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Pro Sports: Hit Factory

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Get ready to rumble: XFL-ers Cos and Big Ben play in the snow.The practice bubble next to Giants Stadium is part nimbus cloud, part new-car smell. There's half a football field in here, and this afternoon the XFL's New York-New Jersey Hitmen are supposed to be practicing after losing 19-0 to the Las Vegas Outlaws in their first-ever game. But nobody realized that Felician College's eight-person track squad had booked the bubble, and the assembled Hitmen are bounced.

Which is unfortunate, because these guys need practice. It's only a couple days before their home opener, against the Birmingham Thunderbolts. Not that the twenty or so players, loitering around, making their way through grimy slush to their cars, seem too worried. They're just glad to be playing football at all. Even if it's more about being passable ingredients in a concocted marketing spectacle than playing top-flight pro ball. "You know, it's kinda like being an artist," says receiver Anthony "Cos" DiCosmo, whose frighteningly defined arms are shellacked with tattoos. "There are times where almost everybody tells you to stop playing, where you're waiting for that one phone call and not getting it."

Before the XFL called, they had day jobs: Tight end Bob Rosenstiel bartended at the Chardonnay Golf Club in Napa; offensive guard "Big Ben" Cavil sold GMC trucks in Houston; Cos was an administrative assistant at MTV.

It's too early to tell if the Hitmen -- or, for that matter, the XFL -- will get any respect. It's been endlessly hawked as "smashmouth," and the sports columnists have reacted on cue, reveling in its gladiatorial "xtremeness." But even that seems a bit overblown amid all these grinning guys. "All the commentators talk about is the no-fair-catch rule, like it's this big deal," scoffs team doctor Fred Cushner before he, too, goes home after hearing practice is canceled. "Yeah, it's pretty much just regular football," says Cos, meandering toward his car. "I'm not too worried about injury, not at all."

Which isn't saying that being a part of this circus doesn't have its drawbacks. The extra-wiggly cheerleaders are distracting: "We're in the huddle in Vegas, right?" says Cos. "And the big Jumbotron's in front of me with half-naked women. I'm tryin' to hear the play, but my eyes keep peeking up, know what I mean?" Or the league's "all-access" media gimmick: "Some guy comes up shoving a mike and camera in your face, like, 'You just really blew that play, how do you feel?' My prediction is that someone's gonna lose their cool out there before the season's up."


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