It was reported last week that thousands of tickets for the playoff games were unsold, particularly in the cold weather cities. Nobody should have been surprised by this news. The National Football League, a multi-billion dollar business with a long and storied history, is in terminal decline. The reasons are varied.
Empty stadium and second half has not even begun.
What follows is not an in-depth analysis, business or otherwise, of the why the NFL has failed so miserably, but merely one former fan’s analysis of what’s wrong with this league.
The game itself has some inherent flaws which could theoretically be fixed by a radical re-working of the rules, but given how deeply conservative and inflexible the NFL’s ruling elite is, this is highly unlikely, to say the least.
Let’s start with what is known as ‘the kicking game.’ The extra point is the most irrelevant, uninteresting, and dumb play in all of sports. By comparison, basketball’s free throw appears exciting. Why has this play survived so many decades of football? It is successful 99.99% of the time, so the suspense is negligible. If the offense scores a touchdown, give them the 6 points and then kick to the other team. The extra point only serves to slow down the game.
The field goal has assumed far too much significance in today’s game. With the talented kickers we now have who can routinely and reliably kick 50 and even 60 -yard field goals, games today are often decided by these so-called players, most of whom are imported from Europe and Latin America and who look ridiculous in their football garb. When they must attempt a tackle , they often get their teeth knocked out. If a team can march its offense to the opposing team’s 40 yard line only, and then trot out their field goal kicker, it is non-sensical that they can earn half the points that a touchdown is worth. For those who are adamant about keeping the field goal, make it worth 2 points only, or 1/3 the amount of a touchdown.
The punt is football’s synonym for cowardice. Most Americans are not aware of the high school coach who NEVER punted. His teams won state championships. You can read his story online, or watch a great documentary about him, and the absurdity of punting in general, on youtube. Football gives you four downs in which to gain 10 yards. If you get 9 and half of those yards on the first three downs, why would you VOLUNTARILY give the ball to the opposing team instead of going for the half yard? You will not find a bigger group of cowards than NFL head coaches.
However, don’t blame the coaches. Blame the fans and the announcers. Notice how on the rare occasions when coaches do ‘go for it’ on 4th down, everyone goes crazy and says what a ‘gambler’ he is. Then, if the attempt fails, the coach is lambasted mercilessly by the media and fans for being ‘reckless.’ Instead of applauding him, which we should do, we tell him to stick with being conservative and boring.
Yes, the game is boring.
Besides, the punt rarely gives the punting team any benefit at all. You simply move the ball, at best, 40 yards down the field and then give it to Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers who say ‘thank you very much’ and take the ball down the field and score on you. They care not whether you give them the ball on the 20 yard line or the 50 yard line. And if the punter flubs it, you might only move it 10 or 20 yards. Or the opposing team can run it back for a touchdown. Any way you slice it, punting the ball is a bad proposition.
Football is a violent game and that is a large part of its appeal. Humans have evolved little, if any, from the days of the Roman gladiators and we like to see over-sized brutes crashing into each other and shattering bones. The business owners of the NFL recognize this, but they have a problem: injuries. Until we have perfected bionic humans, injuries will remains an unwanted and unavoidable part of the game. The class action lawsuit brought by former players against the league for undiagnosed concussions sent a palpable tremor of fear thru management. Hence, the new ‘concussion protocol’ that you are hearing so much about these days is a direct result of this.
But why are there so many concussions? The answer to that is simple: the helmet. Players have always used the modern helmet as a weapon, a battering ram to be used as a blunt force instrument of destruction. From Jack Tatum on defense to Earl Campbell on offense, the helmet was recognized by players as a piece of equipment to be used for violence, not protection. The league’s talking heads have always maintained that the helmet is a piece of ‘protective’ equipment. This is pure nonsense. The helmet does not protect anything. To repeat: it has always been and is now an offensive weapon. But the league will do nothing to change it because the helmet is where the team’s logo is most prominently marketed.
The other injuries associated with football include torn ACLs, MCLs and PCLs, broken tibias, broken fibulas, broken femurs, broken ribs, bruised ribs, torn achilles tendons, fractured fingers, fractured wrists, fractured collarbones, turf toe, broken backs, bruised backs, fractured jaws, busted teeth, broken hips, broken noses , broken radius bones , broken ulnas and so on.
When I was growing up, most NFL stadiums were not that much different than high school and college stadiums. They were just a bit larger. I feel lucky that I was able to view NFL games in the last great old school NFL stadium: RFK in Washington DC. Dirty, run-down, rickety, loud, boisterous, and fun, RFK was everything a good stadium should be. Contrast that with today’s antiseptic, hyper-modern, ballyhooed, billion dollar monstrosities which are usually paid for by the gullible and deceived public, who are suckered into paying most of the cost for the greedy owners. To add insult to injury, after paying for these stadiums thru ‘bonds’ and increased taxes, fans then have to pay higher ticket prices, not to mention higher parking and higher concession prices as well. I have never been to a game in one of these newfangled stadiums, and I never plan to. What is up with fans these days, anyway? Why do they put up with this? Owners have installed these absolutely gigantic screens in all the stadiums, so that fans can watch the giant screen DURING the game. The players actually watch themselves on the screens while they are playing. Unbelievable. If you want to watch the game on television , stay home. But I guess I’m just old-fashioned.
As an English teacher, I take great offense at the way in which football announcers, who are now all ex-jocks, butcher the English language. They are contributing directly and overtly to the dumbing down of the populace. Indeed, this is not only allowed, but also encouraged. Conditionals and past perfect are strictly forbidden. The announcers’ booth and studio have room for the simple present tense only. Anything else is just too bothersome for these jocks, apparently. Don’t believe this? Listen closely to the announcers the next time you watch an NFL game. Notice how they will never say, “If he had made that field goal, the team would have won the game.” No, no , no. That’s far too many words, you see. What the announcer will say is, “If he makes the field goal, the team wins.” He will say this even if he is talking about a game from 20 years ago. Welcome to the idiocracy.
How advertisers have managed to worm their way into every conceivable nook and cranny of the telecast is a thing to behold. “After the GMC timeout, the FedEX player of the game will review the Microsoft play of the game with our sideline reporter. Afterwards, we will discuss the UPS replay of the McDonald’s punt…” How the reporters can say all this stuff with a straight face is beyond me. Actually I know it’s written into their contracts. If they merely refer to ‘the stadium’ , they will be severely reprimanded. They must always say the complete name of the corporate bought stadium, i.e. ‘FedEx Field.’ Who’s your momma?
Is the NFL fixed? Some people believe so. It can’t be proven, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and there is plenty of smoke around. The easiest way to fix a game is to bribe or threaten the referees and every fan knows how capricious referee calls are in the NFL. Take offensive holding, for example. Honest referees have admitted that they could call this penalty on every play of the game. All lineman do it. But they only call it occasionally. Which means that choosing when to call it is purely at their own discretion and can immensely affect the outcome of a game.
I don’t see any way the NFL can be fixed in its present form. I think it will continue to limp along and enough diehard fans will continue to support it thru ticket and paraphernalia sales to keep it going for at least another decade. Personally, I wouldn’t give a penny of my hard-earned money to an NFL owner. They don’t deserve it. They have done nothing to enhance the game and have done everything to degrade it.
Down and out for the count