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The Myth of Excitement in the NFL: It’s Really about Violence and Meetings not Action

“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?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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GIANTS WIN IT ALL! BRING TITLE TO SAN FRANCISCO END 56 YEAR SERIES DROUGHT

The Drought is Over Giants Win! (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

It was something that no one predicted at the beginning of the season, a Cinderella story of a team of journeymen unknowns, cast offs, rookies and a phenomenal staff of young pitchers overcame obstacle after obstacle to win the team’s first World Series title since 1954.  Back then it was the “Say Hey Kid” Willie Mays who electrified the nation with his back to the ball catch in deep center at the Polo Grounds while in 2010 it was a collection of misfits who bonded as no team ever has to win the World Series when no-one said they would even win their division.

Aubrey Huff in the Arms of Buster Posey (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

This team whose theme song was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” didn’t stop believing and did what no Giants team stocked with All-Stars and Hall of Famers had not done since they were the New York Giants playing at the Polo Grounds. The franchise that had known sudden defeat in a 1-0 bottom of the 9th inning loss in the 1962 World Series to the New York Yankees finally won.  The franchise that had endured the tragic Earthquake Series of 1989 when they were swept by the A’s overcame all to win in 2010. Likewise the franchise that when just 6 outs from the victory in game six with the Champagne chilling on the clubhouse lost to the Angels had finally overcame decades of despair to win a World Series that most experts said that they would never win.

Tim “the Freak” Lincecum and his wild hair were a trademark of the Giants

Throughout the year the Giants were accorded no respect.  At the beginning of the season the Giants were picked by most to place no better than 4th in the National League West.  They won the West on the last day of the regular season and then went on to beat the Braves in 4 games in the NLDS winning game 4 in Atlanta holding the Braves to just 7 earned runs and a .175 batting average.  They played and defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS in a series that no baseball writers that I saw, heard or read predicted them to win against the highly favored Phillies…well no one but me and ESPN 94.1 Norfolk’s Tony Mercurio.  The Giants held the mighty Phillies to just 18 earned runs in 6 games and to a .224 batting average. Asked on the Giants chances in 2011 closer Brian Wilson said “I like our chances, we were picked fourth in spring training. We should at least move up to third next spring. You’d think.”

Brian Wilson looks to the Heavens after striking out Nelson Cruz to end the World Series (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Giants pitchers allowed just 37 earned runs in 135 innings for a 2.47 post season ERA holding the Braves, Phillies and Rangers to 94 hits in 480 at bats and a playoff opposing batting average of .196.  Any way that you stack it, the Giants pitcher’s dominated two of the most prolific hitting teams in baseball as well as a good hitting Braves team allowing only 9 home runs.

“The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers.” Earl Weaver

Edgar Renteria gets his game winning home run off of Cliff Lee in the top of the 7th inning (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The story of the 2010 Giants is a story for the ages, a team composed of cast offs, second chance journeymen, veterans with their best years behind them and rookies who played like seasoned veterans overcame every obstacle and proved to the multitude of naysayers that they could win in a convincing manner.  Rookies including Catcher Buster Posey and pitcher Madison Bumgarner who both played the first months of the season at Triple-A Fresno played key roles in the last half of the season and the post season with Bumgarner’s win in game 4 being something that had everybody talking. Edgar Renteria in his second year of a 2 year contract that all expected to be his last year playing ball was the MVP.  He overcame a torn bicep and a lack of playing time to hit 2 home runs including the winning hit tonight after only hitting 3 in the regular season spending 4 months on the bench.  In the World Series he hit .412 with 6 RBI. To make it even more of a story Renteria called his shot in game 5 to Andres Torres and he had the game winning hit in the 1998 World Series for the Florida Marlins against the Cleveland Indians.

Cody Ross was picked up off waivers at the last possible moment after being released from the Florida Marlins had 5 post-season home runs and many key hits and at bats.  Aubrey Huff a free agent that no one seemed to want became the team’s home run leader and hit a massive home run in game four on Sunday night and a great sacrifice bunt that led up to Renteria’s home run.  Freddy Sanchez when not hitting with the bat made defensive play after defensive play. Andres Torres hit at a torrid pace, Juan Uribe with key home runs in the NLCS and World Series while numerous other Giants had key hits, defensive plays or pitching performances.

Tim Lincecum holds the World Series Trophy (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Giants featuring the arms of 4 home grown pitchers outpitched the Rangers shutting down the most potent offense in the Major Leagues like they were a luckless Triple-A team belonging to a dismal major league franchise.  Tim Lincecum defeated Cliff Lee twice and in game 5 pitched 8 innings allowing one run and on three hits while striking out ten.  Matt Cain blew through the Rangers to shut them out in game two and finished the post-season allowing no earned runs. When Jonathan Sanchez struggled the bullpen came in and shut the Rangers down as they had the Phillies and who could believe the poise of Madison Bumgarner.  The Giants’ closer Brian Wilson was locked on and the Rangers definitely had reason to “fear the beard.”

This was an everyman’s team that embodied real America, guys getting second chances, men who worked for years unnoticed before landing with the Giants and young men that played with strength and maturity throughout the season.  There was something special about this team that transcended the parts and turned them into World Series Champions, they believed in themselves and their team took care of each other and didn’t listen to the naysayers.  Bruce Bochy the Giants’ manager managed them like a great General took charge and put players on the field each night that he knew would give the team the best chance to win. He moved players around for defense in the late innings when he got a lead, trusting in the arms of his pitching staff to shut down the vaunted Rangers’ offense which many experts said would overcome the Giants pitching staff.

“The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.” Earl Weaver

Well they were wrong. Just as the Giants had throughout the playoffs the Giants’ pitching staff dominated their opponent.  The Rangers who had a .276 team batting average in the regular season and hit .304 against the Yankees in the ALCS had just 29 hits in 153 at bats for a .190 batting average against the Giants scoring just 12 runs in 5 games and were shut out twice. In the final 18 innings the Rangers managed just one run against a Giants pitching staff that finished the series with a 2.38 ERA.

By contrast the Rangers’ staff could not stem the tide in games that were blowouts and games that were close with the exception of Colby Lewis in game 3 who held the Giants to 2 runs.  The Giants scored 29 runs 28 of which were earned on 42 hits in 169 at bats for a .249 team average while the Rangers’ had a 5.86 team ERA.  Cliff Lee who had never been beaten in the playoffs and had two World Series wins against the Yankees in 2009 allowed 9 earned runs on 14 hits in 11.2 innings work for a 6.94 series ERA.  His opposite Tim Lincecum allowed 4 earned runs on 8 hits in 13.2 innings for a 2.72 series ERA.

This team was amazing and was supported by the Giants greats from the past including Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Jack Clark, John Montafusco, J. T. Snow and many more including Barry Bonds. I’m sure that the spirits of men like Bobby Bonds, Rob Beck  and Bobby Thompson were cheering them on as Judy’s cousin Bill who died during game one and my father Carl who died in June were.  The outpouring of support and emotion by these great who had never experienced a World Series victory in San Francisco was amazing.  Likewise the fans who came to endure a season of what has been named “torture ball” finally found that it paid off.

The Last Time 1954 Willie Mays makes “The Catch”

After 53 years of suffering in San Francisco the drought ended, the decades spend in the icy and unforgiving confines of Candlestick Park, the ravages of an earthquake and disappointment that left fans saying “maybe next year” was over.  The Giants led by cast offs, rookies and home grown pitchers featuring characters who sported “luck thongs” in the clubhouse, wild hair and beards that made them look like they might have a few screws loose had overcome the curse, whatever curse it might be and brought the World Series trophy home to the most beautiful city in America, San Francisco. Willie Mays commented after the game that “Oh, man, I don’t get overly excited about baseball, but looking at these kids and how excited they were, I had some tears in my eyes, because you never know, this might be the last time something like this happens to some of these kids. It’s a wonderful feeling for me, and I’m sure it’s a wonderful feeling for these kids and their families.” Mays knows that from experience, there is a sense of grateful appreciation in his manner that rings true, for none of us ever knows what tomorrow brings.

“I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” – Walt Whitman

I think that there is a lesson for us in our country today, that if you believe and pull together you can win even when everyone predicts your demise.  Maybe Americans can look at this team and take this lesson that you don’t have to spend excessively to be successful, that success does not have to be bought and that friendship and teamwork matter more than having a bunch of elite super-stars who can’t get the job done in the clutch.  Maybe that’s the lesson that we need to learn again.  The lesson so eloquently put by James Earl Jones as Terrance Mann in Field of Dreams “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

The Giants took home the World Series as I predicted with their pitching, defense and clutch hitting being the difference. Congratulations Giants.  I guess that I will have to hang a 2010 San Francisco Giants pennant next to my 1989 Giants NL West Pennant in my kitchen. Like many fans I have spend my entire life waiting for this to happen enduring the cold of Candlestick where I saw Ed Halicki no-hit the Mets in 1975, took in the beauty of AT&T Park, watched Barry Bonds tie and break the Home Run record while deployed to Iraq but nothing compares to this. It was worth the wait. Go Giants!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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