Monday, December 26, 2005

A Football Rant in Two Parts - Part Two

Professional football is one of my true loves in this world. Next to Scientology and the music of John Tesh, it goes right up on the mantle as one of the genuine joys of my life. I have two personal "holidays" per year: The NFL Draft (my Thanksgiving) and the first Sunday of the NFL season (Christmas). And I have been using that term long before a certain Mister Chris Berman, thank you very much. (Note: personal holidays are separate from personal post uber-weekend "de-railment days," but I don't have to work on those either.)

But in the last three or four seasons, my enjoyment of this most splendid of games, run by the most savvy of sports minds, has been diminished. (And no, smart-guy, it's not just because the Bills suck, though that doesn't help.)

I used to be able to watch any game at any time with a zeal usually reserved for birthdays. I would live for Saturday NFL games in December, since it was like getting 2 games for free. Now? I find myself being mildly interested. The 1999 season may go down as the greatest overall football season I've ever witnessed. And in 2000 there was a string of so many unforgettable Monday Night Football games (the famous Dolphins-Jets "comeback game" being the crown-jewel that season). So why in a scant five seasons do I find myself becoming more and more indifferent to the glut of games being shown at least two nights a week?

For the longest time, I tried to put my finger on it. What is wrong? Why doesn't anything feel right anymore? I racked my brain about this for a while trying to figure it out.

Is it the league? I don't think so. The league itself does a good job of marketing itself and bettering its product every year with rule changes and technological advancements.

Is it the quality of play? Not that I can see. There have been some very exciting teams since 2000 (the 2001 Rams, 2003 Chiefs, 2004 Colts) that I would put up against the most exciting of the 1980s.

And finally it hit me: it's not the leagues or the teams; it's the networks. Simply put, television networks have no clue what the f**k they're doing.

There are many reasons that network broadcasting and coverage of NFL Football runs the gamut from piss-poor to godawful, and as is my custom, I will outline them in my patented, easy-to-read numerically ordered outlining system.

  1. Bad Football: Okay, so I lied, this actually is one of the problems with the league, but not for the reason you might think. It's not that there are less good teams than at any other time. Though we may not be in the "parity-league" days of the late 1990s, there are still some solid football teams. The problem is that many of the teams, though successful, play a dull -- nay, nearly unwatchable -- brand of football. Whether it's the dink-n-dunk (my favorite), or the 2 runs up the middle / 6-yard pass / punt gameplan, offensive football has been quite atrocious. For every Manning-to-Harrison combination, there are ten Charlie Batch-to-Peerless Prices (or somesuch equivalent). Offensive football has been on a downswing since Mike Martz stupidly gave the 2000 Rams the bye week off. (I know that's a pretty obscure reference right there, but that's how much I used to follow all this stuff.)

  2. Poor Scheduling: This is not the league's fault, as you might think. The league's scheduling is pre-determined and decided completely autonomously, based on all the teams' records from the previous year. What I'm referring to is the way that the prime time games are chosen. Networks are woefully short-sighted in this regard. People wonder why the matchups are so bad on Monday Night Football, and they usually blame it on bad luck. But it's not bad luck, it's picking games without thinking about it. Somewhere, some TV exec says, "Say, this game has Michael Vick playing against Ray Lewis. What a great game! Put it on the board!" Or "Giants? Eagles? What a great matchup!" No, these are not great ideas. They lack any sort of insight into what would make a good matchup. For example, for 2005, instead of taking the up and coming teams of last year (Bengals, Vikings, Panthers), they chose the same lame-o teams they assume will be good (Eagles, Falcons, Packers) who end up putting on boring displays of football. These make for crap games, but if someone at one of the networks would really look at the matchups, the time of year, or anything that is actually related to football (rather than related to what players sell the most jerseys), they might stumble upon a game.

    Does anybody remember how many memorable Monday Night Football games there used to be? There were at least five really good games every season. Now, other than the Bucs-Colts 2003 game where Indy scored 28 points in the fourth quarter, I can't even thing of a good game, let alone a memorable one.

  3. Too Many Damn Commercials: Football has always had commercials, and I'm thinking that they probably don't have any more than usual, but here is the difference now: flow. I remember the days when the broadcast would start off with the kickoff, then a couple possessions by each team (at least one each) before going to commercial. Now, there is the pregame, then a shot of the stadium with someone saying, "We'll be right back to FedEx Field after this," then eight minutes of commercials, then the kickoff, a punt, and a commercial.

    Not only do they try to sandwich as many breaks as they can -- such as before and after an after-touchdown kickoff, which is reprehensible -- but during every free second, they show graphics on the screen exhorting the new episode of C.S.I. or Prison Break or Lost. Know what TV executives? I know your shitty show is gonna be on TV! I get it! You can pretty much tell me once and if I'm interested I'll set the old DVR for it. I am offended not only by the number of interruptions, but because they don't even have the decency to show me different commercials. So I have to sit through the same shitty Coors Light "AND TWINS!" commercials, and then even more shitty "World Series of Poker" or "Walker, Texas Ranger" promos over and over again. You only have to tell me once, bitch!

    And not only do you show so many commercials for your own crappy shows during the commercials (over and over again no less) but now you're throwing it in the middle of the game too??? During, for example, a penalty or stoppage in play? If the appeal of sports is the drama, then why are you interrupting this supposed drama by throwing a bunch of commercials in the middle? Imagine you are watching the big ending scene at the end of, say "The 40 Year Old Virgin" (or literally any movie or TV show for that matter), and during the climax, when you are caught up in the drama of the moment, and someone pops up on screen in the bottom corner and says "Don't forget that the new Harry Potter movie is coming out next April!" and then goes right back into the scene. This is the equivalent of shattering the intensity of the game.

    These interruptions have always occurred, but it used to be only once per half or so. Now it seems that the game has become secondary to making sure we get as much advertising thrown in our collective face as possible. But what the network execs don't get is that they are making the product less palatable to people like me, and therefore making us less apt to watch, and generate their precious ratings-revenue.

  4. Bad Pregame Coverage: ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown used to be THE best pregame show in the business. They had a combination of a then-not-annoying, pre-caricature Chris Berman (who some may remember used to have quite a quick wit) and football men like Pete Axthelm, Tom Jackson and Chris Mortensen (who are still there, thank God because they are the only watchable thing on it right now). Now, they have "names," like Steve Young, Michael Irvin, Mike Ditka, etc., who offer little-to-nothing in the way of actual insight and are just there to blow hot air. I remember a time that you could get an explanation or examination of football that was neither a Ron Jaworski-like dissection of game film or a noise-heavy harangue by Michael Irvin. It was something in the middle; it was intelligent discussion of football, high on facts and insight, low on bombast.

    Likewise, the NFL Today on CBS (with Brent Musberger and Irv Cross) and the NFL on NBC (with Bob Costas, Will McDonough and Frank Deford) were equally excellent. Today it's, Who's More Outrageous?! Who's More Opinionated?? Who can speak the loudest???

    There have been a few strides made toward improving pre-game shows, such as ESPN replacing Sterling Sharpe, CBS moving their pre-game show indoors (for the love of God), and Fox actually showing information about the AFC once in a while. But for each of these, we still get Stuart Scott using urban slang of the late 1980s (Note to Stu: no one says "phat" anymore) and Terry Bradshaw asking Jake Plummer if he says "couch" or "sofa." So much utter crap.

    For some reason, many pre-game shows thing that we as football fans give a shit about some players' actual life. They will ask Carson Palmer if he thinks the iPod or TiVo is a more important invention. Or follow Torry Holt on a day shopping and playing video games. I personally only care about these people in a football context. I have a life of my own (well, technically anyway), and I don't need to follow some millionaire around to a quasi-hip hop soundtrack, unless he's doing something truly interesting. Keep it on the field, people!+

  5. Horrible Announcers: I am one of the six people in America who actually liked the move of putting Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football. I'm not saying it worked out that well, but I liked the move. At least it seemed to be an attempt to try something that actually resembles an entertaining broadcast. There are probably a half-dozen decent --DECENT -- football announcers in the country: Marv Albert, Jim Nantz, Al Michaels (sorry, Jav, I know you disagree), Mike Tirico, Dick Enberg. I am seriously struggling to think of more. But there are almost no good color commentators.

    John Madden is, I'm sorry kids, a terrible terrible color man. He hasn't been good since 1987. He coasted on his telestrator and his "boom" shtick briefly, but now he doesn't even have that. Now all I has is his name slapped on the cover of a popular video game. I have not heard him make one insightful comment since he started broadcasting Monday Night Football. Not a single one. He actually said this: ready? "The ball is slippery because it's wet, and it's wet because it's raining." I have pets that have made keener observations.

    And don't get me started on that heaping steaming pile of obsequious excrement known as ESPN Sunday Night Football. I used to like Mike Patrick, honestly. He always took the bluster out of Joe Theismann's pomposity, but when you add the waste of valuable blood platelets known as Paul Maguire to the mix, you have a recipe for knob-washery that would make Ed McMahon vomit. According to this crew, there is not a single normal or good player in the league. Instead, every player is magnificent, gifted beyond all possible comprehension. A player doesn't make a nice play, he makes a sensational play!

It's painful for me to say this about football. For years and years I have maintained football's superiority over all other sports, not only in gameplay, but in watchability. But lately, coverage of playoff baseball has actually been more compelling than regular season football (for the first time in my life).

Maybe it's the fact that I feel I could run a network better than almost anyone doing it now. (For example, I had been saying that NBC should drop The Apprentice go back to a 2-hour comedy block on Thursday nights for over a year now. And what did they just announce? I should get a bonus from NBC for this.) But it shouldn't take a frustrated would-be network exec to fix the problems. Let's stop trying to marry sports and entertainment. Because good sports should be all the entertainment one would need.

Friday, December 23, 2005


Ok there is a lot of debate right now about the whole Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays phenomenon. And I think it's starting to get a little ridiculous. If you see me, say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukkah" (spelling optional) or "Enjoy your day off" or whatever the hell you want to say. I am not going to get offended.

But there are two very distinct parts to this, one which I think is very serious, the other which I think is inane beyond belief. The difference is between 1) religious repression and 2) simple politeness.

Religious Repression

Now I was raised Roman Catholic. You may have heard of it. If you haven't you're probably going to hell. Just kidding, of course. But while I'm not technically "practicing" lately, I do tend to still gravitate toward a lot of the things I grew up on, what with Popes and Narthexes and Tabernacles and the Stations of the Cross and whatnot. I'm certainly not one of these asshole self-proclaimed "recovering Catholics" who couldn't take the fact that Church doesn't want you to bang every girl in your neighborhood and has at least some moral compass. (Well, that's the Church's official position anyway.)

Now, being that as it may, I may have a skewed perspective on this, but I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with religious symbolism and pride in one's religion. I have no less a problem with a manger scene in the mall than I do with a Star of David on Max Baer's boxing tights or the Star and Crescent on the Tunisian flag. I think the attempt to suppress things like this truly is a suppression of religious freedom. And while I know America does not (and should not) have an official religion, let's not forget that the reason those pilgrims hopped the Mayflower to come here was to get away from religious persecution, for any religious affiliation.

See, while I do absolutely believe in the separation of Church and State, because no state should ever tell someone what they should be believing in, I personally think that anyone that would take the "under God" part of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Supreme Court either has far far far too much time on his hands, or is so bitter against all things religious that he will nickel-and-dime anything he can to piss off those idiots who believe in this "God" character. If you don't want to say the "under God" part, don't say it. Some people want to say it, shouldn't they be able to if that's what they truly believe? I know that religious zealots are scary, but let's not be so anti-religion that we don't even want to hear the words.

I am somewhat more offended that we even have a Pledge of Allegiance in the first place. And why every morning? Isn't that very first time we pledge it enough? Does the Pledge hold up in a court of law? "Mr. John Walker Lindh, you defied the United States by joining the Taliban? And this was after you had repeatedly stated that you pledged allegiance??? Have you no morals, sir?" There are so many religious idiots out there that they are making people take the atheist idiots (and yes there are a lot of them too) seriously. Granted, there is no way on God's/Big Bang's green earth we should be teaching intelligent design in science classes, but people are so hellbent (rightfully) to keep it out of science classes that they don't see the very intriguing philosophical questions about it. Too bad the Intelligent Design Movement has hijacked it into a political issue. But I have already digressed waaayyyy too much to get into all that silly business.

But this all brings us to the second, idiotic part of this argument. That somehow, saying "happy holidays" is an actual affront to and attack on Christianity. Saying "happy holidays" is not saying, "I hate Christianity." It's saying: I have...

Simple Politeness

No less a great mind than Bill O'Reilly said just a few nights ago -- and I'm paraphrasing, obviously, since there are no quotation marks around what's coming up -- Christians are offended by the greeting "happy holidays." O'Reilly has said a lot of ludicrous shit. He said if the City of San Francisco gets attacked, that the U.S. Military should not defend it. He lied that he won two Peabody Awards. He said he wanted to cover a woman with falafel. But this is beneath even his feeble attempts to comprehend quasi-nuanced issues.

The man, after all, has the mind of a class bully-turned-debate team third-stringer. He tries to intimidate people, usually by yelling at them to SHUT UP, and then thinks he won the debate because he talked louder on his own TV show. He's the worst kind of Republican, but again, back to the topic.

I cannot think of one single Christian person who would get offended if you told them "happy holidays." Do you know why? Because when you wish them "happy holidays," you are including Christmas and New Year's! That's why it's happy holidays, not happy holiday! And that is a scientific fact!

If Yom Kippur fell on a Friday (can it? I'm not sure), and you said to a Jewish co-worker "Thank God It's Friday!", do you think he/she would get offended and say, "It's not Friday! It's Yom Kippur!" and then boycott you? This is the same argument. It's not Christmas to everyone, you know. To some people it's just another Sunday.

Would a Christian be happy about everyone going around saying "Happy Hannukah" to every single person, friend or stranger, around this time of year? (Most rational people of any religious denomination probably wouldn't care, but you get the point.) It's just as much a Jewish holiday as it is a Christian one. Why do Christians have the exclusive right to it? Just because it's a more significant holiday on the Christian calendar than it is the Jewish one?

It is simply common courtesy to say "happy holidays" if you don't know with 100% certainty that the person you are addressing celebrates Christmas. If you are talking to your best friend or a co-worker or nun or mom or someone that you know celebrates Christmas, go ahead and say "Merry Christmas." You'll feel good about it. But if you are holding the door open for someone at the mall, and you can't quite tell, don't you think it's just more polite to say "happy holidays"?

Anyway, to EVERYONE in the whole world, have a Merry Christmas!

Minor Housecleaning

No no no, you silly bastard, I'm not picking up after myself. Good stuff though.

No, but rather I am adding two new sites to my blogroll. Well, one new, one old returner.

The new one is by my good friend John "Jack" Johnson, who just started his "Cold-Draft" blog. I know it's early, but my boy is already thinking about the NFL draft. Yeah, I know, it's amazing. He's just starting it out, but come April, you better bring your bib... cuz it's gonna get messy! (Johnny is expecting his second child soon, so congrats to Johnny.)

Mike C.

The old one is from my former friend Mike "Don" Cialini. (His middle name is not really Don, it's Jerome.) Jerome, errrr, Mike was on my blogroll about a year ago, and then he went ahead and didn't touch a computer for 13 months, so I removed him posthaste. But the son of a bitch is back, cranking out 2 1/2 posts in the last 10 days. That warrants a probationary return to the blogroll.

He's changed the name from "I Plead the Fifth" to "Leave the Gun. Take the Cannoli," which is, of course, from Mike's favorite movie To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. If he doesn't keep it up, he's going back to the realm of the unknown. It's up to you, Michael. Mike just got hitched so I'll allow a little leeway on him too.

Other than their conservative points of view, there is little that relates these two gentlemen, but I figure it's only fair to give the tens of millions that peruse my little scribblin' pad fair notice. Enjoy kids!


After I finished this I nearly slapped my own forehead off with a mighty "schwack" having forgotten about my boy Electric City Paul, who's blog, Electric City Paul, is a whimsical mix of popular culture, baseball and Scott Stapp. I think you'll really enjoy it.