There’s nothing like a little Dickens to start off a sports column, and that opening line to A Tale of Two Cities speaks perfectly right now of the NFL.
For those who have been enamored with the NFL this season – ending with a Saints’ 31-17 Super Bowl win on Sunday – it really has been the best of times. OK, maybe not for fans in Cleveland, Oakland and Jacksonville, but I would bet that most fans of the gridiron would say that the NFL has reached its peak.
Never in my 30 years of memory can I remember a season where any team could beat any other given team on any given day. A matchup of the dreadful Raiders against Tom Brady and the Patriots? Hell, I’ll watch it. There’s a chance that Oakland could win these days. The way the NFL has been set up and operated for the past 10-plus years has made for some great football with some of the world’s best athletes.
The Arizona Cardinals have been good for two or three years. Who knew? Where else do you get the drama of an old man like Brett Favre, who was not only able to come out of retirement (six times) but compete for an NFC Championship? Rookie head coaches are going to the Super Bowl.
Speaking of the Super Bowl, did I mention that the New Orleans Saints are world champions? Really, hell has frozen over with that one. While I was secretly going for Peyton Manning and the Colts last weekend, I had no problem watching the Saints celebrate their first Super Bowl victory in their long-standing history with the NFL. The country, as a whole, smiled when the Saints pulled that one off. New Orleans is certainly a city that deserves a world championship and the Saints organization has paid its own dues to finally win one.
Last weekend’s Super Bowl was everything America loves about football. Two high-powered offenses going head to head. Gutsy coaching decisions like the Saints onside kick and fourth down conversions. Great touchdown catches. It was even a bit of a running game. It was a close, competitive game marked by excitement. This wasn’t a late 80s-era Super Bowl, where the score was 46-10, 39-20 or 52-17.
This championship game had it all and that’s probably why 114.1 million viewers tuned in, beating the 1983 record for the most-watched TV program in history – the final episode of M.A.S.H., which was seen by 106 million people.
The NFL’s popularity isn’t just Super Bowl statistics, either. The 2009/2010 NFL season was the most-watched regular season since 1990, with the conference title games drawing the most viewers since 1982.
Yes, it’s the best of times for American football fans, but not for long. Unfortunately, the country – in this shitty recession, depression, whatever they are calling it – may soon have to face the NFL’s worst of times.
Unless team owners and the NFL Players Association can come up with a new contract by March 1 (yes, only a couple weeks away), the NFL will go the way of professional baseball in 2010, with no salary cap – the first uncapped season since 1993. While there will be some restrictions in place if it comes to that, the recent dynamic of even matchups across the NFL will certainly be in jeopardy. Just what team will become the New York Yankees of the NFL?
While an uncapped season seems pretty imminent at this point (owners are saying they are losing boatloads of money while players believe their owners are making boatloads of money), the real date of reckoning will be March 1, 2011, when the possibility of a player lockout will become a reality if a deal isn’t reached. And while that possible nightmare is a year away, it seems a lockout will probably happen. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith have no working history together and, frankly, Smith seems to be ignorant in his business ways.
So here we are talking about a player lockout in 2011 if a deal isn’t reached. Did we not learn anything from the NBA and the NHL during their lockout woes? The NHL almost went the way of the Dodo and didn’t come back. I still believe NHL team owners are still struggling to regain the public’s trust.
An NFL lockout during this harsh economic time would be tragic not only for football fans but for the NFL itself. We live in a time where we like to hold grudges. Take one look at our political scene – we are as divided as ever with ideologies. A lockout in 2011 would only divide the NFL from its audience and it would be an action that the American public won’t soon forget.
Is the NFL too big to fail after a lockout? In this day and age, I am not so sure. If the NFL and its players want to keep their momentum as being America’s greatest sport, they need to find an agreement, hopefully in the next week and a half or so, or the NFL may, too, go the way of the Dodo.
Americans are simply in no mood to watch players and owners fight over millions while they go door to door in search of anybody that will hire.