Americans And The NFL

I had a stunning revelation last night.

It came to me while I watched the final five minutes of the terrific Rangers Senators game seven.  During the final 300 seconds of Ottawa’s season, the Senators gave one of the desperate, give-it-all-you-got type of efforts that leave fans proud, despite the loss and elimination from the playoffs. They largely controlled the puck, sending a frightening barrage of shots and tips at Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, all of which failed to net an equalizer.  The Rangers were in that desperation kill-the-clock mode, the type where fans start cheering every time the Rangers cleared the puck out of the zone.  Everyone in the building was standing. 

It was electric.  It was entertaining.  It was great television. 

While that was going on, I was doing what I always do during sporting events now: I was on Twitter.  I’ve made the case a 1,000 times already on this site, but if you’re not utilizing Twitter while simultaneously watching sporting events these days, your experience is suffering.  I would put it on par with the advent of HD television in terms of its importance towards watching sports at a premium level.  The knowledge, opinions, humor, and insight gleaned while following your feed during a game is unrivaled.  Back to the point though.

I don’t know if any of you heard, but the NFL draft happened last night too. It was during those last five minutes of Rangers Senators where I came to my epiphany.  We all agree that the NFL is the number one sport in this country.  That is without argument.  What I’m going to say next might shock you though, but it’s accurate.

The NFL offseason is America’s second favorite sport.

That might not make any sense.  Allow me to explain my reasoning.  The idea started when I realized that no one I follow on Twitter was watching hockey, save Grantland’s Katie Baker who covers the sport for the site.  Nearly 98% of the tweets that came in last night were in regard to the NFL draft, the rest being the few non-sports people I follow.  The NFL draft consumed American televisions last night.  Both ESPN and NFL Network covered it live. 

And it wasn’t just the number of people commenting, it was the volume with which they all contributed.  Consider that on a normal day my twitter feed produces about two or three tweets every minute.  Last night my feed exploded with about 20-30 tweets per minute, all in reference to that stupid draft.

This happened while one of the most entertaining games of the NHL playoffs was underway, which oh-by-the-way was being played in New York City, in Madison Square Garden.  Sadly though, the biggest sports gig in town wasn’t at MSG.  It was at Radio City Music Hall.

Barf.

America is now so consumed by the NFL that a discussion of Tim Tebow in the middle of the month of April trumps every other sports discussion in the country.  No matter that the NBA and NHL entered their stretch runs where teams start playing playoff-style games, let’s discuss how Tebow will make opposing special teams think twice on punt coverage! 

What? 

Deadspin recently began a great running series titled “Bristolmetrics” in which they track the number of mentions SportsCenter allots to certain sports during a given month as compared to useless NFL topics.  It’s staggering how little they discuss hockey while devoting frightening amounts of time to whether a certain player’s Wonderlic score will hurt his draft stock.

It doesn’t help that ESPN is now in bed with the NFL and both organizations seem intent on squeezing every single penny out of the business relationship.  That business success is detrimental to less popular games like hockey and soccer, both of which the World Wide Leader failed to secure television rights for in the past year.

ESPN became such a powerful entity that they can now influence the popularity of a certain sport in America, just by how much time they devote to covering it.  Do you remember how soccer picked up steam in the last five years or so, seemingly coming from no where to a sport with semi-relevance?  All Bristol.  The epitome of this was the last men’s World Cup which ESPN absolutely crushed thanks their tremendous coverage of the event. 

And just like that all the momentum of that sport will be gone, lost because Fox Sports decided to break the bank for the TV rights.  Wave farewell to Americans caring about soccer just like they did about hockey when ESPN dropped their rights following the infamous lockout.  In the coming years, ESPN will intentionally choose to not cover it on SportsCenter, all because it’s not in their business interest to do so.  And that’s a damn shame.  It was so evident this morning as Mike & Mike mentioned hockey for a brief five seconds, solely to give you the box scores, before devoting the rest of the morning to an NFL draft breakdown.  Ugh.

I’m writing this column as a plea to sports fans everywhere.  Stop caring about the NFL so much.  You are not a better football fan for knowing a potential draftee’s 40-yard dash time down to the hundredth of a second.  You are not learning anything about a potential player’s impact on your team next year by googling and caring about his Wonderlic score.  There is almost nothing to be gained about knowing who your team selected.  You don’t know how his personality will fit in a locker room full of guys you’ve never met.  You don’t know if some unknown positions coach you’ve never heard of will have a profound impact on a player’s development. 

There are way too many variables to account for in this process and I guarantee you that you’re not going to be the one to crack the code on finding success in the NFL draft.  Consider that Mel Kiper once told America that JaMarcus Russell was going to be the next John Elway.  This is a man who made his living the last 29 years scouting and evaluating talent and even he could not tell you that the number one pick in an NFL draft was instead going to be one of the five worst quarterbacks in NFL history.  Stop reading mock drafts too!

In the past two weeks you likely missed out on the following series, all of which were infinitely better than the ridiculous NFL debates between Skip “raycess” Bayless and Screaming A. Smith on ESPN: the brutal Penguins/Flyers series featuring at least fifteen fights, the Coyotes/Blackhawks series where all but one game went to overtime, and the Capitals/Bruins series where every game was decided by a single goal.   You also probably missed the end of an era in soccer with Barcelona finally losing to Real Madrid and then shockingly losing out in the semi-finals of the Champions League.  There is a player on Barca named Leo Messi whose only comparison in terms of greatness and dominance is Michael Jordan…and you’ve probably never watched him play a single game.

So I beg you, please please please please please please stop caring about the NFL so much.  It’s highly likely the fate of the NBA for the next five years is about to be decided in the upcoming playoffs and I fear that you’re going to miss out on it all.  Take some time this week and watch your first hockey game since the late 90s.  Go to a baseball game.  Want to get really crazy?  Watch the UEFA Champion’s League final (soccer) on May 19th and see just how supremely awesome that sports really is.  Expand your sporting horizons god dammit!

Thank me later.

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