. . .and what’s wrong with American football.
I’m amazed at how much I’m enjoying the World Cup matches and the amount of time I’m devoting to watching them. The excitement continues even when I’m in the car as I can listen to them on ESPN radio.
It happens every four years for me. I start getting excited about soccer. The big event was in 1994 when the World Cup was held in the U.S. and some of the games were here in Orlando. However, after the World Cup’s over my interest fades. I would imagine this is because there are no particular teams here in the MLS or Europe that I follow. Maybe that wont happen this year. I hope not because I’m getting tired of watching the ‘roided-up, muscle-bound oafs that are the NFL.
In 2015, Orlando will have an MLS team. Maybe I will follow them. Now they have a minor league team called the Lions, but in 2015, they will be officially known as the Orlando City Lions. Go figure. I guess throwing in the word “City” is a reference to Manchester City, as opposed to Manchester United.
My son played in high school and in college, and because of his involvement I developed some appreciation for the game. He still plays twice a week out in California on a half-sized pitch, and he coaches his son’s team. Now, many of the game’s subtleties still escape me for sure, but every World Cup match I watch I pick up more and more on the strategy. This didn’t happen when Jeremy was in high school as I was sitting in the stands on my own—no knowledgable commentator in my ear.
Like many Americans, one of my frustrations with soccer was that there wasn’t enough scoring. The average NCAA or NFL game probably has two to three times more scoring plays than World Cup level soccer. But now I’m finding I can sit thru a scoreless tie and still be thoroughly entertained. I guess I’ve turned the corner.
Along with a growing interest in soccer is a fading interest in American college and NFL football. I’ve always been a huge NCAA college football fan. I’ve followed it closely enough that I probably could have made a few bucks betting on it had I chosen to go that route. Many years ago I was part of a weekly pool that made me a few dollars.
But anymore my thoughts on what constitutes good college football goes back to the game in the 1960s and 70s. I’m officially an old fart and I want to say things like, “Sonny, I remember when. . .” Anyway, about twenty years ago something changed in college football that didn’t set well with me. They did away with the tie and came up with a very artificial tie-breaker system. It all had to do with our American obsession with winning. Our obsession about with being Number One, numero uno, feeling unparalleled hubris is part of the American sickness. Some NCAA coaches and fans couldn’t handle the ambiguity of a tie. Nobody bothered to ask the players or fans. I always thought there was something satisfying about a tie and one of the great college games ever, Notre Dame and Michigan State in 1966 ended in a 10-10 tie. Number one versus number two and they were as equal as equal could be.
I was listening to Mike Bianchi and the Shot Doctor on sports talk radio today and Bianchi brought up some interesting trends. College age kids are NOT going to their own college’s games anymore. This is because the 20-somethings, the Millennials, are a generation raised on video games and electronic media. They don’t like to be stuck in a stadium without wifi for 4 hours away from their Gameboys and laptops. The two hours of a soccer match works much better for them than the three to four hours of American football. They are also a generation raised on youth soccer. The participation in youth soccer in the U.S. now far exceeds Little league baseball and Pop Warner football. The Millennials don’t care about the NFL anymore.
One currently sad spectacle is ex-NFL players in the media now complaining about their brain damage and prematurely arthritic and worn out bodies. But their stories highlight the fact that American football has just gradually become too arduous and violent. Every decade the players have gotten bigger, faster and more muscular and the damage the collisions cause is just simple physics. Some ex-NFL players have a huge law suit going against the league. Frankly, I hope they win and permanently alter an out-of-control game. Though I sat on the bench for a year as a 10th-grader I’m glad my son didn’t choose to play high school football.
SOME THOUGHT ON IMPROVING AMERICAN FOOTBALL:
(1) Speed up the game. Keep the clock running. There are far too many time-outs and breaks in action. Extend the length of the quarters to say 20-min but don’t allow timeouts—keep the ball moving and the action going. The college and NFL game has just gotten too slow.
(2) Do away with unlimited substitution. Allow only three players to be substituted with each change of possession. This would cause the players to get smaller as there would be a huge emphasis on stamina and conditioning. Smaller players would likely mean fewer injuries. The 6-3 to 6-5, 325 pound guys that are now typical NFL linemen couldn’t hack the stress of playing both offense and defense. Back in the 1950s and 60s there was no unlimited substitution and many players had to play both ways. Then, a relatively “normal” sized man of say 6-1, 220-lbs could play guard, tackle or linebacker in college or the NFL. In those days 300-pounders were a real rarity.
(3) Allow ties again. Only have an extra period to break a tie when it’s absolutely essential to declare a winner—such as in a play-off game. Ties are a philosophical acknowledgment that often life has no clear winners or losers, and that maybe saying, “Good game” to an opponent is better than screaming “We’re number one.”