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Volume 20 No. 46
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XFL ‘30 for 30’ examines Ebersol, McMahon relationship

One of the most poignant moments of ESPN’s latest “30 for 30” — “This Was the XFL” — was a scene in which Dick Ebersol and Vince McMahon were filmed sharing dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Ebersol and McMahon frequently spoke of the affection that they had for each other in 2001, the only year of the failed football league’s existence. Their admiration was clear to see during the restaurant scene. The two displayed a warmth and comfort with each other that showed that their friendship remains strong 15 years after they launched the ill-fated league.

Dick and Charlie Ebersol at the “30 for 30” premiere
Photo by: ESPN
Ebersol’s son, Charlie, directed the documentary. I asked him how that scene came together.

Was it easy for you to convince your dad and McMahon to go on camera?
It was largely a game of tag. My dad would say, “I’ll do it if he does it.” And Vince would say, “I’ll do it if he does it.” They agreed largely to do it because they knew that I would tell an unvarnished but fair story. Also, they knew that the story I was trying to tell was this idea of a love story between these two guys. It was a relationship film more than anything.

Why did you decide to film them at dinner?
From the word go, I knew that I wanted to do this dinner. We put them in Vince’s favorite restaurant — an Italian place in Connecticut. The meal largely was undirected — it was just letting them talk. The dinner happened to be the 15th anniversary to the day of the Million Dollar Game. Having just interviewed them for a combined eight hours the day before, they were fresh.

What were some of the hazards of producing a scene outside of a traditional set?
Here are two of the greatest television producers of all time, and they ordered oysters and steak. So, every third sentence has them slurping down an oyster and chewing steak. I could have killed them. I said, you guys know that you could have just mimed this, and I’d let you eat afterwards.

Your dad is a legendary sports producer. How much pressure did you feel directing a film involving him?
I felt a lot of pressure. In fact, I ended up in the emergency room the night before the interview with a sickness that I’m relatively certain was anxiety fueled. I was incredibly nervous. I knew my dad was fully committed because he was calling me every hour to check in and see how it was before he showed up for the interview.

— John Ourand