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In defense of the NFL

Let’s start this article with the standard disclaimer - I rarely read Randy Galloway articles, and the reasons are legion. One, he’s always making situations seem more important or dramatic then they really are. And it’s usually based on his opinion, the facts of the matter be damned. He also suffers from Codger’s Disease, an illness that causes the patient to reject the notion that things change and nothing can be like it was in youth. It’s most constant and obvious symptom usually revolves around music, movies or popular culture where the preceding generation can’t understand what’s going with the present generation and lashes out at all of their ideas. They constantly compare and contrast and inevitably come to the conclusion that things were better when they were a young man or woman, and that the current generation has skidded off the rails in to a generation-wide lunacy. I admit to occasionally succumbing to this disease, especially when I hear some new music and think: How did this group ever get a record label contract?

The problem with Codger’s Disease is its like howling at the moon, it will never change anything. So when I read this Galloway article, I immediately thought of Codger’s Disease. It seems Galloway got an email from a reader named Jim, and he totally agreed with his sentiment.

"Of all the sports, the NFL continues to amaze in its marketing expertise. How else do you explain building a new billion dollar stadium and charging $900 per ticket for a Super Bowl, while the quality of the product on the field continues to diminish? Fascinating."

That's a bingo for Jim.

What does that mean, the quality of the product on the field has diminished? You mean the players are becoming less-talented as time moves on? Quite the contrary in my opinion. The players today run circles around their brethren from a different age of football, physically that is. Mentally, that’s up for debate, but the game to me seems as good as ever. Is it all the extra-curricular stuff off the field we have to endure? While I agree that has become a problem, it usually doesn’t affect the play of the game. So what is it that has made the quality of the game diminish?

The following is the argument put forth by Galloway, if you can call it an argument.

Meanwhile, Jerry's football team is simply another of the many that is mired in the muck that is the NFL product of today. Blame it on whatever, but start with that combo of salary cap and a loosening of free agency movement.

Still, the NFL product is not close to what it once was, and will never again be there.

The salary cap and free agency have diminished the game? Ah, now I see the problem. It’s not that the game itself is diminished, or the quality of that game; it’s that the fundamental structure of the league has changed. No longer can teams create the dynasties of the past. Just look back at the 70’s, the decade I grew up watching the NFL, the formative years of my football education. In that era, a small cadre of teams formed the elite and almost every other franchise was just playing out the schedule. If you were a fan of one of those teams, like I was, then everything was great. I imagine if you were a fan of one of the other teams, things weren’t so great.

This is what was changed by the salary cap and free agency. It allowed the other teams to compete on the same playing field, it evened out the money situation and it allowed teams to improve themselves more rapidly. But it also caused rapid change in team rosters and deprived the fan of knowing that the good players on their team would essentially remain in place for the productive parts of their careers. So I don’t believe the product on the field has diminished and if I’m wrong I would gladly accept some explanations of why that is. But I just don’t see it. The one concrete example that could be given that strikes a chord with me is the idea that expansion has watered-down the talent pool. There are only so many elite athletes in a generation, so more teams might mean less quality per team. To me, I just haven’t found that to be the case. At least, not enough of the case that the product on the field is significantly altered.

And as for the idea that the Super Bowl never lives up to its hype, that is a subjective premise that has two sides. Obviously, the game is so over-hyped that it would be hard for any game to meet the expectations. But is it really hype if it happens every year? Isn’t hype limited to an irregular occurrence, not something that is expected? I associate hype with a game that captures the popular imagination, it grows organically out of fan expectations. The Super Bowl is the product of manufactured hype, we know it’s coming every year, and it’s usually not about the actual teams who are playing the game, but it’s about the fact that it is the Super Bowl. In reality, this hype is a testament to just how popular the NFL is in the eyes of the American sporting public. Plus, some of the games recently have lived up to the hype. The recent Patriots’ Super Bowls have all been close affairs that went down to the wire. What about the Rams – Titans Super Bowl that was settled on the very last play one yard from the goal line? Some have been stinkers; others have been dramatic contests worthy of remembrance.

So when challenged with the idea that the play on the field has diminished or that the NFL product is not as good as it once was; I can’t find a reason to believe that. Even though I’m getting up there in age to the point where I’m a leading candidate for Codger’s Disease, I don’t feel that way about the NFL. Now the NBA is a different story.

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