to fire back at the press conference. "I think maybe he ought to work on taxes in the state of Minnesota. I'd be embarrassed if my state had a governor like that."

Whether the idea of a Tillman/Ventura feud is made-up or not, it's being overplayed by Ventura and NBC. Check out the promos. The XFL is telling the public to watch the game to see what happens next, rather than what's happening on the field.

Is this the XFL's attempt to improve ratings? If so, they better go back to the drawing board. It's obvious Ventura is more comfortable being a heel wrestling announcer, bringing back memories of his WWF broadcasting days.

If people want to see story lines like this, turn on WWF during the week. No reason to see this during a football game.

Tillman was a coach in the NFL for over 19 years. He wants no part of that nonsense. His only concern is leading the Hitmen to a championship.

He told the Newar Star Ledger, "I probably shouldn't have said anything. I'll have a debate with the guy. But that stuff ...what's next, breaking chairs over each other's heads? That's so far away from who I am. I'm not going to be a party to that."

The storyline will continue this week as the Hitmen play the Xtreme on NBC this Saturday. If the Hitmen score 40 points, Ventura will look for some way to put down Tillman. I'm sure the football fans will turn their volume down if they hear any of these things this week.


In Las Vegas' 16-9 victory over San Francisco, its defense caused five turnovers to secure the win. The Outlaws are 3-1 in first place in the West Conference.

Comparisons can be made to the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. The Outlaws have only given up an average of six points per game.

On offense, the Outlaws are looking for new quarterback Mark Grieb to make a couple big plays per game and not turn the ball over, very similar to what the Ravens expected from Trent Dilfer. So far, Grieb is off to a good start despite only having four days of practice with the Outlaws. In the victory, he threw a 41-yard game-winning touchdown pass and did not turn the ball over.

As everyone knows, defenses win championships and the Outlaws are following that pattern, a la the Baltimore Ravens. Look for some Outlaw players, including defensive back Brandon Sanders to be in an NFL training camp after the XFL season.


The Memphis Maniax finally scored a touchdown after 10 quarters, helping themselves to a victory over the Los Angeles Xtreme. The game was played under horrid conditions, but former NFL RB Rashaan Salaam rushed for 121 yards and one touchdown. Salaam earned XFL player of the week honors for his performance.

QB Jim Druckenmiller made his first professional start since 1997, throwing for 215 yards and one touchdown. The Maniax offense better be running on all cylinders this week when they host the undefeated Orlando Rage.


LA quarterback Tommy Maddox makes his return to the Meadowlands for the first time since 1995 when the Xtreme play the Hitmen this Saturday. Many New York Giants fans still have nightmares about Maddox's last performance at the stadium. He was a dreadful 6-of-23 for 49 yards and three interceptions in a 17-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Instead of being booed by Giants fans this time around, he will be hearing that from Hitmen fans.

Since the top two teams will make the playoffs in each division, the Xtreme stand at 2-2 and in a three-way tie for the second place in the West.


The season for San Francisco QB Mike Pawlawski is officially on hold - for at least three weeks. Pawlawski suffered a neck injury during the club's 16-9 loss to the Las Vegas Outlaws. The Demons are currently 2-2 in the Western Division and now turn their offense over to backup Pat Barnes. Coach Jim Skipper said Barnes is capable of being a starting quarterback for any other XFL team, so expect him to do a good job..


Faster than the stock market, the ratings on NBC for the XFL continue to decline. The New York/Chicago game scored a 2.6 down from a 3.1 last week. As the ratings decline, there is a possibility NBC will move the XFL games to Saturday afternoon next year.

NBC will continue to play out the Tillman/Ventura story line and hope it helps to increase the numbers.

To increase offensive productivity, the XFL has made a change in one of its rules by eliminated the bump and run rule. Previously the defensive backs were able to play bump and run all the way downfield. The league will now employ the same rule the NFL uses where defensive backs can bump the receiver once within five yards the line of scrimmage.

The good news is the ratings on UPN dropped very little, while on TNN they actually went up a bit because many people in Las Vegas have been following the XFL.

This week's game on UPN is Orlando vs. Memphis at 7PM EST. On TNN, it's Las Vegas vs. Chicago at 4PM EST.


From Tondalaya Richardson, from New Jersey:

Money, marketing and all aside, do you see better and more serious football in

Arena football than in the XFL? They are not pushing story lines like the XFL. Their focus is on the game itself, not any of the sideline distractions.

Better football - that is tough to call. Remember, that the XFL teams are expansion teams and for people expecting a good brand of football right away, are probably disappointed. It takes time for teams to get chemistry and play well.

Look at the records of the previous AFL expansion teams the past three years, Los Angeles Avengers 3-11, Carolina Cobras 3-11, Buffalo Destroyers 1-13 and Grand Rapids Rampage 3-11.

When the XFL gets through its second season, it will be easier to say which league has a better brand of football.

Next week's column will feature questions submitted by fans across the country. What's on your mind about the XFL? Frustrated by the coverage it's getting? Or ticked off by the egotistical way the athletes portray themselves when the camera is on them? Whatever ails you, pass along your thoughts to and look for a response next Thursday.

Fran Stuchbury covers the XFL for OurSports Central and the Dick Butkus Football Network.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s), and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.

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