The first half of last night’s Monday Night game was almost unbearable. Get used to it, because this is going to be a painful NFL season.
More than any U.S. sport, the NFL is a mass media consumer product, dominated as much by the common man as the intellectuals of the game. That’s what turned SportsCenter into a nonsense cable news channel. It’s what made ESPN FirstTake, once a legitimate sports debate show, one of the most mind-numbingly repetitive and uncreative programs on television (discounting, of course, anything new that comes out on ABC, NBC, or CBS). That’s why, as a sports community, the mainstream has us stuck in a box full of the exciting, the different, and the now. The talk about the kneel down controversy should stop now because everyone has their opinions and the league needs to move on. The pop culture of the NFL also has us trapped in whatever happens the week before. Peyton Manning was Sulmandir Week 1 (1,000 internet points to whoever knows that reference), but I’m guessing that people seriously taper their expectations for him and the Broncos after last night (even though he almost led them back to victory). The Cowboys and Jets were juggernauts after their first victories, but now everyone is backpedaling and saying “They are who we thought they were.”
I don’t want to write like that. That’s why I spent an entire 13 weeks last season writing Bandwagon articles. I would prefer to write about all the nice things that are going on in the NFL, like the fact that the Cardinals are 2-0. I would rather talk about how well the Seahawks played, rather than how the Cowboys messed it up. Unfortunately, it’s going to be that type of season where the negative pervades NFL news. Especially if the replacement refs officiate an entire season.
The NFL is boiling right now. The concussion specter continues to loom, and the league is just barely recovered from the Saints Bounty Scandal and is only a little over one year removed from the lockout. Besides this, there is a general atmosphere of a changing of the guard in the NFL elite, as some teams who were previously at the bottom of the totem are now at the top of their game while some of the previous champions already have at least one loss. Everyone in the NFL wants a piece of the pie. In addition, the replacement refs are causing all sorts of frustration, and have proved powerless to stop that frustration from spilling onto the field, and the result is a troubled league and season.
And it’s undeniable, the replacement refs have been troubling. I can live with the penalty flags they are throwing, as those mostly balance out throughout a game. It’s their game management that has been awful. Everything takes too long and the game loses its flow. In addition, there have been way too many challenge flags thrown, often about the most clear or trivial calls. I could not believe how long the first quarter of last night’s game lasted.
Add to all of this what I mentioned in the first paragraph. Negative stories in sports, like in news, get the attention. Remember the Harbaugh/Schwartz handshake from last season? Big deal, yet it was the top story of the week. Just like the kneel down is the top story this week. The negative is too prevalent.
We are headed for the NFL’s Malice in the Palace. Imagine that you’re an NFL linebacker. You’re an aggressive kid from a tough urban environment whose job is to physically bring large and athletic people down, often inflicting pain in the process. Scientists and doctors are telling you that what you’re doing for a job and for fun is slowly killing you and the guys you tackle. But your team needs you, because you are just one step away from making it to the playoffs and making a Super Bowl run. So you’re ready to hit the gap in the line to crush the running back, but then a challenge flag flies out on the field, and you have to calm yourself down for 5 minutes, then re-focus when play resumes. But hang on, the referees made a mistake with the clock. When the play finally happens, you get cut from the side by a wide receiver who starts talking some serious trash. At that moment, a zebra walks by, normally a high school science teacher who officiates Arena League 2 games now and then. He timidly looks at you and the wide receiver, unsure of how to react. What do you think you’re going to do?
You’re going to Ron Artest that little punk and pay the commissioner (who you hate) a few thousand dollars. And after a week, the situation will cool down and the experts will move on to talking about which quarterback had a good week.
And then it will happen again. Unless the league brings back the regular officials and gets the NFL straightened out, we are going to see a lot of big problems this year. They’re trying their best, but these replacement officials, who aren’t even like backups, but rather guys off the street, just are not going to work.
And I’d like to write about pleasant things….
What do you think? Am I being as reactive as the people I’m criticizing? Or do I actually see the situation of NFL as it really is? Like, comment, subscribe/follow, post to Facebook and Twitter, email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading!