Pro football hits Memphis again

Wednesday, February 14, 2001 at 1:00am

On Sunday night, Memphis, Tenn., became a pro football town again. By all indications, the Bluff City is willing to give the hyped-but-fledgling hometown XFL Maniax team a chance.

Over 30,000 rowdy fans braved the below-freezing elements at the Liberty Bowl to welcome football back to Memphis once again as the Maniax faced the Las Vegas Outlaws.

Memphis football fans know the drill. The Memphis football memory morgue contains the remains of former stiffs, including the WFL Grizzlies, the CFL Mad Dogs, the Arena Football League's Pharaohs, the USFL Showboats and some small doses of Tennessee Oilers.

Known throughout the Mid-south as a haven for professional wrestling, Memphis and the World Wrestling Federation's X-treme Football League should make great bedfellows.

Conversely, it was here at the Mid-south Coliseum, located next to the stadium, where famed wrestler Jerry Lawler once clobbered the late abstract comedian Andy Kaufman after a chair-throwing appearance on David Letterman.

By 2 p.m. Sunday, over 2,000 fans had converged on nearby Toby Park, mixing seasoned tent-and-grill-toting tailgaters with wandering groups of fans anxious to party and raise a raucous for the debut. The rain was a none-factor.

The gates to the Liberty Bowl opened at 4 p.m., and beer sales were extremely brisk. The pregame music crunched and roared at a much higher volume than any Adelphia Coliseum-going Titans fan would be accustomed.

The festivities, dampened by a steady drizzle that suddenly stopped just prior to the 5:40 p.m. national anthem, had the feel of a loose rock concert. Concessions sales of XFL merchandise were constant.

"The XFL stuff is flying off the shelves all over the country," admitted XFL marketing/licensing operations coordinator Josh Lechter. "We thought it would be successful, and it's really been surprising

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