In thinking about this, my original instructions were 10 Things That Would Make “x”, Where “x” = Soccer Popular in the US or The NFL (Even) Better. And naturally, that got me thinking about my own sports interest.
The only teams that I could be considered a “supporter” of, in the strictest sense, are the Washington Redskins, Vanderbilt Commodores, Celtic FC and (for football purposes) the Alabama Crimson Tide and California Golden Bears. Supporter in a sense that not only do I keep track of how they are doing, but I endeavor to watch (or listen to) every game, own and routinely wear team colors and/or merchandise, keep track of off-field and off-season moves, etc etc. While I take a passing interest in some other teams (and Greenock Morton FC would fall under “supporter” if only I could see or hear their games, but not bloody likely), these are really the only ones I pay much heed to – which means that from January to August, my sports life is minimal (and from May to July, non-existent). The only sport that I have paid more attention to this year than the last is English football – in fact, it’s the only sport that has shown ANY increase in attention paid by me in the last 10 years. I no longer pay any attention to the NBA or NHL, I barely notice baseball, and aside from the Redskins, I could care less if the NFL falls into the San Andreas Fault and is ground up finely as the city of San Francisco heads north toward Seattle, because the NFL sucks.
That’s right, I said it, and I meant it. The NFL sucks. Out. Loud. It is the apotheosis of everything that is wrong with sport and with America, and I would have absolutely nothing to do with it in any way…if I wasn’t a Redskins fan. It’s a sickness.
So based on Raven’s question, considering what I like about their football and disdain in ours, 10 ways I would fix the NFL…
1) End the policy of blacking-out preseason games outside the home markets. That’s right – if you live outside Washington or Pittsburgh, and you try to tune in Comcast SportsNet to watch the Redskins-Steelers in preseason, you will get naff all, even if you’ve paid extra to get all 30 iterations of FoxSportsNet. Of course, you can see the game TOMORROW…on the NFL Network. Great. If I want to do time-shifting, I’ll use the TiVo. I honestly don’t get blacking these games out – oh wait, yes I do, which leads to…
2) Destroy the NFL Network. The only reason to black out these preseason games is to force traffic to NFL Network – which is basically crap. It has been made worse by the movement of a whole slew of games to an exclusive Thursday night broadcast – worse because Thursday is no night for football, and worse because Bryant Gumbel couldn’t broadcast his way out of a wet paper sack if you spotted him a box cutter. The NFL Network is basically a stalking horse to see if the league can eventually control the distribution of its content, and it needs to stop – or else catch an anti-trust suit.
3) Hire full-time officials. The NFL has a crisis in officiating, as evidenced by the Super Bowl before last – people said the league had fixed the refs to insure Pittsburgh won, and looking at the tape, it is not possible to dismiss these people as whacknut conspiracy theorists. The NBA has known crooked refs, and those are full timers. Combine part-time officials with the vastly greater sums of money bet on the NFL, and you have a crisis in the making. Full-time refs. Now. Period.
4) End the cult of the QB. I swear to Bear Bryant, if I see one more ad featuring Peyton Manning, I will puke. Last year we had the spectacle of the “Manning Bowl,” as the NFL desperately tries to make us put Forrest Gump’s dumber cousin up there with Graham, Unitas, and Montana on some sort of Mount Rushmore of quarterbacking. Manning is just the worst example, though – but seriously, end it now. No more QBs advertising gloves or cars. No more endless parades of signal-callers on Saturday Night Live. No more rules to protect the QB from taking a hit, or having to run hard, or having his mascara smeared. And for Godsakes, would somebody take Tom Brady to the vet and get him fixed? It’s starting to get embarrassing.
5) Put Monday Night Football back on network TV. The problem with moving it to ESPN is that it’s starting to get ESPN on it. If you really want it to be interesting, do a booth with Al Michaels, John Riggins and Keith Olbermann…and brace yourself. (Lighten up, Sandy baby!) In fact, take ESPN out of the equation altogether – a network that’s not showing any games on Sunday has no business with not one but TWO studio shows every day.
6)Actually, while we’re at it, do away with pregame studio shows altogether. Complete waste of time, and all this “gameday news” is stuff we all saw on the Internet on Friday anyway. You know why all these middle-aged guys have these fond memories of Howard Cosell’s “halftime highlights” and are bored with it now? Because it’s ALL OVER THE PLACE. If the NFL were exposed slightly less than Paris Hilton’s crotch, we might start thinking it was special on the occasions when we do see it.
7) Embrace diversity in offense. Time was, the Redskins were running the Gibbs one-back system, the Bengals and Bills had the hurry-up, the Rams were running a smash-mouth tailback system with Dickerson, the Raiders and Dolphins were just throwing deep over and over, and Jerry Glanville was pushing that lunatic chuck-and-duck. Now, every single team is running the Bill Walsh west-coast offense and a Cover-2 on D, and it sucks. At non-pro levels, you get everything from the single wing to the wishbone to 5-receiver option sets – not to mention people occasionally trying a fake punt or field goal. In the NFL, the end-around is the height of trickery and innovation. Make every offensive coordinator in the league sit down and watch highlight films of Florida, California, and Boise State.
8) Now we’re getting into real fear-and-loathing territory here: break up the NFL. I mean it. The bulk of this is cribbed almost directly from Tim Cree’s plans for college football, but I’m doing it to the NFL. First, we add two new teams in Los Angeles and San Antonio, so maybe people will stop whining. Then starting next year, the top 12 finishers – IRRESPECTIVE OF HISTORY, FANBASE OR GEOGRAPHIC BALANCE – become League 1. The next 12 become League 2, the rest are League 3. Now stay with me: the schedule is simple. Each league is randomly drawn into two divisions. Everybody plays everybody else in their division home and home, and everyone in the other division once. That’s 16 games. The top 8 teams in League 1 then go on to the playoffs, single elimination on the way to the Super Bowl. The bottom 4 teams then play round-robin…and the winner stays in League 1, while the other 3 teams drop to League 2 next season. Meanwhile, in League 2, the two teams that finishes top automatically goes to League 1 for winning their regular season. The teams that finished 3-6 are seeded into a playoff, single-elimination, winner goes to League 1. Meanwhile, the bottom 3 of League 2 drop into League 3. League 3 has only 10 teams in it, but to keep it interesting, the top two automatically rise to League 2 and the other 8 are all seeded into a 1-8 bracket, single elimination, winner rises to League 2.
I hear your objections, and I say screw ’em. Late-season games between non-playoff teams suddenly mean something again. Teams will be fighting like hell to stave off relegation (and in the case of League 2, to stave off losing one and possibly two home dates next year). And we can even expand from 34 to 36 without screwing things up too badly (teams in Birmingham and Memphis? Portland and Orlando? Shreveport and Sacramento? The mind reels). Just like that, every game is a peer game, every game matters.
9) All televised Redskins games to be called on TV using the SAP function on your remote control (that’s Sonny’s Audio Program) by Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff…and let Sonny smoke in the booth. Meanwhile, let the Junkies do the radio call. All four of them. God help us.
10) No more helmet radios. No more messenger substitutions. Players not allowed to speak to the coach while the clock is running. Make the players play the game, not be live PS2 characters for the overpaid tub of guts with the headset up in the booth. If you want to play remote-control football, get a copy of Madden. If you wanna coach, then get down there on the sideline, coach ’em up, then send them out there and LET THEM PLAY THE DAMN GAME.