Victory has been snatched from the jaws of insanity. It’s easy in retrospect to say that we knew the NFL would get it’s act together in the eleventh hour. Who will ever know how close it really came to being a wasted season? However it played out behind closed doors, nothing of importance has been missed. The underwhelming tease that is the Hall of Fame game has been excised. Hard Knocks, while entertaining, didn’t exist from 2003-2006 anyway, so I think we’ll survive. Essentially, what the NFL did to us was go up to the maximum speed on the DVR fast-forward button, slamming on the pause button in the middle of the last commercial. Granted, it would’ve been nice to fast-forward through two of those preseason games as well (the equivalent of hitting pause right when they say “we now return you to Breaking Bad“), but beggars can’t be choosers. And that is what we are: beggars. We are football-starved. We’ve been fasting all day, and now it’s time to loosen up the belt and dig in to the all-you-can-eat NFL buffet.
I’m so excited that there will certainly be regular season football, I don’t know what to dive into first. The weird thing is, I could’ve been doing all the same stuff I’m about to mention all along, it just would’ve been depressing and coated in the “uncertainty” that was the watchword of the NFL’s 2010 regular and 2011 off-seasons. There is definitely an emotional difference to reading and watching NFL-related content in the last day. I feel like Scrooge McDuck on Christmas morning. Everything is right where I left it, and I appreciate it that much more. Here are eight things I’m excited about, in no particular order.
This is the first thing that came to mind because it’s the main component that’s been delayed thus far. I’m really interested to see what horrible UFA decisions teams make, and if there are any trades. People don’t realize how rare trading players is in the NFL. In the other big sports, it’s like flipping baseball cards. In the NFL you need to really hate someone, like Mike Shanahan hated Clinton Portis in 2004, or how Bill Belichick hates everyone. Specifically, I’m excited for one team to realize that Kevin Kolb isn’t good. Also, for what it’s worth, the Ravens should sign undrafted free agent from Rutgers Joe Lefeged. Dude is going to be Pro Bowler at safety.
The thing that was going to be awful about a locked-out season was that it essentially meant the cancellation of two major sports. Fantasy football, while it needs the NFL for its existence, is at this point its own entity and America’s fourth major sport (this is coming from a HUGE soccer and hockey fan). If the NBA is locked out, I’m bumping Fantasy Football up to third. Watch out MLB, you’re next. I am giddy beyond belief to draft my team. Last year, I was getting a little burnt out on losing at fantasy and only did my one usual league. Screw that noise. This year, I’m joining as many leagues as I possibly can. It’s binging time!
Football Outsiders Almanac
If Phil Steele’s College Football Preview is the bible of college football, then the FOA is, well, also a very good publication. I hate relying on “conventional wisdom” or “Terry Bradshaw” for what is true and not true about the NFL, so every year I turn to the Almanac to see it there in black and white. Given how socially traditional football is, I can’t believe there hasn’t been a high-profile Joe Morgan of football to come out against using statistics and advanced metrics to determine player and team efficacy. Give it time. My money’s on Shannon Sharpe.
Non-Football People Not Caring About The NFL
The lockout was getting to the point where it was fodder for George Lopez monologues and op/ed pieces about “billionaires fighting over their fortunes” from people who do not spend their Sundays watching football. Thank God that’s done with. I have when people with a passing interest trample all over the things I like. You don’t see me writing about “Glee,” do you, non-football people?
Better Rookie Compensation
And I don’t mean better as in they get paid more. While everyone (including me) is probably too excited to even read the details of the new CBA, one thing that did make it in there is an end to the bedlam that is first-round draft pick compensation. In a primarily egalitarian enterprise like the NFL, teams like Buffalo need to be saved from themselves in making awful first-round selections and having to pay for them for four to six years. They can’t help that their judgement is terrible. It’s bad for business if teams make $50 million dollar mistakes year in and year out in the first round. Let them make $30 million dollar mistakes all they want.
I’m really excited about the dude. He’s either going to be an amazing corner or an amazing flameout. He seems like the type of guy who will not fail quietly, either. Either way, I’m especially looking forward to watching him work against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Houston.
Notice I didn’t say “gambling.” I’m not condoning betting on football, but I am condoning that you pay attention to point spreads if you want to get a real sense of where teams stand every week. I used to enjoy picking games here and there and have done suicide pools in the past, but in recent years I just check the lines out of habit. It seems like good information to have. Also, it will endlessly tempt you to lay down a three-team parlay that seems like the easiest thing in the world to hit and never pays off. Financial responsibility, folks.
Beating the Steelers
With Ben Roethlisberger missing the first part of the 2010 season, everyone had a “we smell blood in the water!” vibe when playing Pittsburgh. Well, only Baltimore was able to beat them during those opening games (in Week 4) and the “kick the Steelers when they’re down” thing never really happened. At least they lost the Super Bowl. That was cathartic. Given that the Steelers are off to a rocky 2011 already, without having played a game, and that the team that loses the Super Bowl generally goes on to suck the following season, I’m looking forward to a quiet year from the Black and Gold.
For the past nine months or so, I’ve driven by M&T Bank Stadium countless times, admiring the structure’s imposing mass and the eeriness of it when it’s empty. As the months passed, its emptiness took on a much greater significance as the thought of it remaining devoid of pro football until 2012 seemed more and more likely. “What a goddamned waste,” I would say out loud to my wife, unprompted. Assuming I was once again rambling to myself, she would ignore me, but I think I got my point across. What a waste of civic resource, energy, emotional and human capital it would be to have this structure sit here and host mainstream rock concerts, corporate events, and (ugh) lacrosse.
Thank God for football.
Dave Gilmore lives in Baltimore, works for a sports-oriented non-profit, and writes “The Win Column” for Baltimore Sports Report. He is currently working on a novel about college football. Find him on Twitter @dave_gilmore or visit his web site at davegilmorejr.com