by Johnny Furgele
The NFL is six weeks in and the results are what they are. It’s a league that remains immensely popular, yet lacks substance. The networks drool over it because it delivers delicious ratings and generates billions of dollars in gambling and unfortunately, fantasy leagues, where seemingly every other commercial is about your chance to win big in one-week fantasy play.
The games aren’t as bad as I’m suggesting, but they’re not that great either. Most are filled with an inordinate number of penalties, too much indecision with officiating and way too many replay reviews. There are those that will argue that if technology is available it has to be used, but it is clear that replay is damaging the quality of game. The replays take too long and it has affected the officials negatively.
Before replay, officials made definitive and passionate decisions. If they thought there was a fumble, they called it as such. Now, they seem hesitant to make calls, knowing that instant replay can bail them out. The league still can’t clarify what a catch is and that, too, is a problem. It’s a simplistic nature of the game, yet the league can’t come up with a definitive explanation of what a proper catch is.
Coaching is at times, more than puzzling. Most coaches spend 12 to 18 hours per day planning and reviewing for the next game, yet the game plans lack in creativity, innovation and imagination. The Buffalo Bills were trailing the Cincinnati Bengals 34-21 with 5:00 left in the game. They got the ball and quarterback EJ Manuel tried to dink and dunk the Bills down the field, even though they needed two major scores to win the game. What were they waiting for? Why throw the four yard pass when you need to score in a hurry? Maybe the game is too hard—at least that’s what the league wants to tell you—but it can’t be that hard to throw 12 yards down the field when it’s 3rd and 11.
Only in the NFL can Phillip Rivers throw for 503 yards and yet, his San Diego Chargers could only score 20 points in a 27-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers. It is almost hard to comprehend that a QB can throw for that many yards and yet only 20 points are on the scoreboard.
We know this isn’t Joe Namath’s NFL, where a QB can go 20 of 40 for 320 yards with three touchdown passes and three interceptions. Today, it’s about managing the game and limiting turnovers and if Namath was in his prime today, he’d probably be on the bench, replaced by a game manager like Alex Smith. And, for the record, Smith and the Chiefs are sitting at 1-5.
Quarterbacks today are asked to go 10 of 14 for 75 yards because that looks good and minimizes mistakes. The other thing it does is lead to more punts and field goal attempts. I marvel at how conservative the game has become. You see teams up by four points needing one first down to salt the game away and what do they do? The run up the middle three times, punt and watch the other team march down the field and if not beat them, make them sweat. Why not get the first down and not worry about punting and putting your defense on the field?
The NFL has also ruined sports talk radio. It has become important for the hosts to learn the “complexity” of football by talking in big terms and pretending that they are a student of the game. The baseball playoffs are in the final four, yet Monday will be dominated by theories and which coaches are on the hot seat. And, if you are an intelligent sports fan, forget about listening on Friday. On that day, the hosts have to wow you with their upcoming picks (against the spread of course) so they can once again prove how well they know the game. The NFL remains the only sport where a person can go 4-0 and yet, the four teams he picked each lost their respective game. I have never understood how you can pick a team to win, but if they don’t cover, you got the pick wrong. I always thought sports were about winning the game. Isn’t that right, Herman Edwards?
When did this became entertaining? When did spending 30 minutes on a Friday picking games become a cool thing? I’m sure I’m missing something and at the very least, showing my age, but simply, I just don’t get it. When the Bills were preparing to play the Bengals, I was interested in who would win the game, not that the Bills were getting points at home. But, for some reason, that has become compelling.
I find it boring and right now, I find the NFL boring. That will change in November and December when the contenders emerge and hopefully, the quality of play improves. Before long, the playoffs will be here and come Super Bowl Sunday, all of America and much of the world will be watching. I will too because like a train wreck, I can’t look away.
That’s one of the joys and frustrations about sports. It is said that those who hate Rush Limbaugh listen longer than those who love him. Why? Validation, of course. The liberals will keep listening, thinking that Limbaugh will throw them a bone which we know will never happen.
That’s what keeps me interested. I keep watching and waiting for perfect game where each team scores four touchdowns, gets four defensive stops with no turnovers and a 28-28 game after four quarters. That will likely never happen, but that’s why many of us keep watching. If it ever does happen, maybe Limbaugh will indeed embrace a Democratic policy, but please, don’t hold your breath.