“Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings.” George Will
I am always amazed when I hear football diehards knocking baseball for supposedly being “boring” or “slow.” Allegedly according to the football enthusiasts that knock baseball football is fast paced and exciting. Well for an average of 11 minutes in a typical three hour plus game it is, unless there are two teams that can’t move the football or score. 11 minutes, which is the average time, spent actually playing the game. 11 minutes out of almost three hours of a typical telecast.
So what happens to the rest of that three plus hours?
Can you believe that 17 minutes are spent on replays? Well unless you are watching ESPN where replays sometimes take up to 24 minutes of air time. Of course commercials take up an hour or more and about 67 minutes is spent on shots of players milling about or hanging around the sidelines.
A typical play takes about four seconds to run and unless you are watching a top team with an outstanding offense going up against an outstanding defense many of those plays will frankly be pretty boring. Since teams get 40 seconds to run a play and have 3 two minute timeouts a half the percentage of time the ball is in play is minuscule.
In football you can leave the room that you are watching the game and have a quickie with your significant other during the commercial breaks or during one of the two per half challenges that coaches can request. Of course those can take an ungodly length of time to resolve which results more shots of players sucking oxygen on the sidelines or drinking Gatorade while talking about what they plan on doing after the game or what they plan on “tweeting” after the game.
NFL Football games on average are 17 minutes longer than Major League Baseball games, 3 hours and 7 minutes versus 2 hours 50 minutes for a baseball game, unless the Yankees and Red Sox are playing. During a baseball game the ball is almost nearly always in play.
Of course there are games where there is real tension where the game goes down to the wire. Despite the other delays the 11 minutes of action in those games can be amazing. But for each of those games there are many more that are blowouts where a team plays so badly that only the most diehard fans of that team actually watch the second half. Then there are the last five minutes of most games where the team that has the lead runs the clock out on the opposing team. But in baseball it is much more common for a team to come back when things look hopeless because the other team still has to play without the comfort of being able to run out the clock. Earl Weaver said it the best:
“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”
Now the NFL has been the king of sports marketing in the United States. While baseball may be America’s pastime, football has become its passion. We have become a football nation. This is in large part due to the way that the NFL has marketed itself. First there is the NFL Films which has actually turned out more drama than the vast majority of NFL games. Then there are the Fantasy Football Leagues which have become almost like a drug in their addictiveness by making people have more than a passing interest in the game. Fantasy leagues get people personally invested in the game in ways that they never had been in previous years. Then there are the ways that the NFL has packaged for television. Why go to the game when you can get a better view at home? Football has also become closely matched with the entertainment industry with major musical acts and stars to open games and high tech shows that promote the game. It really is quite amazing and to that end you have to hand it to the NFL they are the best at packaging and marketing their product.
So the real difference that I see between football and baseball is how football has managed to create a fiction that it is a game of action and excitement when in fact it is a ponderous game punctuated with a few exciting plays as well as some gratuitous violence.
But then maybe that’s what we like, the violence, to be transfixed as we watch a player have his femur bent in half, or laying on the field unable to move because he has suffered a head, neck or even spinal cord injury. Maybe we just put it out of our minds that NFL players tend to die young and that many suffer from early onset dementia or that other former player can barely walk. Then there is the fact that football players who have devoted themselves to the sport since childhood only have on the average a 3.2 year NFL career. Many leave the game crippled and financially bankrupt within a few years of their “retirement.” To top it off it was only this year that the retired and disabled players that made the game what it now is were provided for in the collective bargaining agreement. But heck, football is big money and now that we call can have a piece of the action in the Fantasy leagues why do we care what happens to players after their careers are over?
So if a person wants to mock baseball as boring as compared to football they need to look at the facts and also maybe just ask themselves exactly why they think that football is so exciting. It certainly cannot be the pace of play, so maybe it is the violence. Maybe that says something about us as individuals and a nation. I wonder sometimes if the exponential rise of football as a form of entertainment can be correlated to the rise in violent crime and corporate greed. I haven’t seen any studies about this but it seems to me that as football has risen in popularity so has violent crime, the incivility of our politics and media and the excesses of Wall Street and Corporate America.
You see my beef is not with the players who sacrifice their bodies and health for years just to get to the NFL, men that actually work incredibly hard to reach that pinnacle. I have the highest admiration for them. I went to high school with Derek Kennard who played for the then Super Bowl Champion Dallas Cowboys. I was a trainer on the high school team that he played on after I figured out my sophomore year that I was neither big enough nor fast enough to make it in football and should have stayed with baseball. Many players are outstanding examples of leadership, determination and make their communities better, the players and especially those that have honed their skills to be the best I have nothing but the highest admiration and teams that perform at the highest levels year after year one can only admire.
No my issue is with the culture that has come to surround the game. It has almost become synonymous with the excess and violence that have come to characterize our American culture. It’s not that one cannot learn good things from football, teamwork, hard work and leaving everything you have on the field to come out victorious, one can learn a lot of virtues by playing football. However football is for most of us that are not playing or coaching the game is simply another form of violent entertainment where good men play out our fantasies on the battlefield called the gridiron, it has for some become a religion.
Now other sports can have a nearly religious following, after all I am a member of the Church of Baseball. But baseball is different, there is a sense that we always have next year that permeates the life of a fan. Maybe it is the ebb and flow of the 162 game season where even the best teams lose a third of their games that gives us a sense that life does not end when our team loses and the realization that the game is never over until it’s over.
Maybe it is the exaggerated level of importance and emotional investment that many people put into football that sets it apart from other sports. The legendary sports broadcaster Howard Cosell made a comment that I think hits the nail on the head.
“The importance that our society attaches to sport is incredible. After all, is football a game or a religion? The people of this country have allowed sports to get completely out of hand.”
Something to think about, don’t you think?