I was actually excited when the NFL lockout hit. The National Football League (I want to pay Ron Jaworski to refer to it as the NFL just once) finally had the opportunity to be exposed as just as juvenile and profit-driven as the other major sports, the owners squabbling away their sport in the hunt for just one more beach house in Maui. In the meantime, fans like myself would get their summers back for the NBA playoffs and baseball, and could get back to football in due time.
Don’t get me wrong, I love football; it’s probably my favorite sport (though in recent years baseball has made a run). Every year I scream my head off for (and sometimes at) the Ravens and Wolverines (more at Michigan in recent years) at home and at the stadium, and I would like to think I know a bit more about the X’s and O’s than the average drunken fan behind me trying to impress some girl by dropping completely random and inaccurate names, penalties, and formations. The date I took to homecoming one year took me to a Ravens game with her family a few weeks later, where I thoroughly embarrassed myself by hollering like a madman as Deion Sanders picked off Drew Bledsoe for a touchdown.
However, I am a bit bothered by the universal unbridled enthusiasm that is coming with his NFL season, as though a hero has returned from the frontier to be greeted by throngs of worshipping fans. You see, rather than a lack of football information this offseason, we were hit by “a deal is imminent” every few days and “owners and players had a latte together, more at 11” kinds of stories that are the foundation of modern day know-nothing journalism. I am not sure I would have preferred stories about how good Rex Grossman looks in a June minicamp, but there wasn’t the respite I was hoping for.
I am glad that football is back at its appointed time, but perhaps not as enthusiastic having seen the sausage being made just a few weeks ago. It was a reminder that the NFL has no righteous standing above any of the other sports. The league had been held as the gold standard of professional leagues, a paragon of profitability, harmony between labor and ownership, and fan satisfaction. Instead, we watched as billionaires with the most owner-friendly deal in sports held out for more and the commissioner devolved into a mouthpiece for the owners rather than an arbiter for the league’s best interests. None of this is unexpected of course, but after you have spent the previous 6 months watching the small-minded plutocrats at work, it loses its appeal slightly.
I will get destroyed for saying this, but football can hold off until September for me. Preseason games mean absolutely nothing, particularly when the game will be sloppy and the players on any team probably won’t be in shape until September at the earliest. If Ray Rice breaks his leg then yea, that’s important, but don’t be surprised if a team goes 4-0 and looks great in the preseason and has a miserable regular season (hey, the 0-16 Lions had a hell of a preseason in 2008). I wrote a column last year about summer football chatter, which should be a good refresher for those looking to filter out useful information from the annual hype.
It is great that there will be a season this year, especially since the Ravens’ window is still open and Joe Flacco (and a more aggressive defense) can be even better this year. However, don’t count me among those cheering on the return of the NFL after each side dangled the lockout over fans’ heads for six months, threatening not to have a season if the other side didn’t compromise. Neither the owners nor the players did fans a favor by having a season; they did it for their own self-interest. Not that it should be any other way. Drinks are in order to celebrate the upcoming season, let’s just hold off on getting the NFL a gift basket.