[guest post by JVW]
With the big brouhaha building up in advance of tomorrow’s Big Game (note that advertisers are not allowed to use the trademarked term S____ B___ without paying extortion money to the NFL; because of that I will stand in solidarity with them and avoid using that stupid term too.), I thought this would be a good time to lay out the reasons why I, a former fan of the NFL, can no longer bear to watch the game. So even though it is a hackneyed and over-used device, I’ll present my reasons in a count-down list.
6. An NFL Stadium is a Public Rip-Off
In an era when even the least-valuable NFL franchise — the lowly (but rebounding!) Buffalo Bills — is worth an estimated $1.6 billion, it is remarkable that cities are willing to be held hostage by these teams and spend taxpayer money to build stadiums that do not return the equivalent value to the public. (By contrast, basketball/hockey arenas and baseball fields which host more events over the course of the year generally pay back their subsidies in increased economic activity.) Yet some cities persist in coughing up big bucks whenever the well-heeled owners threaten to relocate to municipalities who for some inexplicable reason are desperate to play host to an NFL franchise. Why any NFL franchise deems Los Angeles — a city filled with an inordinate number of people who come from somewhere else and arrive here with longstanding loyalties to their hometown team — as a city in which to relocate not one, but two separate franchises is beyond my comprehension (other than the clear fact that LA is suffused with sucker wealth). The great David Burge summed it up thus:
Breaking: Chargers to challenge Rams for share of LA football indifference
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) January 12, 2017
5. And the Stadium Experience Sucks These Days Anyway
So you have paid $688 to a ticket broker to procure four tickets for your family to watch an NFL game at your local taxpayer-funded stadium (maybe you were lucky enough to get them at face value and paid closer to $400). You pile into the car to drive to the stadium. Did you purchase a parking pass in advance from a fan who has season parking privileges close to the stadium? If so, you probably spent $60 or more. But hey, if you forgot to arrange that detail in advance you can always park in an off-site lot for $40 and have the kids join you for the 20-minute hike to the stadium. When you get there, you will find that four hotdogs, two cokes, a pretzel, and a box of popcorn will set you back an additional $40, and if you and your spouse want a beer they’ll average about $9 each. Souvenir for the kids? I hope they are happy with a $10 pennant and don’t want the $150 replica jersey.
When you get to your seat, the fun awaits you. Your game watching will likely be distracted by drunks jacked up on testosterone who bellow obscenities down to players who can’t possibly hear them and, more probably, opposing fans who likely can and will respond in kind. If you are lucky, a full-blown fan fight might break out in your section, sometimes among fans of the same team and sometimes among the female fan base! That is provided you made it safely into the stadium without being accosted by the other team’s fans in the first place. Do you think that security will rush over to break it up? Watch these videos and see how fan safety in the seating sections is apparently a low priority in many NFL stadiums. So we’re looking at $850 to have expensive beer poured all over you and be punched in the face, and you’ll face a long walk back to your car in the dark with drunk and surly fans all around you. Good times.
4. The Game Has Been Taken Over by Vanilla Play
As football has become big business with coaching and playing salaries exploding skyward, a certain sort of boring conservative style has taken over in which teams run a certain set of plays that statistical analyses have suggested are the most likely to consistently succeed, rather than exposing your job to risk by playing with more verve and flair that was once a hallmark of the pro game. How many times have you watched an NFL game and watch both offenses appear to utilize the same safe playbook: bubble-screen to the wide receiver on first down for five yards, short swing pass to the running back on second down for five yards, slant to the receiver on first down for six yards, tailback over right tackle for four yards, repeat ad nauseam? That over-reliance upon the tried and true along with offense-friendly rules which hamstring defensive players’ ability to play aggressively, leads to a very nice set of game stats (more on that later), but the net effect is like watching two well-rehearsed military bands playing a Sousa march note-for-note as it appears on the sheet music, game after game after game, when every so often you want the monotony broken up with some improvisational jazz. This post at the blog The Ringer does an excellent job of expounding on how aseptic modern NFL offenses are. Consider a comparison of Hall of Famer Joe Namath’s 1968 season, in which he led the Jets to an 11-3 regular season record and a Big Game title, with Eli Manning’s season this year in which his Giants went 3-12 in the games that Manning started:
Note that Manning’s stat-friendly line consisting of short passes in the name of ball-control and patiently driving the football down the field yields a higher quarterback rating than Namath’s higher-risk downfield throwing that gives him a superior yards per completion (also yards per attempt) and touchdowns versus attempts number than Manning, but his lower completion rate and higher interception rate leaves Manning with the overall better quarterback rating.
3. Injuries Mar the On-Field Product
This NFL season, more than any other in recent memory, has been dominated by the number of serious injuries that have sidelined star players for weeks at a time. The league is also dealing with horrible PR as retired players report the onset of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), permanent brain damage brought on by years of vicious blows to the head which is being investigated as a possible cause of several NFL player suicides in recent years. In considering the carnage that the game seems to be engendering, it’s worth considering how the evolution of the game and human performance might be at fault.
We have seen a sheer increase in size of the average professional player over the past century, from roughly 5’11” and 190 lbs. in 1920 to more like 6’3″ and 240 lbs today. At the same time, the evolution of human physiology over that same period has not kept pace with these advancements, so more body weight is being piled upon joints, ligaments, and tendons that are often ill-equipped to bear them, especially as increased muscle mass, strength, and speed, has made collisions more violent. One of the reasons that the New England Patriots have been so successful over the past seventeen seasons is that their quarterback, Tom Brady, has been a paragon of health, starting every game over that period except for the four games he missed last year when he was suspended and the 2008 season in which he played in only one game and the Patriots missed the playoffs. Your success in the NFL is no longer based upon getting great players and slotting them into a solid scheme, it’s about keeping them healthy for the brutal five-month season.
2. The NFL Thinks It Is Far More Important Than It Really Is
Look, I get that this is a multi-billion dollar business, and I get that for the last six decades or so the NFL has clearly established itself as our country’s most popular professional sports league, despite the occasional claims that more internationally popular sports beloved of one-world progressives such as basketball and soccer are about to displace football among the U.S. sports fan. But for the life of me I can’t understand the attitude heard often among diehard NFL fans that the period between the end of the Super Bowl and the opening of NFL training camps in the summer is a sports wasteland. I started being bothered a couple of decades ago when ESPN would devote round-the-clock coverage to the two days of the annual NFL Draft in April, not to mention the incessant yammering on about what teams ought to do, want to do, and ought to want to do in the month leading up to the draft. To see talking heads spend sixty seconds discussing whether that wide receiver from Tumbleweed State is worth a seventh-round pick or ought to be signed as a free agent is to summit the peak of the picayune and piffling.
But what really did it for me was the year that ESPN had a three-hour prime-time special during the beginning of summer in which the next year’s season schedule was announced and laid out week-by-week. It was surreal to hear besuited in-studio yakkers pontificating upon whether the Week 13 Dolphins-Jaguars match-up would be a pivotal game for playoff possibilities, not knowing one iota whether either team would have a record of 2-10, 6-6, 11-1, or something else. It seemed entirely tailor-made to satiate the degenerate NFL fan who is starved to hear various gregarious ex-jocks and ingratiating media gasbags pretend that they have any inkling of what the coming season holds for us. And this kind of inability to keep the NFL in proper perspective leads me to my number one complaint:
1. Fantasy Football Turns the Game Into ADHD Hell
My disgust with the game grew exponentially with the advent of fantasy football. Football is in many ways the ultimate team sport. Unlike basketball, a great individual cannot easily dominate the game, and certainly not on both offense and defense. And while it’s true that a great pitcher can almost single-handedly win a game with a dominant performance, or a hitter can crush four homeruns and provide his team’s entire offense output in a win, baseball itself is a game consisting of ongoing individual match-ups between a pitcher and a hitter, with the former trying to record an out and the latter trying to reach base. Football, though, consists of eleven men on the field each with an exact assignment which must be carried out in tandem for the overall success of the team. The best passing quarterback is far less effective if his receivers can’t catch the ball, and the most elusive running back is useless if his line can’t stop the defenders from tackling him in the backfield. A wonderful defense that only surrenders seven points per game doesn’t win games if the offense is incapable of scoring more than six. Football rewards the entire team effort, not any one player carrying the team.
But all that is thrown out the window with fantasy football, which rewards gaudy personal statistics at the expense of team excellence. Take quarterback Smith and quarterback Jones, for instance, each of them playing a different team in the same week. Smith plays in a balanced offense which emphasizes ball-control and chewing up time on the clock, and runs the ball effectively while mixing in the passing game when necessary to keep the defense guessing. He leads his team to a 24-7 victory in which his team runs for 190 yards and controls the ball for 38 of the 60 minutes. His passing stats end up a respectable 15 for 21 for 160 yards and one touchdown, and on three occasions he keeps drives going by passing for a first down when the team faces third-and-long. Jones, on the other hand, plays in a system with very little success running, so his team throws the ball quite a bit. Jones finishes a game with a stat line of 34 for 58 for 360 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, but his team is on the losing end of a 44-24 score and Jones’s final two TDs come late in the fourth quarter when the outcome has already been determined. Guess which player had the superior performance in the eyes of fantasy football followers, but then think about which quarterback helped bring his team closer to a playoff appearance.
Fantasy football makes simps and boors of its participants as we no longer admire team excellence, we instead focus on individual statistics. Note how in this day and age each televised game has a bottom-screen crawler which tracks all of the numbers for the most popular fantasy players. Instead of intently watching the game in front of them, the modern fantasy-addled NFL fan’s attention nervously bounces from game to game, chasing those fantasy points to the bitter end. Even the newest stadiums (stadia, I guess) are getting into the act, pandering to the fantasy football fanatic since — Heaven forbid! — fans shouldn’t be distracted by what is actually happening in the game right in front of them: the one they actually bought a ticket for. I have found that when recapping a game, the modern fan is far more likely to know various players’ statistics than something as uninteresting as the final score or even which team emerged victorious. Fantasy football, more than any other factor, has made the NFL unwatchable.
So enjoy the Big Game tomorrow, folks. As for me, I’m heading out to see the Churchill movie.