Say, didn’t you use to be the National Football League?
ITEM: Of the top 20 highest rated television broadcasts in 2010, 18 of them have been NFL games. To make the point even more emphatically, 8 of the top 10 broadcasts this year have been owned and operated by the NFL.
A rising trend and impressive numbers that have more to do with merely competitive play. The rabid public desire to daily hold their heads high (Atlanta), or cower in abject shame hoping no one from the outside world discovers there is still an actual team lurking nearby (Detroit). Even more than the valiant and laudable concept of gathering around the inflatable mascot with friends and adult beverages seeking an escape from the daily humdrum.
Rising popularity is not all about the game being a superior product.
Hold that thought. We’ll circle back.
With those numbers in hand, it would be safe to assume that all is sound in the NFL as we head for another postseason. We remain safe and snug in the knowledge that despite all the gloom and doom we have been bombarded with from the real world lo these past several months, nothing is more important than the game itself.
ITEM: Week #15 of the 2010 NFL season featured several displays providing evidence of the consistent exceptional quality of play that has been seemingly overnight catapulted pro football to more than a game, but an interwoven part of our very societal fabric. In other words, plenty of new material for a really bad reality show.
– A punter who couldn’t seem to remember the one person on the entire field he should NOT be kicking the football to.
– The entire special team around him that suddenly and stupendously had the definition of the word “tackling” mysteriously erased from their very DNA.
– A team so impressed with themselves in winning their previous four games that they didn’t feel the need to pay attention on the opening game kickoff, secure in the knowledge the mere sight of their fearsome colors would scare the bejeezus out of the opposition.
– A head Coach (more than one, actually) who, judging by his moves with the starting QB and other bizarre calls during the game, wouldn’t be allowed to set the lineups and make decisions on “Madden 2011” much less a franchise that made a Godzilla-sized mistake hiring him in the first place.
– Another Head Coach making news not for his brilliant play calling or strategic use of available talent, but for being “outed” as one who reportedly enjoys focusing on digits of another kind.
A team fighting for it’s playoff life going up against a side that for a running game was prepared to see if League rules prohibited the use of training wheels. Then letting a second year player from that football powerhouse, UConn, to shred them for 129 yards
– A defender rolling 91 yards to score the game-winning touchdown, deciding that he would taunt the losing team, their home crowd, and showboat sycophants everywhere by running along the goal line instead of crossing the stripe and scoring.
– Yet another public apology from a League where officiating was once considered to be the best in any sport, yet thanks in large part to mid-season, knee jerk rules changes leaving players, fans and especially the zebras completely confused. A potent mix for succeeding in ruining the flow of the game itself.
– A number of rough and tumble players from two teams seeking sympathy from the ticket buying and gambling public about having to play a game outside (shocking!) in the elements including very cold weather (equally shocking!) and fearing for their safety, faced with the possibility of….dare we even mention it?…..slipping on the ice! Of course, moments after these concerns were made public, we understand Carl Eller and Alan Page burst thru the door of a certain team’s locker room and proceeded to hand out tubes of Mulberry Lipstick and gift cards for Victoria’s Secret lingerie in 10X+ sizes.
OK, so perhaps I did exaggerate just a tad. Everyone knows the color mulberry is out of season until at least the beginning or March.
Football is of course, just a game. And in games, the unexplainable can and always does happen. This is as much a rule of life as the fact that, at least once every month, your local newscast will feature “Breaking News” featuring alarming video of cars mystically sliding down an ice hill or someone over the age of 109 driving their car into a storefront window.
But the NFL is supposed to be the standard of competitive and athletic excellence for what is marketed as a sport featuring the roughest, toughest, most team-oriented band of warriors to ever traverse this earthly sphere. And that, ostensibly, is why we worship the sport and the players.
What we’re seeing of late is instead the sloppiest play since the days of knee-deep mud on badly-irrigated fields. Egomaniacal coaches more impressed with their media largess than creating a cohesive team prepared to do more than implode on a whim. Owners hiring coaches based solely on pedigree and ability to (most of the time) escape NFL justice. Tackling fundamentals making one wonder if there is indeed a little flag around the waist of runners just waiting to be yanked off. Players reaching new heights of concern over how individual numbers and hangnails will affect free again status. And a League that cannot make up it’s collective mind on rules changes, thus leaving players, coaches, fans and even the ball boys bewildered as they are caught up in this murky and ever-shifting morass.
Add all of this together, and I’ve talked with more than a few people who don’t see the NFL as that “can’t miss” weekly adrenaline rush it used to be. And this would include hard-core fans and equally hard-core reporters who have spent anywhere from two to twenty years covering the sport.
And there’s proof those skyrocketing ratings numbers we spoke of earlier have little or nothing to do with the supposed high quality of play. Rather, something a tad closer to the heart of the fastest growing cadre of fanatics in any sport.
Making money off their heroes. Gambling. Fantasy Football. The numbers prove these record-breaking numbers are directly related to people not completely interested in the game itself, but in how their fantasy players perform. Making the fan feel more connected to the game.
And making a few bucks along the way.
Completely legal and promoted not only by the TV networks, but the NFL itself. Both of whom not long ago decried what they called nothing more than “legalized gambling” was ruining the purity of the sport.
And now there’s even proof that without fantasy football wagering, the NFL might not be what many call “America’s Pastime”.
There’s nothing wrong with any fantasy sport. In many ways and with many sports, it creates new excitement, delivers a new audience that might otherwise be bored stiff or heading for the International Mahjong League, and certainly stirs the economy at a time when any chance at being able to afford the newest plasma TV insures more jobs.
And plenty of additional cash into the pockets of the NFL and TV networks? Certainly nothing more than a welcome distraction.
However, in light of what can arguably be called the sloppiest NFL we’ve witnessed in years, and the ratings explosion that can be traced directly to those who watch the games not for exceptional athleticism but for the chance to pocket legal cash from somewhere other than Las Vegas, what does it say about the game itself and why it’s so popular?
And at the same time, what does it say about us and our willingness to pay exorbitant prices for what, in more than a few places, is much less a superior product than it used to be?
Don’t tell Carl or Alan.