I see the NFL released its new schedule today. That used to be a big deal for this sports fan. I was one of those football fanatics that checked out during the season, and stayed glued to the tube on some Thursdays and Saturdays, and every single Sunday and Monday for months. But now, I'm wondering what's happened to my game? I used to love the NFL. Then "stuff" started to happen.
It started with TV time outs. Those inexplicable interruptions that inevitably interfere with the natural rhythm of the game. Just go watch a good high school game on a Fall Friday night to see what "natural rhythm" is all about.
Then, in what I take to be an effort to cut back on human resource costs, cable-mounted robotic cameras appeared to much fanfare and self congratulation. Well, news flash: they suck. And the networks have been trading leagues and playoffs recently, so a fan never knows just whom to expect in the booth. Sure, the A-team announcers are spot-on. But the B- and C-teams are really, really bad – often consisting of tired old farts paired with young, brash and clueless know-it-alls. That frequently leads to some discernible disconnect at best, and tension at worst. Just what I want to be dealing with at game time.
Recently, network game coverage has been highlighting the "human drama" and "personal sacrifice" associated with the game. Lots of fresh-faced young announcers conducting earnest interviews with players on the sidelines. First of all, that's turning a perfectly good sport into soap opera; and second, it's kind of a hard sell with the numbers of NFL players busted of late for possession of firearms and assault. Get real. Can anyone say: "Too much drama?"
So even the drama's not enough. Advertising agencies, in their great wisdom, turned all of my heroes into laughing stocks. Here's where I give the title of the post a nod. The TV commercial that really drove me from the room holding my head was the one featuring a host of HOF-bound QBs being pushed around supermarkets in shopping carts. First time I saw that I had to reach for the air sickness bag. Whose idea was it anyway to turn our sports heroes into powerless fools in the fetal position? That's so intuitive, don't you think? But it didn't stop there, and still hasn't. How about Peyton in that black wig and fake stach? What a giggle, no?
As my frustration mounted, the real jock in the household introduced me to European League Soccer and world-class Rugby. That would be my eldest, adult daughter. This is a girl who used to greet me on Sunday mornings with a recitation of all the times and channels for televised NFL games; the key match-ups, and her personal picks for the day's schedule. She had a poster of Steve Young in her room. An all-conference athlete herself, she takes sports very seriously. And she's way big on soccer and rugby now. Frankly, I can see why. A total breath of fresh air. Soccer fans sing with joy, and scream in agony.
I have been on foreign soil for the last two Soccer World Cup matches, and I can tell you the excitement for the sport is palpable and thick. In one case, I witnessed every high-rise in Toronto empty out in about a minute, as delirious fans filled the streets to celebrate.
Soccer is not the only "other" football. There's Irish football, Aussie Rules and my new favorite, Rugby. American males, who are suffering and in decline, should have a look at Rugby. It's a very masculine and triumphal struggle. The New Zealand All Blacks rugby squad is simply the best football team of any sort on the planet. That "Haka" they do before each game would chill any opponent. It's intriguing that the team's biggest threat is its smallest player.
I've not given up entirely on American football. I still love the excitement and pagentry of college bowl games; I remain a Wisconsin Badger fan, and my entire family is devoted to the South Medford High School Panthers in Medford, Oregon.
I'm just not going to be watching the NFL this year, and I didn't get very excited last season. I'm sure there will be way too much personal drama on the sidelines, folly in the booth; and I'm not interested in sports soap operas. I'll catch the next Superbowl commercials online. So hold the barbecue and stow the chips. You can leave the beer.