Tag Archives: National Football League

New York vs. Boston again – but I’m OK with that

On these posts I’ve complained, whined and kvetched about how America’s major television networks and the media overall are obsessed with the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.

Super Bowl XLVI is upon us, and we have another Boston-New York matchup with the Patriots and Giants. The network executives must be mighty pleased that those two big northeastern markets are reprented, but NFL execs are always  pleased with whatever teams are playing.

The Super Bowl is the biggest thing in sports – in this country, anyway – and it will draw monster ratings even if Tennessee is playing Tampa Bay. The big game rules regardless of the market size of the competing teams.

In the NFL, talent is dispersed, dynasties are rare and most teams have at least a strong  hope every few years at getting a shot at glory. Except maybe the Cleveland Browns.

There’s a lesson for Major League Baseball in the NFL’s universal success. Football has unified national appeal. Baseball, while enjoying broad appeal nationwide, is at heart a region-by-region, market-by-market affair.  And the game pays a price for that.


Thanks to television, the NFL is truly the national sport

Baseball may traditionally be America’s national pastime, but as a spectator sport football is king. That’s a tribute to television broadcasting.

In a continent spanning four time zones (and I’m excluding Alaska and Hawaii), football has an enormous advantage in capturing the attention of the public. Even in an era of Monday night and occasional Thursday night games, most of the matchups are played on Sundays when most Americans are off work. That concentration of games increases the focus on them, and fans immerse themselves in the games.

For example, this weekend has been the pinnacle of the NFL season with eight teams vying to reach the two conference championships. Many of my friends and colleagues blocked out their weekend to watch the games (I dipped in and out and listened a fair amount on radio). Now that the Jets-Patriots game is over, I’m sure many of them are reliving the details on ESPN, the NFL Network and NFL.com.

The conference championships will also be closely and widely watched, followed by the Super Bowl, which will amass a huge audience of fans rabid and casual.

Baseball can’t match that, even if the network executives would get their dream matchup of the Yankees against the Dodgers or Cubs. A Mariners-Pirates World Series would be a network nightmare, but there’d be no dropoff in audience if the Seahawks faced the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

The NFL is huge, while baseball, lived day by day, inning after inning, is merely big. From spring training through a 162-game regular season plus several rounds of playoffs, baseball is seemingly always with us.

So football games seem bigger, more important by comparison.

I’m a baseball fan first and foremost, but I concede I’m in the minority in this 21st century.

Football is America’s sport.

A tip of the cap to 49ers broadcast analyst Gary Plummer

Fans who spend their lives rooting for one team in one town and listening only to the hometown announcers don’t have much of a basis for comparison of the men and women behind the microphones.  As a kid in Cleveland, after the Indians’ games I’d catch a few innings when atmospheric conditions were right from games on WJR in Detroit, WLW in Cincinnati, KDKA in Pittsburgh and KMOX in St. Louis. But I didn’t listen critically, and during football season I only listened to the Browns’ games. It was and remains harder to catch a distant football broadcast on radio, as most games are played during the day when AM signals are limited.

With the advent of satellite radio, fans have an opportunity to listen to broadcasts from other markets. I listened to enough broadcasts on XM Radio the past two baseball seasons to get a sense of the best, such as Bob Uecker on the Brewers network and the John “Yankees win” Sterling. (My opinion is certainly burnished by having lived in both markets, listening to each over several seasons.)

XM has also exposed the “homers” who are shills for their teams and those whose delivery leaves me cold or at least unmoved.

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I don’t have access to the other teams’ NFL broadcasts, so my football impressions are based primarily on local broadcasts as I’ve moved around the country. I always catch the 49ers and often take in Raiders’ games – at least until I can no longer stand the pain. Which leads me to the point of this post: Gary Plummer (pictured at right from his days as a 49ers linebacker) must rate as one of the finest color men in professional sports.

In his smooth baritone voice, he consistently offers clear, honest, rational commentary. He praises each team on the field when they deserve it and, just as even-handedly, criticizes the failings of each. He brings his experience from his playing days to the booth, but it never overshadows what’s happening on the field.

I wish all football fans had a chance to hear him.

The NFL goes ‘pink’ to fight breast cancer

Bears wear pinkA tip of the cap to the National Football League, which is raising awareness about breast cancer this week with its “Crucial Catch” campaign. In partnership with the American Cancer Society, the league is encouraging women – especially those over the age of 40 – to get yearly screenings to detect breast cancer as early as possible. As part of the campaign, NFL coaches are wearing caps with pink bills (as shown by Bears coach Lovie Smith in this Chicago Tribune photo) and the players are wearing pink gloves. I thought I saw a few pink shoes flashing by in the Oakland-Houston game, at least on the Texans. The Raiders weren’t moving very fast.

Woe unto thee, Raider Nation

It’s not easy being silver and black. The Oakland Raiders, one of the most intimidating and successful franchises in the history of professional football, are reeling. On so many Sundays the past few years, the Raiders have been outplayed and outclassed. Since 2002, when they last won an AFC title and appeared in the Super Bowl, they haven’t posted a winning record. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I checked the stats — the Raiders haven’t won more than five games in any season since.

With the way the team has played this season, six victories seems like a tall order.  A colleague who has season tickets (and writes a fine Raiders blog) said the fans in the Black Hole at the Oakland Coliseum relentlessly booed quarterback JaMarcus Russell on Sunday as the Broncos embarrassed the Raiders 23-3.

This is pitiful football. My Raiders’ credentials are a bit tenuous, but I have enough of a connection to justify a few observations. Growing up in the snowbound Eastern time zone, I watched a lot of Raiders games from the West Coast after the Browns wrapped up. The Raiders in those days were Daryle Lamonica and Fred Biletnikoff, Ken Stabler and Cliff Branch, not to mention scores of outstanding defensive backs and linemen both sides of the ball.

When the team returned to Oakland from exile in Los Angeles, I lived in Alameda – where Al Davis & Co. set up their corporate home. My kids’ high school manned concession booths at home games as a fund-raiser. While I saw little action on the field, I poured plenty of beers for the fans. The early years in Oakland Phase Two were mediocre, but the team had passionate backers who knew better times lay ahead.

For maddening contrast, today’s Raiders fans need only look across San Francisco Bay to see how the 49ers are resurrecting their program. I wish I had a solution for the Raiders, who for so many years found a way to win. Right now, the fabled “Commitment to Excellence” has a hollow ring to it.

The Cleveland Browns and a brand new NFL season

The Thursday night game between the Redskins and Giants notwithstanding, today marks the real kickoff to the 2008 National Football League season. In celebration, I took my natty corduroy Cleveland Browns cap out into the warm California sun for a morning portrait.

Classic Cleveland Browns corduroy cap

Classic Cleveland Browns corduroy cap

I call this a classic Browns cap because it dates not from the present franchise but from the last years of the old Browns, the team that the sinsister Art Modell carted off to Baltimore to become the dead-to-me Ravens.

The original Browns started in the All American Football Conference that was folded into the NFL in the early 1950s. My early childhood centered on baseball, and football didn’t enter my consciousness until early grade school. In fact, my earliest pro football memory is of the day of the 1964 championship game in which the Browns defeated the Baltimore Colts (another team that would ultimately and appallingly be wrenched from the hearts of its fans). The game was blacked out on television in Cleveland, so my dad sent me to the attic to move our antenna around so we could catch the game on a Toledo station.

The demise of the old Browns roughly coincided with my move to California, where I’ve since attached my primary allegiance to the San Francisco 49ers and, given a few beers and the right opponent, the Oakland Raiders. I have not bonded with the new Browns, but should they advance to the playoffs, I’ll be pulling for them hard. And yeah, I want them to crush the Dallas Cowboys today.

In the meantime, I reserve my Browns cap mainly for the winter months, always hoping for the delightful contrast of white snowflakes settling on its rich brown bill.