Football, The King is Back

by John Furgele

If you live in the Northeast or the Midwest, Labor Day can be a sad time. The warm summer days are fading fast. If you have a swimming pool, you will be closing it shortly after September 7. Soon, the cooler temps arrive and before too long, winter is here. And, even though there is the same amount of days in winter as there is summer, winter seems to take twice as long.

But with the arrival of fall comes perhaps the best time of the sports year. Baseball heads to the playoffs and for most of the nation, their favorite sport, football, returns. I’m still not really sure when football moved ahead of the others and I’m less sure when football began to dominate. Ratings for football continue to rise, in fact, as other sports see their rating decline, football ratings continue to climb.

For the NFL, the regular season cannot come soon enough. The league decided to make a mountain our of a mole hill with Deflategate (a word I despise). The act calls for a team fine of $25,000, yet Roger Goodell and the shield decided to fine the Pats a million dollars, steal some draft picks, and suspend Tom Brady for four games. Judge Berman decided that Goodell went above and beyond and vacated the suspension. Most organizations would accept the court decision, but Goodell has vowed that the league will appeal. He works for the owners and let’s hope that they call Goodell and tell him to simmer down, drop the appeal and get back to the…..game.

The NFL for years has gotten a pass from the media. The networks were always afraid to criticize the league for fear of reprisal. There was always the notion that the arrogant NFL would take a TV contract back, or move them to another network if criticism was too harsh. ESPN paid billions for games, but their Monday night package was second tier compared to NBC’s Sunday night slate of games. They also went a few years without having a playoff game. And, that’s despite the fact that ESPN generally kisses the ring of the NFL. Eventually, the issues became too big to ignore. The Ray Rice saga, as well as those of Ray McDonald, Greg Hardy were simply too tough to ignore. The concussion problems aren’t going away either so the networks in gingerly fashion have decided to confront the NFL on some of these important topics.

The NFL has been criticized for threats and dictation. The soon-to- be- released movie “Concussion,” starring Will Smith details the story of the doctor that discovered CTE, and there are rumors suggesting that the NFL told the producers to tone down the story, and though the producers denied that this happened, where there’s smoke, there is usually fire.

The NFL has seen its share of domestic abuse, fast drivers (Sheldon Richardson) and its normal under-the-radar substance abuse suspensions and to complicate matters, has seen way too many players go down with serious season-ending injuries. The league will continue to focus on concussions, but they also need to look into why a Jordy Nelson rips up his ACL by planting and running. NFL players work out hard all year and some say because they practice less in training camp, that injuries have increased. I tend to believe that the players spend too much time practicing and working out. Because they are so tight, ligaments and tendons are snapping at an alarming rate.

Will this stop players from working out so hard in the offseason? Of course not, but it is something that the league should look in to. I’m not sure four pre-season games are necessary, but unless the league gets an agreement to have 20 total games, the status quo will remain. The CFL plays 2 pre-season games and then 18 regular season games. The NFL would like to go to 18, but the players will have to be given something for that to happen. The logical compromise is 3 pre-season games and 16 in the regular season, but logic seldom prevails in professional sports. And, don’t expect the players to give in on anything in future negotiations. After the Brady fiasco, you can bet your bippy that the players association is going to want new rules with regards to the personal conduct policy. They gave Goodell the right to be judge, jury and to hear appeals, but that won’t happen in the next collective bargaining agreement. Nobody would be surprised if there was a work stoppage or a lockout. The players are the game, something that other sports recognize but not the NFL. The league believes that “The Shield,” trumps the players and they will find out soon that they’re wrong.

The perception is that the players association has been weak; that in the end, because an NFL career is short, that they will sacrifice long term for short term. That may be changing in the future. Judge Berman exposed the league. I’m not sure I’d call what happened to Brady a victory, but it had to give the NFLPA something to hang their hat on for the future. And, the owners are already thinking about changing Goodell’s role as the dean of discipline. Goodell remains the ultimate enigma. Yes, he makes the owners, the people that employ him billions, but truth-to-be-told, he hasn’t been a great commissioner. Calling for his job is not appropriate because nobody knows how he interacts with his employers. The owners may like him, in fact, before the Brady fiasco, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Goodell were regular old pals.

The NFL is the undisputed King of Professional Sports, but they have relied on greed, arrogance, an adoring public and a forgiving media for far too long. But, they are the King and when the Thursday night opener between Pittsburgh and New England takes place, the ratings will destroy every other program on television. So, there has always been a reason for this arrogance. One can only hope that wisdom going forward will prevail.

College football, which begins this week is the clear number two sport in the land. Baseball and basketball and even hockey are doing alright, but we have become England. That country loves soccer so much; they can’t get enough of it and now, with our passion for football, we have become one-sport centric. The College Football Playoff semifinals and title game almost doubled in viewership Game 7 of the World Series. Think about that? The former national pastime getting trounced by amateur football.

The bad part of our love for football is what it has done for sports shows. Rather than talk about baseball games, they talk about air pressure in footballs. Rather than talk about basketball games, they talk about how long it will take before Jim Harbaugh rules college football Is this wrong? No, but every show discusses the same topics. It gets old and sure, the simple thing is to turn it off, but if you like sports, you want to listen to and talk about sports.

That will happen now because football is here. Rather than predict Harbaugh’s success, we will dissect how his Wolverines played against the Utah Utes. Rather than predict greatness for newly anointed Buffalo Bills’ starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, we will see him play and summarize from that.

Like many old-schoolers, I hate to give football its ultimate due. I still cling to the hope that all sports deserve attention; that hockey is just as relevant as football, but I have conceded. Football is the king and despite its many wrongdoings, can’t be topped. I still don’t think it’s the best game out there, but Americans feel that it is. I don’t believe in fantasy football. I find it silly that grown adults spend so much time pouring over stats to decide “who to play,” on a particular Sunday. But, I have softened there, too. I don’t want to hear whom you’re playing, but no longer will I make fun of you.

I’ll take college football over NFL football, so I guess there is some rebel left in me. I find the college atmosphere intoxicating and I prefer Saturday over Sunday. But, it’s still football and for the next six months it will dominate, drowning other sports in its wake.

The King has indeed, returned to the throne.

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