If you’re reading this, you’re not likely the fan the NFL is after. You already consume it with both hands. You love this game, you know what it’s about, and you know what it’s supposed to look like.
They know you know, and they don’t care. You’re already in the bag anyway.
You’d probably agree that the most compelling games we’ve seen in the past decade were those 10-7 fistfights between Pittsburgh and Baltimore. And the best recently have come from San Francisco and Seattle, among the rare teams playing a lick of defense the past two years.
Oh, the NFL agrees with you in principle, but again, they don’t care.
No, the NFL wants a lot more Denver-Dallas of last September, and they’re determined to get it. Sundays are now lightning-speed scoring fests, chock-full of big plays and commercials, fully by design. Such entertains the maternity ward of newly arriving casual fans, who suddenly showed up front-and-center not long ago despite a sad inability to name five NFL coaches out loud.
New money. Nothing smells quite like it.
The NFL can’t and won’t openly cater to gambling (although we all know it does because it’s a billion-dollar industry). But unexpectedly, from thin air, appeared this money angel called Fantasy Football, which inexplicably converted mind-numbingly ignorant football folk into some of its most ardent Sunday squatters. Ever since, the NFL has slobbered all over itself to accommodate them.
There’s no fantasy-football value in a 3-and-out. Punts equal blasphemy unless they get returned the distance. Five-yard runs are yawningly meaningless, as are incomplete passes and offensive penalties. Who wins is irrelevant to these yahoos, because it’s all about individuals, not teams.
Yes, fantasy Football is the perfect metaphor for the times we live.
Now, activate code red panic mode. Seattle ruined the Peyton Party a few months ago, ingloriously reducing him to defensive fodder, and re-establishing defense as a viable way to win at football. The Commissioner’s Office just won’t stand for it.
The mistake the Seahawks made was that they were too in-your-face about it. Pete Carroll and crew arrogantly decided to foul on virtually every play last season, challenging officials to throw flags at an alarming rate. They didn’t, and instead adjusted their calls during Seahawks games. Others rightly complained that all games should be called the same.
I say “rightly” not because Seattle should be penalized more, but because other teams should be penalized less. Let them play, please. Why this movement to abolish defense? If every real football fan wants more defense, then why this petulant denial to accommodate? I don’t understand…wait, yes I do.
The answer is scarily simple. Such does not suit the National Fantasy Football League, which seemed to hijack the NFL in the middle of the night a decade ago. The NFFL cash machine will not be denied, and 17-10 games might run off the short attention spans of the easily distracted.
This preseason has been marred by countless contact and holding penalties on the defense. Countless is not much of an exaggeration. I’ve watched several teams march down the field on the strength of four or more contact/holding calls on a single drive. Teams seem almost embarrassed to score because they know it didn’t earn it.
This, of course, is on the heels of years of offensive-oriented rule changes. Can’t hit a quarterback virtually anywhere. Interference calls that wildly favor the receivers. New rules about hitting “defenseless” receivers. Some of these rules are logical and good for safety, but far too overreaching. They certainly can keep a drive alive, which is the underlying point, it seems.
These contact/holding calls are taking this inequality to a new level. The league claims it’s going to call more offensive pass interference, too, especially when the receiver initiates the contact and pushes off. It also says it’s going to watch closer for pick plays (hey, Denver!) and blocking downfield too early on quick screens. I’m all for that, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
General opinion is that this onslaught of penalties will ease when the real games start. I’d like to believe that, but I’m afraid it’ll be too much like gas prices. They crank you up to $5.00 a gallon so that you’ll feel like you’re getting a bargain when they drop it to $3.50. Such is the game of human conditioning.
Touchdowns are now eerily similar to three-pointers. Sure, it’s still exciting to see Dallas get in the end zone, but it feels more like holding serve than it does a truly impactful moment in the game. If a team has a good quarterback, touchdowns come with astonishing ease these days.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the receptionist at your office wants. She spent a couple of sleepless nights deciding on Foles versus Rivers, and she needs about 420 yards of passing to move into fourth place in her league. She’ll be watching for sure, and dropped $350 for the NFL Ticket so she can watch Red Zone and set up her Fantasy Player Tracker.
Cha-ching. After all, that’s what football is about now, right?
Fantasy football, in and of itself, is fine and good fun for many real fans. However, I’ve grown to hate it because once it became profitable, it changed the spirit of how football is consumed, presented, and celebrated. The NFFL has discovered a new revenue stream, and it seems intent on maximizing it, even at the expense of lessening the game itself.
So I wait patiently and hopefully for this fad to die. That’s my fantasy.