My Thursday was highlighted by the 7th grade's first football game of the season. The faces were eager, ranging from complete fear of the unknown, to anticipation of full contact with an opponent. Most start tentative, until the team gives out that first stick of another which seems to raise the desire for getting a chance to contribute. Hopefully, by the time those first year players are ready to play, the score has not been already decided. In the case of my Rockford team, we surrendered a first play sixty yard touchdown run. From there we shutdown our bigger and more established foe. Unfortunately at this level, defense seems to find its' way before offense, and we never got untracked, losing 16-0 in a hard fought battle.
Fridays are high school football night. Fans are families which typically have a son on the team, or student bodies which show up in numbers to support their friends and peers. Bigger schools like Totino Grace, Wayzata, Minnetonka and the like have stands full for games that can create quite an atmosphere. Growing up I recall high school football games as the beginning of Friday night fun. It is these games that there is the most at stake for players, in my opinion. Players are involved simply for the enjoyment of football and school spirit. When you win the weekend is enjoyed, losses and the weekends are spent sulking.
Saturdays are college football days. Those alumni and football fanatics will go to large stadiums to see powerful programs, or in the case of smaller colleges, create a campus party that lasts before and after games. I enjoyed my time at Hamline University games (years ago) more than I have as an alumni of the University of Minnesota. I recall sneaking in mini-kegs, chanting with nearby sorority sisters, or simply screaming for two and a half hours. It was a blast. Unfortunately, I now find myself unable to even watch my alma mater, as they cannot seem to find a coach or recruits that makes then superior to schools like South Dakota. Major programs hoard television time, like Notre Dame, to the point that I seem to enjoy watching those games solely on the hope that a big school falls. For whatever reason, I grew up in the 1970s cheering for Alabama and coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. I liked the simple uniforms, I guess.
Sundays are for NFL football. By this time I have invested a large amount of my time to football over the weekend. While I tend not to watch too much college these days, I am dedicated to my team of forty years: the Minnesota Vikings. On top of the must watch status of the home team, I also enjoy watching the Green Bay Packers play, on the hope that someone will beat them. Of all the football I take part in, there is no greater rivalry for me than the North Division of professional football. I was addicted to this rivalry from 1970 to today. It has grown in its' intensity. Losing to the Packers I would equate with passing a kidney stone.
Football is a busy time. Even at high school where I should be focused on education, I find connections with students and staff involving all four levels of football. In addition, at Rockford there is a new tradition where staff wear their alma mater sweatshirts on the last Friday of the month. The English teacher I talked to everyday suddenly becomes a hated rival as she dons her Wisconsin colors. And don't get me started on those from Iowa. Or Michigan.
Yes there is a lot of football in my life. But I am not alone. From Thursdays to Sundays (and other days for JV and C squads) I live and breathe the game. Knowing what I do about the active brain and the success of the student athlete, I would not want it any other way. Even if my own child suddenly liked Green Bay.
It was in college where I first understood the expanding universe theory. Someone in high school probably tried to teach it to me, but I could only focus on cheerleaders and such. Might have missed that unit. It is a concept that developed into the Big Bang Theory. A whole lot of theories combined to explain why Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, Alexander Friedmann and friends had work.
In 1961 the NFL expanded. They added teams as well as an increase in the scheduled games. Before that it is mostly loose theory. Some years in the 1920s and 1930 saw an uneven schedule, teams found their own games, or teams disbanded in the middle of the season. League size varied throughout the first years of the NFL.
In 1947 the NFL seemed to find uniformity in a twelve game schedule. It stayed that way until 1961. Bert Bell (1946-1959) was the commissioner who set the wheels in motion. But Pete Rozelle (1960-1989) is credited with most of the expansion of today. In 1961, Rozelle and owners increased the league's schedule to fourteen games. Seventeen years later he again increased the schedule to sixteen games.
Football statistic purists were up in arms. The expanding schedule trivialized feats of early football. 1,000 yard rushers, once a comet-like appearance, were now as frequent as stars. The 2,000 yard mark was passed. 3,000 yard passers became every day. Then 4,000. But most did not complain. The expanding season combined with television meant more to enjoy. Who would not want that?
The NFL owners and Roger Goodell just announced that the 2011-12 season will be 18 games. This coming on the doorstep of rumors of a potential player hold-out or strike in the upcoming renewing of the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement).
The right time to expand the schedule? Maybe.
There are two theories regarding the future of the expanding universe. One, it cannot continue and eventually collapses on itself. Two, it never ends, but at least slows down.
Households and their inhabitants across America are either rejoicing (me) or cursing (my wife) at this news of expansion. I try and explain to her that it is not a longer season (really), just a shorter pre-season. She just sees more wasted time staring at a television. I am sure season ticket holders see another regular season game, but also a likely increase in their expense. Players see potential for injury increased, as well as a general wearing down toward a shorter career. Owners see profits increasing.
I think I see the future of the NFL expansion eventually slowing down but never ending. It will eventually include other countries and then continents. My wife may be hoping for an eventual collapse.
Joe Montana was phenomenal. He won four Super Bowls (XVI,XIX,XXIII,XXIV) and is considered among the greatest quarterbacks to have ever played the game. Others on the elite list include: Dan Marino, John Elway, Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw. Most of these QBs played their entire careers with one team, Unitas' brief stint in San Diego notwithstanding. Favre and Montana are different in that they led new teams to the Conference Championship games in the twilight of their careers.
Montana joined the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993, along with Marcus Allen. They were hyped in the media and instantly produced. In 1993 Montana led the Chiefs to a 13-3 record and the AFC Championship, which they lost to the Buffalo Bills. But Montana came back for a second year. In 1994 he played in fourteen games as a thirty-eight year old. He faced his old team the 49ers with their reason to let him go: Steve Young. Montana beat his old team and Young in an NFL Classic. He got them back to the playoffs where his final game turned out to be a 27-17 loss to Miami and Dan Marino, despite 314 yards and two tds and an early lead. He retired before the 1995 season.
Brett Favre is back for his second stint with the Vikings. In his first year the Vikings finished the two seed and he took Minnesota back to the NFC Championship, where they lost an OT affair, despite 310 yards and a td. Now he will play his last season for Minnesota in 2010. He will face his former team at least twice, and the reason they could let him go: Aaron Rodgers. Last year Favre tore up his former team and swept them in the home-home series. How will he fare in his final year?
Joe Montana, the four-time Super Bowl winner is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever don a uniform. So too is Brett Favre. If this is Favre's final finale, can he bring Minnesota back to the playoffs again? Will he go farther than Montana did in his last season? Can he add a 2nd Super Bowl win to his resume?
One thing is certain. His contests with Rodgers and Green Bay will be fun to watch.
Thanksgiving is a national day where families get together and enjoy each others company, thankful for another year together. Since I was a young child, the NFL has been a part of that celebration. From my earliest memories, the Lions and Cowboys have filled the hours between meals on the most relaxed of holidays.
Christmas is a different type of holiday/celebration. Its' roots are grounded in Christianity. Families get together like Thanksgiving, but there is an exchanging of gifts and attendance of church (for many homes). The business world shuts down for a 'winter break, schools, universities, federal, state, local, everything. The NFL, however, will go on. If Christmas falls on a Sunday, then the NFL will be there.
This year Christmas Day fell on a Friday.
"You're a monster, Mr. Goodell. Your heart's an empty hole."
Since becoming commissioner in 2006, Roger Goodell has been known mostly for his handing out of punishments to the like of PacMan Jones, Chris Henry (RIP), Michael Vick, and Donte Stallworth. Now, he may be remembered as the Commissioner who makes the NFL an everyday event. As of now, only Tuesday and Wednesday have been left untainted. In 2009, he has brought the NFL to Friday night and Christmas. Fans are now asked to choose between family and football. Sure. some enlightened homes have miraculously blended sports events with family gatherings, but for others it is a conflict.
'Your brain is full of spiders. You've got garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch."
The 50 year old commissioner is in charge of the NFL's welfare. Did you know he was married to a FOX news anchor? His brother a part of NBC. Can you say conflict of interest? Now he brings the NFL into the homes on a day that should not have football. Sure I love the idea of watching the game with my family, but do they love the idea as much as I do? As a fan/consumer who fuels this entertainment industry, do I ever have a say in how much is enough? I do. I am in complete control.
If it wasn't for the fact that the Titans' Chris Johnson was playing against me in a fantasy football match-up, I would turn the set off and chat with my in-laws. But in their insidious wisdom, they have found the way to hook me into games that would otherwise mean nothing.
"You're a foul one, Mr. Goodell. You're a nasty wasty skunk."
Oh, I will watch. I love football. But is nothing sacred? You are wasty, Roger.
I love football. I grew up on it. I have watched the NFL since 1970, from Howard Cosell and Dandy Don, John Madden and Thanksgiving, through the life of ESPN's Chris Bierman. I remember when Monday Night was added, the uproar in households at the thought of taking another evening from wifes and children.
When the league decided to additional Thursday games it hurt my significant others. Now, with six Thursday games Weeks 10-15, there is turmoil. Throw in a Saturday game Week 15, and a Friday game Week 16, and we have the makings of a revolt. Tuesday and Wednesday are the only sacred days left in the football fan's family dwelling. As David Gray would croon, "How'd it ever come this far?"
And it is not as if these games are Colts-Patriots matchups, fun for the whole family. No, games included in the week takeover are: Miami at Carolina; Thanksgiving classics like Oakland at Dallas, or Green Bay at Detroit; New York Jets at Buffalo; San Diego at Tennessee. Not exactly material for prime time.
My wife complains. She is hating on the NFL. She will put her "Husband for Sale" shirt on during game days, refuses to make snacks like she did in the 90s. When I argue that my football viewing combined is equal to her ghost shows, Mad Men, and Dancing with the Stars, she cannot see the light. The ten hours on Sunday, the three on Monday, and the additional three on Thursday, add up to far too many, no matter how often those guys do not find the ghosts. Or smoke in the delivery rooms.
Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule. She will watch the Vikings vs. Packers. She will even whip up a salsa or chili. But there are no tacos for Dolphins vs. Panthers. No appetizers for Chargers vs. Titans. I am on my own. And if the league ever invades Wednesdays, I may actually be for sale.
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