Hot Dog Gets Ketchup

The most exciting play of the 10/2/2016, fourth week of the NFL, for me, was a legal hit by Atlanta Falcons Linebacker Deion Jones on Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton, as Newton jogged to the end zone for a two-point conversion. The jog, for those not familiar with Cam Newton’s show-boating style of play, is a deliberate pace Newton will use to make the defense look even worse for their inability to stop him, than they may have looked had he completed the play at full speed. Jones’ hit was not only an attempt to punish Newton for a slow jog, that was intended to humiliate the Falcons defense, it was revenge for a previous play in which Newton got in Jones’ fan to celebrate a first down, a play in which Newton was flagged for excessive celebration. Deion Jones’ hit not only wobbled Jones, it sent Newton to the locker room with a concussion.


Although I’m not for players getting injured, I am all for “on the field” justice. As it stands right now, the NFL permits an offensive player a number of different celebrations, and the defensive player is not permitted to retaliate for the offensive player celebrating. The player from the offense is permitted to walk off the field of play without any form of retribution for that celebration. I realize that the NFL attempted to make all celebrations illegal, years ago, and that that attempt resulted in a public relations nightmare that led to fans and writers calling it the “No Fun League”, but if the NFL is going to allow “some” celebrations and some showboating, within strict guidelines, they should permit “some” retributions for those celebrations, within strict guidelines. If I were to write this “retributions” rule, it would follow some of the other rules the NFL has instituted for other plays. It would permit “one player from the defense one shot against a celebrant that is below the head and above the knees, and it has to occur in the midst of the offensive players’ theatrics, or in an acceptable time thereafter.” This addendum to the celebrations rule, would allow professional football players to clean up their own in a manner similar to the manner baseball players and hockey players are allowed to clean up their game.

Cam Newton may be an excellent teammate, and an all-around good guy off the field, but I, like most football fans, only care about his on the field activities. On the field, a Cam Newton is emblematic of the “me-first” athletes that are not afraid to humiliate their opponents, because there is no real retribution for doing so. Part of Cam’s alleged charm that he is willing to mock other players, and walk away with the knowledge that those players can’t do anything to him.

“If you don’t want me to celebrate, don’t let me score,” Cam Newton said to those that have suggested that his celebrations were over the top. I would have less of a complaint if football were more of a mano y mano game, in the manner say boxing, tennis, or golf are. Cam’s line of defense suggests that the defense is trying to stop him, and him alone, and that they cannot do it. Yet, Newton has an offensive line keeping the defense away from him, and a number of different threats on the field that the defense has to consider before attacking Cam Newton. If the NFL were to allow “some” retribution, and perhaps allow Cam Newton to retaliate against the retaliation, that would result in a limited hockey-like scrum that the officials would allow for a period of time before it got out of hand, and league rules would prohibit anyone but the celebrant and the defensive player from participating in this scrum, Cam Newton could say something along the lines of: “You’re allowed to retaliate, I challenge you to retaliate.” As it stands, Cam Newton is protected from most hits by players, and rules, and he is allowed to celebrate in a manner that the defensive players are forced to walk away from, until it builds such resentment in the defensive player that a legal hit, such as the 10/2/2016 Deion Jones hit, is a lot more volatile than it would have been otherwise.


The Other Side of Talent

“He has a talent,” one person said of another. “I don’t know what it is,” she furthered, “but he has a real knack for taking photos.” The subject of that compliment beamed in the afterglow. The compliment was vague, but she used the ‘T’ word, and very few can avoid the gush that follows having a ‘T’ word thrown at them.

It was a nice photo (not the one pictured here), but the ‘T’ word? The compliment suggested that this photo was but one of a long line of photos that you had to see to believe, but it was still just a photo.

Most of us reserve our use of the ‘T’ word for athletic and artistic accomplishments, but we know that many use it in broad terms. We know, for example, that an engineer can display a wide array of talents for his craft that others may not have, but we often say that that person is good at what he does, a master craftsman, or expertly skilled, but the use of the word talent is not often used in conjunction with most skills.

Some could say that a grown man’s ability to outdo his young peers in a game of hopscotch is a display of talent, but most fellow adults watching this man hop from square to square would suggest that he should consider finding a more constructive use of his abilities, if he wants others to consider him a talent.

Merriam-Webster defines talent as “a special ability that allows someone to do something well.”

Philosopher Ayn Rand steadfastly refused to recognize photography as art, but she did concede that it requires a skill, a technical skill, as opposed to a creative one.

We all know that definitions, such as these, can be broad, but most of us have personal definitions that fall on stricter lines. If the definition of talent is as broad as Merriam-Webster described, and photography requires some technical skill, then we should concede that taking a quality photograph does require some talent. One could also say that a talented photographer uses discretion and selectivity when he selects his shot, but could this ability to capture a moment be more of a right place, right time decision making process that this man has over even the broadest definition of talent?

If one takes a thousand photographs, for example, and only one of them is of an exceptional quality, is that a display of the photographer’s skill? Yes it is, in a broad sense of the term. If that’s the case, we could that if a man takes a thousand free throws, and he makes one, he has a talent for shooting free throws, if that one free throw is so perfect that it barely touches the net.

If a photographer purchases a top of the line camera, and he uses the best photo-enhancing software available to produce evidence of his prowess, and he lays that photo down on a table next to the photo another taken with a disposable Walmart camera, and no enhancements are permitted, does his superior photo reveal God-given talent on his part, or does it contribute to the lie that a skilled, talented photographer is artistic in any manner?

The Truly Talented

We’ve all witnessed the effect truly talented people can have on a room, and this effect often makes us a little sick. “He’s just a human being for God’s sakes!” is one of the snarky, coping mechanisms we’ve developed for dealing with “the gush” to adore the talented.

The adoration of talent varies with the skill required to accomplish the feat, of course, but if you’ve ever met truly gifted people, you know that most of them are not interested in being better today than they were yesterday. Most of them enjoy the potential they have to be better than they do the work involved in becoming better. “We’re talking about practice!”

Those that become obsessed with being better, and enjoy the benefits the rigors of practice can produce, often end up having their names etched into something by the time they’re finished. For these people, their talent is but a starting point and a gift that they end up honing to perfection, but even for these people talent can be a curse and a burden, and it can lead to acceptance, love, worship, and being scrutinized, ostracized, hated, and ridiculed. The idea of their talent, i.e. their potential, can also haunt them when they encounter its limitations.

An edition of 30 for 30 called Of Miracles and Men portrayed the other side of talent. It depicted the other side of the Miracle on Ice story that we all know of a ragtag group of American amateurs defeating the most talented Russian hockey team ever assembled. Some would argue that this Russian team might have been the greatest assemblage of hockey players ever to tie skates on their feet. This team had already won four Olympic gold medals in hockey, by the time they took to the ice against this American team, and some of them would go onto win a fifth after the 1980 defeat. To hear this group of talented men speak of their careers, the 1980 loss to a group of American amateurs, in a medal round, sits in their system like a kidney stone that will never pass. This Russian team beat an assemblage of Canada’s best that included probably the greatest hockey player that ever lived Wayne Gretzky. They also beat the 1980 American team in a match that preceded the 1980 medal round upset, and those two matches were not even close. This team was so dominant that they could not be beat, until they were.

Some would think that such an historic upset might serve to highlight the Russian team’s greatness, if one could say that one defeat in the midst of a record of total annihilation is a blip in the overall dominance this team displayed over the hockey world for two decades. Listening to these men speak, however, the listener gets a taste for the other side of talent when the only story anyone wants to hear from them involves the one time they didn’t succeed, and how that has haunted them since.

The point one could take from this 30 for 30 episode is that these men spent an excruciating amount of hours of their young lives in cold, dank gyms honing their God-given gifts, trying to improve on the smallest details of the game, only to fall to a bunch of ragtag Americans that may not have spent one-fifths the amount of time honing their gifts. Even with five gold medals (including the 1984 Olympics), the only thing we want to talk to them about is that one match they failed to win thirty-five years ago.

If you’re acknowledged as the most talented person anyone you know has ever met, and the only thing anyone wants to discuss is the one time you failed, why would you want to raise their expectations? Why would you want to endure the marathon practice sessions that focused on the minutiae your coach informed was going to be vital when you encountered the wall of your God-given abilities? Why would you want to invest more of your life becoming better at something other people hate you for being so good at? We’re talking about desire here.

We’re talking about the desire to be better today, than you were yesterday. “We’re talking about practice!” We’re talking about preparing for that day, that every talented person experiences, when they meet their personal wall.

The wall, for those that have never read about it, involves going up against other people that were the most talented people anyone they know had ever met. It involves seeing what the gifted person is made of when they encounter the another person loaded with so much talent that talent is afterthought.

To read the former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner’s examination of the natural talents that fail to succeed on the NFL level, it’s about having a coach, or mentor, early on that recognizes the person’s talent level, and challenges them in a brutal, heartless manner, to reach within themselves to find various other methods of succeeding beyond the talent level they’ve always known. This heartless mentor also helps the talented person in question determine if they have the desire to succeed on a level they may not have even considered to that point.

The Less Than Talented

“My talent has always been, and will always be, and it should be written with a capital ‘P’!” –Your potential

What if your talent has never taken you the places you thought it would, but you’ve always known you had the potential you had to succeed. What if your talent lays somewhere between being as talented as anyone that you’ve ever met, and perhaps more, but that untapped potential to be more has always remained at a frustrating distance?

We spoke of ‘the wall’ that every recognized talent experiences, but there is another wall that can be more formidable: the wall of self-imposed expectations. The talented might encounter this wall in moments considered inconsequential to other participants, and observers, but to the person that has lived with the idea that they’ve always had the potential to succeed it is but another example of their ineptitude. Most of them do not know that this is the source of their frustration, or if they do, they won’t acknowledge it.

As the Kurt Warner story informs us, the primary difference between those that will succeed and those that won’t occurs soon after an example of they experience ineptitude. Moments of adversity can be large and small, but they all reveal whom we are, and who we are going to be.

A young Kurt Warner may have dealt with moments of adversity throughout his largely undocumented young life, but we can guess that none of them would compare to the adversity that the adult Kurt Warner would experience in his adult life. The most talented person in his area received so few scholarship offers that he ended up playing quarterback for the University of Northern Iowa. The NFL draft did not draft him, following that college career, and the only team that gave him a try-out, cut him before the season even started. He ended up stocking shelves for a supermarket chain. He then played quarterback in the Arena Football League, and he had a stint in NFL Europe before an injury to a starter allowed him to lead a NFL team to a Super Bowl victory. He was MVP of that Super Bowl and MVP for the season. That Super Bowl team cut him a couple seasons later, and he went onto play for another NFL team for a couple of unproductive seasons, and he ended up with a team that he, again, guided to the Super Bowl. After Kurt Warner’s career was concluded, he was considered to be the best undrafted free agent to ever play the game.

Kurt Warner’s story is one of not living up to his self-imposed expectations. It’s a story of what he did after failing to succeed on many levels. It’s a story that should be held out as an example to talented people, but for most of those that are more talented than anyone they’ve ever met, talent and work have always been a zero-sum game: The more talent one has, the less work they think they should have to do.

Warner states that most coaches and mentors coach to the talent, and they let the talent do what they do well in a manner that the coach hopes will reflect the coach’s ability to harness talent. They coach for the next game. They coach to keep the talent happy.

If we’re talking about practice, however, one of a coach’s duties should be to put talented people in uncomfortable positions to reveal to them what they must do when talent alone may not be enough get them out of scrapes.

It also allows those talented people –that have always used their talent as a picket sign to avoid the rigors of practice– to learn how to finesse the minutiae of their abilities and hone their desire.

As anyone that has displayed an ability to do anything knows, there is always a ceiling, and when one hits their head on that ceiling it can be quite humiliating. Some of the times, it’s more rewarding to hide in a cloud of potential. Those of us considered lesser-thans don’t understand what it must feel like to have so many consider us a true talent, and we never will, and that can provide the talented a comfortable space between the reality of their talent and the potential we believe they might have.

If you’ve ever witnessed a display of YouTube-worthy temper tantrum in a bowling alley, on a miniature golf course, or at a softball field, and you’ve wondered why a person would attempt to gouge their own eye out for missing a two-foot putt, I can tell you –as a former wild temper tantrum thrower– that there’s something more to it than the fact that the ball won’t go where we want it to go. We thought we spotted something at a very young age, we thought we were going to be a somebody, a contender, and the obnoxious five-pin that will not fall no matter what we do is not just a configuration of rock maple wood to us, it is the eye of fate staring at us, mocking us for what we’ve become.

These eye-catching temper tantrums are borne of an inability to deal with even the most inconsequential moments of adversity, because we never had a heartless mentor in our lives that cared enough not to care that we were tired, that our feelings were hurt by something they said, or that we wanted to quit the game because “it’s just not fun anymore”. One could read this post, and think it’s all about sports, until they witness a guy that has no capacity for dealing with the obnoxious five-pins of life, and in the moment that captures his frustration in life for all to see, he does something to the ball return that causes parents to shield their kids’ eyes. For an overwhelming majority of those that would have their names etched into something by the time their career is over, their mentors would spend countless hours teaching them how to deal with such adversity, how to overcome walls –self-imposed and otherwise– and how to become successful people, and yes, talented photographers, I guess.

Football 101: Stratagies

“Why do they continue run the ball into the middle of the pile?” a friend of mine once asked after watching a running back crash into the line for a two-yard loss.  “If they are going to run, why don’t they run around the pile?”

As with any sports-related questions, the answer involves a number of variables, and specifics regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the respective players on the offense, from the abilities of the Running Back, to the ability of those on the offensive line to block for him.  The offense also has to gauge the speed and ability of the defenders to beat them to the corner. Long story short, the offense would love to run around the corner.  It would also love to gain a ton of yards up the middle.  Even if it doesn’t, however, a run up the middle serves a purpose.

350px-Linemen.svgIt may also sound elementary to suggest that the offense wants to have every single defensive player confused, but that is the purpose of the run up the middle.  For those that love chess, even an unsuccessful run up the middle can be the equivalent to sacrificing a pawn to get the opponent to move themselves into a weak position.

If the offense attempts to run up the middle often enough, it hopes to create enough confusion in the minds of the defensive backfield that they make an erroneous first step up and in to stop that run.  One erroneous step may be all that’s needed for the timing of the offense’s passing game.  Creating confusion in the minds of the all of the defense is important, of course, but it is crucial to the success of the offense that those players that are positioned in what is called the defensive backfield –the linebackers (LBs), the free safety (FS), and the Strong Safety (SS) in the diagram above– be confused.

The players in the defensive backfield are unblocked on the line of scrimmage and they have free reign as to how they are going to approach the next play.  If they are confused and they make an incorrect guess, holes in the defensive backfield will open up for the offense to exploit in the passing game.

The timing of most offenses require a successful running game, but even a less than successful running game can open up holes for a Quarterback to pass in, if the members of the defensive backfield are required to step up and in to assist the front four defenders (the defensive line) in their attempts to stop the run.  So, the next time your team continues to make futile attempts to run the ball into the middle of the pile, wait for the next play before you kick that hole in the wall.  If that Quarterback fakes the ball to the Running Back, (a play-action fake is what it’s called) and the Linebackers take a step up and in to stop that play, you’ll realize that the Offensive Coordinator (the coach that decides which plays the offense will run) made that previous call to set up this pass.  For when that Linebacker steps up and in to stop that running play from going into the middle again, he opens up a *hole behind him that the Quarterback will pass the ball in.  (*This hole is also called a lane and/or a window.)

The offense must keep the defense guessing whether the offense is going to run or pass.  You may hear a broadcaster refer to this as “keeping pressure on the defense” or “keeping the defense on their heels.”  They may also refer to the defense stepping up and in as “the defense cheating” or the defense “creeping”, and that the offense must have a better mix of run and pass to prevent that.

As a result, if an offense has a decent mix of running yards gained and passing yards gained, that team wins more often than not.  Some offenses don’t need a perfect mixture, but most of them need just enough to establish a threat of something different to keep the defense guessing.  Most of them will acknowledge that they are not going to achieve a perfect mix of yards gained, based on the defenses’ proficiency, or their own deficiencies, but they know that they will be required to have a number of attempts in one of these two strategies to establish the necessary threat.  It is for this reason, that you often see networks provide graphics that suggest when a Running Back attempts to run the ball a certain number of times (regardless the amount of yards he gains) the percentage of victory for that team is high.

The chess match of play calling, and alignment, will often bear fruit in those seconds that occur just before, and immediately after, the snap.  This is where you’ll hear the term “cheating” used most often.  If members of the defensive backfield step back in the moments before a ball is snapped, or immediately after the snap, they are cheating back, believing that a pass will occur.  The more common use of “cheating”, however, occurs when the members of the defensive backfield creep up and into the line of scrimmage, believing that a run will occur.

Therefore, when an offense continues to “waste” a play by running the ball up into the middle of the line, for a futile two-yard gain, and they continue to do it without much success, you can be sure that they are attempting to prevent the LB’s, the FS, and the SS from sliding back into the holes that the Quarterback wants to throw the ball into.  To further this deception, a Quarterback may fake a hand-off to that Running Back to get a crucial one-to-two step creep, or cheat, up and in from the members of the defensive backfield.

“When are ‘we’ going to just admit that we can’t run the ball?” a novice fan may scream at the television.

Long story short, few teams can afford to just give up on the run.  Most offenses are not so loaded with talent that they can succeed with a play that the defense knows is coming.  Some are, of course, but what works for one team, will not work for the other, and vice-versa.  It’s a chess match.

Football 201: Prevent Defense Prevents Victory

“The only thing the prevent defense prevents is victory,” one fan said, quoting color commentator John Madden’s oft used condemnation of this defensive alignment.  

In week five of the 2015 season, the Atlanta Falcons allowed the Washington Redskins to march down the field, about forty-five yards in twenty-five seconds, to score a game-tying field goal.  The prevent defense failed once again.

The message boards on various Atlanta Falcons’ sites blew up with people screaming at the Atlanta Falcons Defensive Coordinator Richard Smith for allowing this to happen by employing the “disastrous” prevent defense in the closing moments of regulation.

“Why do they keep trying this?” Another fan asked.

That question goes to the heart of the answer: It works … most of the times.

“If you’re winning a game,” John Madden once said to add to his complaint, “You’re winning, because of your defensive strategy.  Why would you change that successful formula up in the closing moments of a game?”

John Madden was well known for speaking the language of the common man, and the common man has asked this question so often that it has earned an answer from a common man that has answered this question so often in his head that it’s percolated to a boil.

The Redskins had twenty-five seconds to get a field goal.  They completed three passes to get their field goal kicker in place for a fifty-two-yard field goal.  He made it.  Game tied.  The prevent defense failed, and Atlanta had to resort to an interception in overtime to defeat the Redskins.

It didn’t have to be that way, according to the common man, fan’s complaints on various Atlanta Falcons’ sites.  If the Falcons had had the courage to stick with the defense that had bottled up the Redskin passing game for much of the game, they wouldn’t have had to cross their fingers with hope that something miraculous would happen in OT.

On any given play, in a game of evenly matched opponents, one long pass can change the dynamic of a game.  Due to the nature of most offenses, they limit their attempts at such a pass to four-to-five times a game.  The risk of attempting this pass is such one that most offenses prefer to stick with the package of plays they have designed for short yardage gains, as most offenses don’t operate well in the desperation of third and long.

When an offense takes the field, down three points and twenty-five seconds left, they enter the “nothing to lose” chapter of their playbook.  We have nothing to lose now, so why don’t we try to throw the ball forty yards on every play.  Why wouldn’t we take the risk, since the rewards of our normal package are gone now?  We just need one of these plays to succeed.  If this were a game of Russian roulette, and success was defined as shooting yourself, wouldn’t you increase the number of bullets in that gun if given the choice?  You would have nothing to lose by doing so.

The Defensive Coordinator’s job at this point is to limit the chances of this one play succeeding.  He’s willing to concede that the offense will succeed with a couple of passes over the middle, but he needs to do everything he can to prevent the possibilities of that one huge play succeeding.  The answer to that is a prevent defense.

“I know all this, and everything you’ve just written is obvious,” some would say, “What’s also obvious is that the prevent defense never works.”

“If it never works, why do defensive coordinators around the country, and at all levels, keep using it?”  Answer, it is successful … most of the times.  A Defensive Coordinator would not put his job on the line, by placing his defense in a prevent alignment just ‘cuz, or just because others do it, or because it’s some sort of tradition.  The difference between you, the fan, and a John Madden calling a coach out when it doesn’t work, is that the Defensive Coordinator knows his flow charts and algorithms, and he knows that the statistical probabilities suggest that in this situation the unpopular prevent defense is the right call.

The prevent defense may give up some passes over the middle, and that may have cause your heart to flutter, as your defense surrenders thirty yards, and the other team gets a little too close for comfort, but they need forty-five.  They came up fifteen yards short, they lost.  Your team won, and they do, more often than not, by employing the prevent defense in the closing moments of a game.  That didn’t happen in the Atlanta vs. Washington game, but it does … most of the times.

If it had succeeded, as it often does, no one would’ve said a word, because the idea that a defense should be able to stop an offense from going forty-five yards in twenty-five seconds is not remarkable enough for commentary.

It’s not complicated. It’s football.

Sports reporters, sports broadcasters, and the sports media, in general, are up in arms.  They don’t understand how you, the common NFL fan, can avoid caring about all these stories they’ve created to open your eyes to the true nature of the NFL.  After all of the hard work they’ve put in to characterize your favorite players, your favorite team, the commissioner of the league, and the institutional culture surrounding them, you keep watching with your eyes wide shut.  You don’t care. It’s the strangest thing.

This may be based on the fact that we don’t care about the NFL.  We love the game, we love the games, and the teams and individuals that play those games, but we have disassociated them from the NFL, the league, and the daily soap opera that surrounds it.  Perhaps that’s a small price that the NFL has paid for being so huge that some of us can do all of that and love the game, and not feel like we’re contradicting ourselves.

Those that have watched, read, and listened to the sports media over the last couple of years have been inundated with those NFL stories that will “officially, and unquestionably, be the end our enjoyment of the NFL.”  When those stories come out, and we didn’t abandon the game, the sports media moved onto that next story “that will tick the general public off so much that I don’t see how the NFL survives this without lasting damage to their product.”  Even after the members of the media make that proclamation, and the next one, the numbers don’t decrease in the least. We stubborn, fans keep watching the game in record numbers.

Atlanta Falcons fans wave

Atlanta Falcons fans wave “Rise Up” flags.

The NFL is still the king of all sports.  It’s so far ahead of the other professional sports, still, that the competition may need a James Webb Space telescope just to read their corporate strategies, and this is in the wake of three-to-four years of almost nonstop, negative media coverage.  What is going on, these sports reporters keep asking.  The answer is that the NFL is big, and huge, but not so huge that it affects the daily lives of people watching the sport to the point that they care.

To illustrate this, we need only look at the contrasting conditions that exist in the socially conscious world.  In the socially conscious world, socially conscious consumers care.  Socially conscious consumers now have websites, blogs, apps, and podcasts devoted to informing them of the latest socially conscious gossip.  The socially conscious pay attention, they scour various information resources before making financial decisions, and they punish those that don’t fall in lock step.  It’s become a huge business for those “that care” about what they care about, a business that much to the surprise of the socially conscious in the sports media, the common NFL fan takes no part in.

In the socially conscious world, the media are king makers.  They can make or break a corporation with a couple lines here and there.  With the right story, or an accumulation of stories, the media can drive a corporation out of business.  The corporation may try to adjust their practices to fit in with the prevailing winds of our culture, but in the socially conscious world once the damage is done, it’s done.

When socially conscious stories encroach upon the stature of the NFL, it attempts to adjust to the prevailing winds of our culture accordingly, as any other corporation worried about the prospects of their product will.  They sit players for infractions large and small, they fine them, and then they blast their socially conscious reactions out into the worldwide media for contrition.  Few care.  Few care about the transgressions.  Few care about the contrition.  And the confusing simplicity of this is, few care about the NFL.  They just want to watch football.

Most common, NFL fans are not socially conscious consumers, and I write that in the most complimentary manner possible.  They are mostly male, between the ages of 35-54, and making less than 100k a year.  They are hard-working people that pay little attention to politics, world affairs, or social issues in general.  Opponents may charge that they are head-in-the-sand ostriches, and that may be true in a larger sense, but in a more revealing scope, I think we can surmise that they don’t pick and choose the social issues to care about.  They don’t care about any of them.  They are a very consistent demographic.  They tend to their backyards, and they expect you to do the same, whether you are their neighbor or the NFL.  They may think a little less of you when you don’t weed and water properly, but that doesn’t mean that the next time you lean over the fence, they’re going to avoid you.

The common NFL fan may know a few of the players’ names.  Some of them may know the high draft pick at left tackle, the weak side linebacker that can cover as well as he can tackle, and the 4.2, 40 star cornerback, but for the most part NFL games are won and lost by players that they’ve never heard of.  They’re not as attached to these players as the media believes, in other words.  Their kids might be, but their parents have created enough distance from the players that no one player can ruin the game with their off the field activities.  The love of the game is not as in-depth for fans, as it is for reporters.  For fans, it’s just football, and it really isn’t all that complicated.

Those in the sports media make the mistake of assigning their own “age of enlightenment” social conscious worldview to their readers.  They believe that socially conscious consumers are indicative of the evolved, new earthling, or at the very least that this idea of a socially conscious consumer has made its way to the NFL fan.  They’re “wrong”, as Greg Cote says.  “All of it.”  We love the game of football.  We appreciate watching talent at its highest level, but we don’t care about the NFL in a manner that if they don’t handle their controversies better, we’re going to abandon them.

We tune out when the NFL pregame shows start their broadcast with the latest “weight of the world” drama that has the whole NFL shook up.  We don’t want to hear the perspective of this story from all four on-air personalities, and the sideline reporters’ latest quotes from the team’s equipment manager.  We also don’t care about the human interest stories that follow these negative stories to inform us that not all NFL players are not as bad as inmate number 6843107347.  We don’t care about the good, the bad, or the ugly.  We want to watch a game of football.

For the devout fans’ desire to learn X’s and O’s analysis, injury reports, and the occasional trash talk, we now have to turn to the internet.  We turn to the place that allows us just the facts, or if they don’t, we have the option of only clicking on stories that provide just the facts and figures we want to know more about.

If I were a network programmer, I would experiment with a novel idea, a show called “Just Football!”  It would be a jam-packed half hour (22 minutes with commercials) that contained two to three experts talking exclusively about the game.  If a player was out, due to some drama, the anchor would say, “(That player) is out for the week!”  He would say this with no more drama, and no more depth, than he would with a player that is injured for the week.

“No emotion,” the commercial promo for my show would intro with, “No political proselytizing, no jocularity between hosts, and no human interest stories!”

“Just football!” another charismatic voice would say to outro.

Word would get out in the common NFL fan community, and the ratings would go through the roof.

We watch the NFL to escape the social studies of our culture.  We don’t care if “our guy” is a good guy or a bad guy.  We just want to know if he has the talent, and the physical or mental prowess, to get across a line, or to stop the other guy from getting across a line.  If he committed a transgression, he should be punished accordingly.  We don’t care about the story, the intricacies of the story, the social pressure that needs to be exerted to get these people to change.  We just want football.  It’s not complicated.

We’re not going to stop watching the game because someone did something bad, in other words, and we’re not going to start watching a game because a guy did something good.  We’re not socially conscious viewers.  If that were the case, we would’ve stopped watching this game long ago, because some of these players use excessive force when they hit one another.

Greg Cote, of the Miami Herald reports about this with some surprise:

“Voraciously, sports reporters and broadcasters keep sounding the first notes of the death knell of professional football. Forebodingly, they warn of the sport’s eroding credibility. Ominously, they say that player wrongdoing and Commissioner Roger Goodell’s missteps and mismanagement have served to fracture the public trust.

“Wrong, all of it.

“It turns out the public hardly cares.”

Greg Cote goes onto report, with an undercurrent of surprise that NFL fans care about football.

The fan of the game didn’t care about concussion gate.  All of the former NFL players –that now have on air personality jobs– preened themselves of the guilt of playing a contact sport by saying that they wouldn’t allow their children to play this violent game.  And these were big time stars, the faces of the game, saying this.  Pffft!  It didn’t make a dent.

We didn’t get mad at these former players, however, as we knew that their “look at me” editorials were simply attempts to establish their bona fides as a broadcaster that would help them transition away from being identified solely as a former-player.  Those that lasted through the sermon, without flipping the channel, probably didn’t hold it against the former players.  They likely didn’t care one way or another.

It also turns out, much to Mr. Cote’s surprise, that:

“Fans don’t need to trust (NFL commissioner Roger) Goodell to love football any more than most Americans need to adore a sitting president to love their country.”

Due to Goddell’s actions over the last couple of years, you would be hard-pressed to find too many common fans that haven’t heard of Roger Goddell, but you would also be just as hard-pressed to find many fans that care about him.  I don’t pay attention to such things, but I’m guessing that if you polled NFL fans about the latest press release from the commissioner’s office, you would see figures like .04% see it as a positive for the league, .96% see it as a negative, 4% haven’t heard of it, and 95% that don’t care.

Socially conscious consumers care about CEOs.  They scour the position papers of these CEOs, or they read the analysis provided by a socially conscious writer they trust.  They probably focus a great deal of their attention on the CEO’s gender, race, and flossing habits.  Most NFL fans don’t even know Roger’s middle name (Stokoe), because they don’t care.  He’s not on the field, he’s not designing a defense, or an offense.  He’s not the fan’s friend, or the fan’s enemy.  He’s the commissioner of the NFL, equivalent to that fire hydrant on the end of their block.  They know it’s there, they know what it does, but they probably haven’t spent more than one accumulative minute of their lives thinking about it.

Some fans may have a love/hate relationship with Goddell, based on the players he and his commission decide to take off the field, but they’re not going to allow him to influence their enjoyment of the game.  If he stepped on a field to do a coin flip, there may be some cheers, and there may be some boos, but I would guess that thing you’re most likely to hear from fans in the stands is nothing.

Greg Cote describes the bad seeds that have littered the headlines as “weeds in the garden, things to be uprooted”.  I would go one step further.  I would say that they’re checkers.  Checkers, as opposed to chess, in that no individual pieces in the game of checkers are irreplaceable.  The quarterback could be said to be irreplaceable for a game, or even for a year, but when that quarterback does go down, and his career is deemed over, the devout NFL fan’s focus shifts to the prospect of getting an Andrew Luck in the next draft.  That fan may visit that former player’s car dealership, or car wash, in the years that follow.  He may even shake that man’s hand and thank him for providing the area’s fans so much joy over the years.  For the most part, however, that fan will have already moved on to the next guy, and no member of the media, no commissioner, and “surprisingly” no player can taint that relationship they have with the game.  Most of them know this.  Most of the players, coaches, and fans know it’s not about them.  The only ones confused by the conundrum of why the NFL remains so popular, regardless what they do, are those in the media, and they’re apparently up in arms about it.

Five Takeaways from The Super Bowl

Before I begin, let me take this opportunity to talk about “my process”.  I am in love with my process, like many in the media, and I thought now would be the perfect time to tell you what an uncommon genius I am.  The five stories I have chosen were not randomly chosen, they were chosen randomly, and if you are one of those that are fortunate enough to have a DVR, or you have some fast forward minutes on your live TV function, you’ll want to scroll down twelve paragraphs, and seven commercial breaks, to get to the actual list.

(Edited for time constraints.)

5) Delfategate— Now that we have the final chapter of this story completed, a chapter titled 37-50, for 328 yards, 4 TD’s, and a 140.7 quarterback rating, we now know the plot of this story involved the media giving cat nip to the crazies that hate the Patriots.  To those of us that don’t hate, or love, the Patriots, it was a non-story.

Tom Brady Bill Belichick 2For those that comprise the “hate Tom Brady” contingent –the Brady smile, the Brady confidence, the beautiful wife, and the wonderful life— the story was erotica.  For the networks that willing to feed into this “Let’s put a taint in Tom” narrative, the ratings were a boon.  We couldn’t get enough of it.  For those that don’t have an irrational hatred for Tom, Coach Bill Belichick filled that void for them.  Belichick is arrogant and mean to the press (i.e. he doesn’t give away the game plan); he doesn’t smile enough, and he doesn’t equivocate enough for those that prefer equivocators.  OH, and he has a boat called Five Rings (a boat he’ll now have to rename six rings).  If you have no emotional investment in either of these two, you probably have a general hatred for the Patriots because they’re there every year, and you believe in the word deserve, as in someone else deserves a turn; or you’re just a person that roots for the underdog, and everyone likes everyone that roots for the underdog.  Whatever the case is, the success of the Patriots has garnered a whole lot of hatred out there, and this Deflategate story came about at just the right time, right before another Super Bowl appearance.  The cat nip the media gave Patriot haters amounted to a two-week, pleasure cruise aboard the boat “Cheaters!” It allowed them to chant “Cheaters!” when the subject of all of those Super Bowl appearances came up.  It allowed them to nullify all of those rings, and it allowed them to think (for two glorious weeks!) that the wife, and the life, were all based on a lie.  The story was, in essence, a digestive aide for all those years of indigestion.

When Brady threw his first interception –a throw that went to a defender that stood about five years away from the nearest offensive player— one could almost hear eyebrows being raised around the nation.  Is it the grip?  Is the ball not the way the all-American heartthrob likes it?  They were giddy.  It provided a seismic move in the culture, until Brady went on to complete a Super Bowl record thirty-seven passes.  He eventually gave up another interception –thanks to a brilliantly deceptive move by a linebacker— but other than that Brady turned in a 37-50, for 328 yards, 4 TD’s, and a 140.7 quarterback rating performance.  With each completion, and Touchdown, one could almost hear those eyebrows lowering, until all but the most passionately disgruntled Patriot hater realized that this whole Deflategate story was nothing more than a ruse that the media had sprinkled around the pre-game entrance for the rubes to nibble on.

4) Marshawn Lynch— In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the press began throwing an hysterical hissyfit over the fact that the running back from the Seattle Seahawks continued his boycott of the media.  He showed up for his contractually obligated press conferences on Super Bowl media day, but he did not provide answers that the reporters could take to the bank.  Some have stated that his non-answer answers were a thumb to the eye of every fan, as the “press is a vital conduit to the fans”.  Others have said that it undermines the republic, and the idea of a free press.  “Reporters, with a soul, are as repulsed by this whole mess as you are,” Seattle Times Columnist Larry Stone writes.  “And it could lead to a backlash,” he writes, predicting that players of all sports could begin to avoid answering the important questions that reporters might ask of them, and thus lead to the fall of what Abraham Lincoln once called this “Great Experiment” called America.  The question I would have, if Lynch’s antics led to a larger backlash is: “Who cares?”  Certain players enjoy speaking with the media, others don’t.  Interview those that enjoy it. Remember, Mr. Stone, these are athletes, not federal bureaucrats that should be required to answer the people’s questions for their actions.  The answers athletes provide are as meaningless, to most of us, as the questions reporters ask.  We understand that you want to make a living in this profession, and we have no problem with that, but telling us we are “as repulsed by this whole mess as you are,” doesn’t make it so.  We also understand that Marshawn Lynch’s antics insult your profession, and it threatens to undermine the future of it, if it results in this larger backlash, but most of us do not see the imminent danger of your prophesy.  We also think you may be overstating the role of sports journalist in our culture, and perhaps that’s the source of your hysteria.

Some have flirted with the notion that Lynch’s antic were a result of a calculated business decision to ink an endorsement deal for his “Beast Mode” products.  Former NFL players, on NFL talk show panels, could also be seen nightly providing high-minded ideals to Marshawn’s stance, and some of these explanations were so fawning that one would have to think that they will become a point of ridicule for decades to come.  The question I have for all these people attempting to explain Lynch’s attempts to undermine of the Republic by avoiding Super Bowl media day questions like, “What’s your favorite color?” is “Have you heard this man speak?”  He does not speak well.  I don’t know how intelligent he is, and I know that communication skills are not a comprehensive barometer of one’s intelligence, but is it possible that his reluctance to speak to the media might be a result of Marshawn Lynch not liking how Marshawn Lynch sounds in Q & A press conferences?

3) Human Interest Stories— I could go through a laundry list of examples here, but I won’t.  Suffice it to say that of those questions reporters ask of players in Super Bowl Q & A press conferences –those deemed vital to the Republic— about 50% of them involve human interests that no I know cares about.

2) The Media— Due to the fact that my teams have not been in contention for national championships, or Super Bowls, for about fifteen years, I now (largely!) cheer against a team more than I cheer for one.  The reason: media fawning.  I know, I know, the media fawns over Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, the Patriots, and Bill Belichick, and I don’t hate them.  I know it’s hypocritical, but I guess I’ve reached some sort of acceptance with them.  I’ve been beat over the head for so long, over a decade, with non-stop discussions about their brilliance, that I guess I’ve been hypnotized into acquiescence.  The fawning makes me ill, regardless of the direction, and ESPN has appeared so infrequently on my television that when I do have it on, it almost feels nostalgic, but I loathe nothing more than the flavor of the month club in the media.  The flavor of the month club involves a team (hopefully from a highly populated state, i.e., New York) that is on the rise, and has the greatest (fill in the blank) to ever (fill in the blank), and they tell us it enough times to hopefully make it true in our minds too.  You can try and try to pound that nail in my brain, I mentally tell them, until it reaches a layer of conscious thought, but I’m not going to accept it as truth, until it is.  I may take this a bit further than most, as a result of age and countless hours of rebelling against their indoctrination, but I actively cheer against the flavor of the month.

1) “That’s Football”— is a quote that you’ll likely only hear from players, after a reporter has jammed a microphone in their face, in a sensitive moment, after a crushing defeat.  For the reporter, and the recipients of their largesse, the events that shape a football game are equivalent to life and death, and they mock and ridicule any player that says anything to the contrary.  For them, these moments are about championship or choke; legacy or failure; and the greatest to ever play the game versus the guy that will be haunted by an asterisk on his deathbed.  It’s football.  It’s the way the ball bounces.  Some receiver that hasn’t caught a ball all year will make a catch, because he’s taller than the guy that’s covering him; some guy will fumble, because human beings drop things; one will throw an interception, even though he’s never done it all year, based on percentages.  It’s football.  There are twenty-two professionally trained athletes on the field at any given time, and if they’re in the Super Bowl, they’re likely to be some of the best athletes on the planet.  These people are obsessively trained to make things happen, and at least one of them does on every play.  “That’s football.”

Obsessed fans walk away from such a quote believing that it means that the player was somehow less focused on winning?  If this is your take, you can go ahead and assume you’re wrong.  You can go ahead and assume that that game meant more to them than it could ever possibly mean to you.  If an NFL player is lucky enough to play in a Super Bowl, it’s possible that they may have just endured 19 games to get there, and this doesn’t account for all that they had to endure before that season even started.  If the player is in the NHL, or the NBA, they could play over 100 games; and the players in the MLB could play in over 180.  How many momentum swings do professional athletes have to endure in those games, or in that season, to reach the pinnacle of their sport?  How many lucky plays –that shouldn’t have happened— have gotten them to this point?   How many injuries has each player had to endure to get to that point where they made a crucial mistake that cost their team a championship game?  Most players would not ask the conduit of the people (the reporter) for sympathy, but they’re probably shocked to learn that the invested (see obsessed) fan is crushed with this “That’s just the way the ball bounces” answer.

It’s possible that a player may be saying something like this out of pure exhaustion, or it may have something to do with the fact that after going from pee wee football to the greatest stage the game has to offer, they know that no matter how much blood, sweat, and tears you cast, the ball simply bounces the other way some of the times.  It may also have something to do with the fact that if they dropped to their knees, weeping in utter despair –like you do— they would have more people than you will, considering them an absolute laughing stock.

The Fanatical Fallacies of Football Fans

After a lifetime spent watching college football, the only thing I find more disturbing than the disillusioned fan is the idea that I may have been disillusioned for most of my life.  Watching college football now, I realize how little I actually know about the game.  I may know the history of the game as well as most fans that I encounter; I may know the terminology of the game as well as most of these fans; and I may even surprise some fans by the obscure knowledge I have of some obscure players on some relatively obscure teams.  For all of us fans that “know” the game, however, it can feel like a revelation to learn –because most of us have never been involved in the game in any organized capacity— how little we actually know about what goes into the determinations and decisions, made in football meetings, involving those “in the know” coaches of even our favorite teams.

A revelation, by my definition, is a different way of looking at something you’ve been looking at for a long time.  Some revelations, such as “Coaches game plan according to the talent they have on the field” can be perceived as so obvious that it may elicit laughter from many quarters, because that’s as obvious as the nose on your face.  And I’ve always known that coaches coach according to talent, but when I realized that it answered just about every complaint I’ve ever had about “my team”, I began to complain less and less.  When you say that to someone that has been complaining about their coach’s game plan for longer than you’ve been alive, however, they may look at you like that’s as obvious as the nose on your face.

635510731292908219-USATSI-8192511“We have the talent,” is something they might say if they know that you’re less familiar with “their team” than they are. “Trust me, we have the talent.”  At this point, you may detect that they think you’re insulting their team, so you clarify:

“I’m not saying you shouldn’t complain, and I’m not saying you have nothing to complain about.  I’m saying that most of what you’re complaining about is based on all of the decisions and determinations your coaches, offensive coordinators, and position coaches have made based on what they learn in the spring, and throughout the season, regarding how to game plan according to their team’s strengths, and weaknesses.”

“We have the talent,” he repeated.

When you have a revelation of this sort, you may want to share it, because you may believe that your friend is in an earnest search for truth in the same manner you were, you may think that they’ll chew on your revelation, and reconsider it the next time they think of complaining.  When I presented my revelation to my friend, I didn’t bother to consider that I was treading upon the precarious line that exists between emotion and rational thinking.  I didn’t consider that I was doing an injustice to the time-honored past-time of all fans: The art of the complaining.  I basically told him that once you come to grips with the fact that the talent you believe you see on the field is probably not a very good indication of the actual talent those “in the know” know, you’ll begin to understand why the game plan of “your team” is what it is.

The gist of this complaint, as I see it, is that all fans live with the notion that their team’s quarterback (QB) is an as-of-yet, undiscovered John Elway –a player I use as a high water mark of the greatest individual talent the game has ever seen at the position of quarterback, as opposed to the other talented QB’s that happened to fit into their team’s brilliant system perfectly— and the complaint stems from the idea that the only thing holding “our team’s” QB back from recognizing that kind of potential, is the conservative game plan that the coaches decide to implement.  The question I had for my friend, and all football fans, is how well do you know the strengths and weaknesses of your team’s QB?  How well do you know, really know, your team’s strengths and weaknesses?  He, like most fans, suggested he knew.  He watched them on TV, and he went to their games, and he probably read editorials, and listened to sports radio.

When an offensive coordinator (OC) is first introduced to the potential of a newly recruited QB, he may be led to believe that the sky’s the limit with this kid, and he may develop an explosive game plan that seeks to explore the extent of that QB’s talent on the field.  The OC may be as excited as the young QB to employ this explosive game plan, as it will make the OC look as brilliant as the young kid if that kid is capable of executing it.  At some point in the spring workouts, and/or throughout the season, the OC begins learn to game plan around the extent of this young man’s ability.  It is the OC’s job to not only explore this young man’s talent, and put him in a situation in which he can succeed, but also —and perhaps most importantly— avoid placing him in situations in which he fails too often.  At this point, the OC, together with the head coach, and the team’s position coach, may deem it necessary to thin the playbook, or develop a more run-heavy, more conservative game plan.  The latter fact drives most fans crazy, because no head coach, no OC, and no QB coach is going to say, “We had to make that change, because the golden boy that we worked so hard to recruit is not as good as we thought he’d be, or as good as you fans think.”

When my friend’s team’s QB first took the field last year, in 2013, the young man came out of the gate as a highly touted gunslinger.  The initial game plan ended up resulting in a shockingly poor interception to touchdown ratio for the young kid.  The resultant talk that sprang from that ratio –among fans, and sports radio personalities— involved replacing that QB with the as-of-yet undiscovered abilities of the backup QB.  There’s an old joke that every fan’s favorite player on the field is the backup QB, and the reason for this is that, to some extent, analysts and fans learn the actuality of the starting QB’s abilities, while the extent of the backup’s are still a source of exciting speculation.  The fans and analysts know that the backup, much like the starter, was a highly recruited young man that their school happened to land, but they haven’t seen him in practice, they have never attended QB meetings, and they don’t know that young backup QB’s demeanor in the manner the coaches do.  When those meetings between the coach, the OC, and the position coaches conclude, and they decide that their best chances at success involve that starting QB, coupled with a new, more conservative game plan, the fans revolt in their little echo chamber, and they come to the conclusion that the coach doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  Why did they recruit the backup if they aren’t going to use him?  Didn’t they watch the games where the starter threw interceptions all over the place?  The head coach, they decide, is just stubborn.  He decided to start the starter, and he can’t get out of his way long enough to understand that he needs to do go in a different direction.

Regardless the emotions involved in this situation, I would think that most fans would recognize that every coach, on every level, will do whatever they have to to succeed.  “No, he’s a stubborn, old rooster that always believes he’s right,” they say to this.  Fair enough, I say, but if he were wrong, don’t you think that the OC, and the position coach, would tell him he’s wrong. “They probably do,” the complainer would suggest.  “And I’m sure the stubborn, old rooster tells them to go to hell.”  You think that this head coach is willing to lose games to prove he’s right?  “I sure do.  I think he’s willing to go down with the ship.  We need a new coach even more than we need a new QB!”

After listening to my friend gripe about his team’s underutilized golden boy, with a golden arm, he switched the discussion to the manner in which the team audibles at the line.  “Everyone in the stadium knows that they’re going to see an off tackle right when the QB audibles out of the called play.”  To further my “Coaches game plan according to the talent on the field” belief, I offered my friend a response that I believed to be a helpful, if not humble, insight:

“At one point, in one season, (my team) decided to switch up the snap count, to slow, and presumably throw off the timing, of defensive ends, and blitzing defenders.  The only thing they ended up doing, unfortunately, was throwing off their own offensive lineman.  The result was an embarrassing amount of false start penalties.  The coaches decided that their 18-22 year-old offensive lineman could not keep the switched up snap counts in their 18-22 year-old minds properly, and the coaches were forced to adjust to that by having the QB use more consistent snap counts, silent snaps, and the “slow clap snap” that has been en vogue in college football of late.”  My point in introducing that humble analogy to my friend was to prove the point that a game plan has to adjust to the player personnel you have on the field.  Rather than acknowledge that larger point, my friend chose to focus on those deficits that I had mentioned with regard to my team.

It’s important to note here that prior to this discussion with my friend, I held his overall intellect in high regard.  I wasn’t trying to belittle a person I considered beneath me, in other words, as much as I was trying to move an otherwise silly discussion to a higher level, a level I believed was more true than I knew for most of my life, and a level that I fantasized might place me in a higher level of esteem by my friend.  What I found, instead, was that my friend had an unshakable belief, a wall that that he had presumably erected for the purpose of shutting out contrary opinion, and that this wall of was based almost solely on emotion.  I’m quite sure that when I repeat this story to another disillusioned fan that they will laugh, and nod, and say they’ve had such a discussion, until that discussion moves to “their team” at which point the cycle will start all over again.  When it does, however, I will be armed and ready with Kenny Rogers’ prescient rules of life: “You gotta know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”

NFL Pregame Shows are Unwatchable

It’s possible, as stated in the previous entry on this general topic, that the actual NFL game may never reach un-watchable status, but the various NFL pregame shows have already reached that point. They’re a joke, a constant joke, a joke after joke, that no one, other than the giggling hosts, find humorous. Overnight ratings for the three primary pregame shows were down an average of 11% in week one of the NFL (2014), and this trend will continue as they continue to move away from the strict commentary and specific analysis of the game to the jibber jabber that I assume is designed to  entertain.

The Giggling

The Giggling

The core, NFL fans among us remember a day when Brent Musburger’s NFL Today show on CBS, ruled the roost in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. We deemed this broadcast the gold standard by which all competitors, past and present, would be judged. It was a tight, seamless, and informative production that was deemed by most core, NFL fans to be indispensable Sunday viewing. We all missed a few of their broadcasts of course, but the fact that we remember those instances should cement the value this show once had on our love of the game. The NFL Today show did not just add value to the game, for many of us it was the game. Some of the actual NFL games were boring compared to the production that the NFL Today staff, Irv Cross, the Miss America contestants, and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder put together, and there was a segment of the American youth that couldn’t get enough of it. As covered in the previous entry on this topic, it is obvious that NFL fan is no longer the primary demographic for the NFL pregame shows.

As the decades passed, some NFL pregame broadcasts decided to capitalize on the fact that we couldn’t get enough of football talk, by giving us more. Another hour of nothing but football –and in one cable channel’s case three more hours*– was the premise of the promise of more. Two hours of football talk before the fellas could even take the field? What red-blooded American, born and raised on football, would be against that? More is more, and more is always better, right? Plus, when the alternative programming, on Sunday, consists of political talk shows, bowling, fishing shows, and mass for the shut-ins, we should be watching right? The NFL pregame shows have led most of us to spend more time with our family.{1}

The eventual, and perhaps inevitable, conclusion that more is not always more, or better, was soon realized as these productions began adding more to make their show more for the specific intention of attracting more, beyond the core. The core, NFL fan has been showered with the dreaded human interest stories, stories that were once deemed the exclusive right of Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres. We are now inundated with stories that inform us that players are people too, and they have all the hopes, fears, and dreams that we do. We are informed that some of them laugh a lot, and some of them cry. Some of them have sick children, and some of them engage in charitable activities that help out their local communities, and some of them have wives that can teach us twenty-three ways to reuse a banana peel for those NFL families that need to learn how to budget on an average 1.9 million dollar salary.

Once the dreaded human interest stories conclude, the NFL fan returns from the World Fishing Network to hear some football talk, and we hear playful, radio-lite banter that occurs between the bosom buddy hosts. We learn that these ex-jocks that aren’t afraid to provide us with some self-deprecating, zany anecdotes that will lead to further antics and hi-jinx. Some productions then provide segments that force their hosts to have Abbot and Costello-like adversarial relationships with recurring guests and more hi-jinx, with incessant giggling to follow. And if that isn’t enough, we get to see hot chicks tell us about the weather reports for each stadium, and the sideline reports that inevitably lead to hi-jinx, antics, and banter.

When all these non-football, NFL-themed human interest segments finally conclude, and the NFL fan does receive some actual analysis of the game, they hear these ex-jocks deliver the least controversial, safest opinions they can find. Long gone are the Jimmy “The Greek” no holds barred opinions on a player’s actual ability to perform on a NFL level, and they are replaced by non-critical, safe, and positive opinions by ex-jocks not wanting to hurt a current NFL players’ feelings.

These ex-jocks, and one professional broadcaster, are then required to spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on those teams with a higher fan base. If the Dallas Cowboys fail to make the playoffs this year, it will be the fifth straight year they’ve failed to do so; if the Jets fail to make the playoffs this year, it will be the fourth straight year they’ve failed to do so; but if the Falcons do make the playoffs this year, it will be the fourth time in five years that they’ve made the playoffs. Yet, the ongoing focus of these shows concerns what the Cowboys and the Jets have to do to be competitive again. Dallas is America’s team, and the Jets have the broader market, but they have both sucked for some time now. They suck so bad that talk of them reveals the attempts these NFL pregame shows are making for what they are … unwatchable.

Howard Cosell often spoke of the degradation of his craft with the admission of ex-jocks in the broadcasting booth. That warning surprised me at the time, because I thought ex-jocks could deliver a unique perspective on the game. As the years passed, and I watched these ex-jocks deliver passionate, and well-rehearsed, analyses on the game, I realized that Cosell foretold what we would all soon realize: just about anyone can do this.

The central character of these NFL pregame shows is often the professional broadcaster on staff, and he or she, often tosses the analysis portion of the segment to the ex-jock that then delivers a passionate testimonial that centers around the idea that a quarterback’s job is to throw the ball to receivers, and that those receivers need to catch that ball; the defense’s job is to stop the offense; and one team’s primary job is to score more points than the other. Anyone can deliver this message, in other words, and the average fans doesn’t care that they do it well, as long as their heroes –the former titans of the gridiron– do it.

Most core, NFL fans thought that extending a pregame broadcast to two-to-three hours would be an incredible plus, and it was … at first. It was, perhaps, inevitable that these broadcasts, and all of the people that knew their demographics, would try to find a way to land more audience, and keep that audience longer, beyond the “just the facts ma’am” approach of a Bill Belichick to that which we have today. The extra hour(s) led to a need to cover the game in a different way, until it became about the giggling, and the infotainment, and the One Life to Live type segments with a little Oprah-lite commentary to follow. The core, NFL football watching audience that wanted mano y mano analysis proved not enough to fill a two-to-three-hour broadcast. It became redundant, and it led them to try and find ways to expand their show to attract more, beyond the core.

One has to have some sympathy for those that try to put these shows together in the age of the internet, and the thousands of sports talk radio shows that now populate the airwaves, based on the fact that by the time these shows are set to air, every game has been analyzed from every possible angle anyone can think of, but the human interest/comedy/infotainment segments these pregame shows have developed to fill the time we once couldn’t get enough of, are now un-watchable.

*CBS Sports Network’s Other Pregame Show

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