The NFL Has Lost Its Mojo
The “NFL” is losing its mojo.
By Rob Hoffman on November 30, 2017 at 5:34 AM
If you’ve ever read my blog before, then you’ve probably ascertained that I’m not a big fan of the current administration that has presently set up shop in the White House. So you can imagine my consternation when I checked my phone recently and saw that the president was criticizing the National Football League, and I actually found myself not completely disagreeing with him. I would caution the Conservatives in the crowd that I’m not talking about his inane statements regarding that the players who are kneeling during the National Anthem should be flogged or thrown out of football, or whatever pabulum he was feeding to his base. Incredibly enough, it had something to do with the actual game of football as it is played in the NFL. The “Orange Menace” mentioned that the game isn’t as tough as it used to be. They say that even a broken clock is right twice a day. I guess if you tweet out enough incoherent thoughts, eventually you might stumble upon a kernel of wisdom. On the issue regarding the level of play in the NFL, Trump seemed to be on to something.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, I’ve also had to back away from my assertion that under no circumstance is college football superior to the brand of football played by the professionals. I have always maintained that regardless of the criteria one uses to measure football excellence and excitement, the college game places a distant second when compared to the product provided to America by the NFL. At least, that’s what I used to think. However, based on what I’ve observed so far this football season, I may have to give ground on this argument as well. The NCAA brand of football right now is more compelling, and more competitive than anything the NFL is offering, and I’m not sure this fact changes much going forward, at least for the immediate future.
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Say what you want, this is still the greatest moment in college football history. Woody Hayes punching Clemson’s Charlie Bauman in the Gator Bowl. “The Woodman” didn’t care for losing. (You Tube)
How did it come to this? When did our true national pastime collapse upon itself, literally imploding under its own gargantuan mass? How could I, a born and bred downstate New Yorker utter such blasphemy, stating in front of G_d and country that the college game was now proving to be a more exciting and interesting sporting endeavor for the average football fan than my beloved NFL?
Like most Long Island, New York City, Westchester County, Rockland County, and Northern New Jersey residents, I was raised with the understanding that it was self-evident, that the NFL was the best brand of football known to man, and the game was played at a significantly higher level than any Division I college football team could ever hope to achieve. In other words, the 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who started off their existence by losing the first 26 games, would still beat the 1953-57 Oklahoma Sooners, a team that won 47 straight games under legendary coach, Bud Wilkinson, every single time. I would offer up as further proof to a weary reader the fact that Wilkinson, who may have been the most successful coach in Division I college football history, lasted only two years as head coach of the St. Louis Cardinals in the late 1970s, sporting a less than stellar record of 9-20. Seems like the pro game was a little more challenging…eh Bud?
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Despite a heroic effort by fans of the New York Jets to drown out the memory of the two very challenging seasons that the Jets were coached by Rich Kotite by imbibing in a combination of booze and sleeping pills, Kotite’s combined record of 4-28 elicited countless jokes and one-liners by the “wise-guys” who made up the late-night talk show compendium, including the ones that stated the Jets couldn’t even beat a high school team. However, as pathetic as the Jets were, there wasn’t a college team in the nation that could have beaten them. Although, I’m not sure I would have bet my life savings on their quarterback Bubby Brister in a big spot. He threw an interception once on a “shovel pass.” (Getty Images)
When I was growing up in the 1970s, the college game was compelling to be sure, with great rivalries like Ohio St. vs. Michigan, Oklahoma vs. Nebraska, USC vs. Notre Dame, and of course, Alabama vs. Auburn. However, despite the great rivalries the game of college football itself was somewhat predictable. The offenses ran the ball literally on every play, and there were certain teams that barely even utilized the forward pass. However, the pro game not only featured legendary running backs such as O.J. Simpson, Walter Payton, and Franco Harris, it also had great quarterbacks as well as extremely talented wide receivers. However, these offenses had to battle tough and physical defenses. There were great rivalries in the NFL as well, and as such, the pro game easily surpassed the quality of the college version.
Sadly, that has all changed. College football still has most of its great rivalries, and now it seems that every team can pass the ball. There is an excitement that one feels when watching a college football game. This is due to the fact that the game is played by and in front of a naturally younger audience which brings about much more enthusiasm. Still, while one can argue that the level of play in the NCAA has improved, it’s not so much that the college game has gotten so much better than the pro game, as much as the fact that the pro game has grown a little stale.
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“Touchdown Jesus” looms above legendary Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. You won’t find “Touchdown Jesus” or any other comparable character in too many of the NFL mega-stadiums that are in use today. Other than Lambeau Field in Green Bay, there aren’t a lot of must-see stadiums in the NFL that match the history and character of Notre Dame Stadium which opened in 1930. (Getty Images)
There are always those who like nothing more than trashing the NFL, or any large organization that has achieved great fame and wealth. Overall, the NFL takes a backseat to nobody when it comes to its ability to dominate the sports and often national landscape. The Super Bowl is in and of itself the most celebrated non-holiday, “holiday” in the country. Even non-football fans put their lives on hold in order to participate in the celebration that is football.
The question however remains; If all of the above regarding professional football’s wealth and popularity is true, how could the game actually be in decline, both in quality and in its ability to draw fans? Well, I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I believe that I have diagnosed all that ails our most celebrated of sports.
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Would the legendary Vince Lombardi even recognize the game he once thoroughly dominated as coach of the Green Bay Packers? (Getty Images)
As a life-long fan of the NFL, I believe that I have identified a minimum of five significant issues that are plaguing professional football. As is often the case with someone like myself, I’m much better suited at finding flaws, than actually strategizing a solution for the problems that I have isolated, but hey, I can’t do everything. They’re not paying me you know.
Penalties – Yes, so many penalties. The game literally has no flow to it. Sometimes, there can be three to four plays in a row where penalties are called. I’m not necessarily blaming the referees. As the athletes have improved, and they are more impressive than ever, the game has gotten that much more difficult to control, and therefore, they are attempting to “police” a game where they can probably call a penalty on every play. However, they need to be more judicious in their use of the flag. Of course, perhaps the fact that the referees can throw a yellow flag for “holding” on every end sweep that is run says more about the decline in the quality of the play around the league, rather than a faulty job performed by the refs. By the way, lose the constant instant replays. They grind the game, a game that doesn’t seem to have enough flow to begin with, down to a halt. Give the coaches two challenges and that’s that. Half the time, the calls are still subjective, even when under review. By the way, football gained its fame without the use of replay, it hasn’t enhanced the game at all, and in fact may be starting to ruin it.
The Quarterbacks (They stink) – Where are all of the good quarterbacks? In a league where no position is even close to being as important as the spot occupied by the quarterback, there is a dearth of quality quarterbacks. Now that Peyton Manning has retired, you have three great quarterbacks, (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rogers) a handful of good ones, (Ben Rothelsberger, Russell Wilson, and Matt Ryan) a couple of young and upcoming stars, (Carson Wentz and Marcus Mariota) and a lot of mediocrity, plus a couple of guys named Brock Osweiler.
All We are Saying…is Give the Defense a Chance! – You literally can’t hit the offense too hard, or cover anybody. The rules protecting offensive receivers are so extreme, that some quarterbacks will use as an actual play, the idea of throwing to a covered receiver with the hope that the referees will most likely call either defensive holding or pass interference. As for sacking the quarterback, which remains the most effective means that a defense has of stopping an offense, you can’t hit the quarterback above the shoulders or below the knees. If you do, it’s a penalty. This means that there is almost no part of a quarterback’s body that is legitimate for a defensive player to hit. Ironically, the groin is fine.
Preventing CTE, worthy, but it does hurt the game. – I agree with the president that they have taken a lot of the harder hits out of the game, but unlike the president, I understand why they have removed much of the violence or so-called “head-hunting.” (I understand this because unlike the president, I’m not an insensitive lout!) The suffering that has been endured by so many former players due to repeated concussions during their careers could no longer be ignored, and worse, covered up by the NFL, so I understand why the league has tried to remove this aspect from the game. I agree with what they are doing, and I get it, however, it does take something away from professional football that made it so compelling.
The Dreaded New England Patriots – Call it the rantings of a frustrated Jets fan, or call it the ramblings of a Patriot hater, but having one team be so much better than everybody else is not good for the game. Yes I know that there have been dominant teams before, but they always had rivals that kept them in check. Behold the following:
1970s – Steelers, Dolphins, Raiders, Cowboys, Vikings
1980s – 49ers, Redskins, Giants, Bears
1990s – Bills, 49ers, Cowboys, Packers, Broncos, Steelers
The closest we have come over the past 15 years to replicating these great and competitive rivalries was when the Patriots battled the Colts and later the Broncos, and that was all due to the talents of Peyton Manning. The Patriots success has been largely unchecked, save for an incredible couple of upsets pulled off by the New York Giants, as they rained down disappointment upon New England, forcing Belichick and Brady to come up with more creative ways to find competitive edges against their competition. (In other words, different methods of cheating.)
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The “Sith Lord” in one of his lighter moments. His look of disappointment can only be explained away by the fact that his plans for after the game which included “puppy kicking” had to be called off. “Grrr, maybe next time!” (You Tube)
Obviously it’s not the Patriots’ fault that they don’t have a credible rival that would have given credence to their accomplishments. It’s up to the league to stop them, and for whatever reason, nobody has been able to put the hammer to them. The league can’t bring back the big hits that made football what it was without endangering the players’ lives, so that facet of the game is lost for the forseeable future. However, I believe an adjustment in the way the game is refereed, putting limits on the usage of instant replays, and loosening up some of the rules for the defense would add more flow as well as stiffer competition amongst the teams, and that would improve the product. However, there is of course one constant that I believe all of the adjustments in the world won’t change. My dreaded and cursed New York Jets will once against be on the outside looking in, when Super Bowl weekend comes around.