The NFL returns this weekend, as Miami and Dallas play tomorrow night's Hall of Fame Game to kick off the 2013 preseason slate. The league is in a strange place; it's the most popular thing on television, but the league is genuinely concerned that it's so much more fun to watch on TV that people will just stop buying tickets. On the flip side, you have baseball, which has posted its nine best seasons for ticket sales in the history of the game, all in a row, all while national TV viewing numbers for MLB have crashed down to near-NHL levels.


Look at last night's Twins game, for example; the Astros, baseball's worst team, are in town. The Twins had lost four in a row, playing a near-Triple-A lineup in several of the games. And, even with all that, more than 30,000 people went to Target Field last night, because going to baseball games is actually fun. It's fun for kids, it's fun for grandparents, it's fun for college kids and middle-aged drunks and sewing circles. "Fun for the whole family" generally means "fun for kids, plus any other members of the family who could also possibly be entertained by a moving ceiling fan," but baseball can genuinely lay claim to the actual cliche.

I'm not sure the NFL can say the same. It's generally the most expensive local option, and the in-stadium experience is generally only fun if you like drunkenness and swearing. To try to police the crowd, though, would be foolish; part of the NFL's appeal on television is that every game feels like a gladiatorial spectacle, and what gladiatorial spectacle would be complete without a baying mob in the stands?

Football has yet to see a real drop-off in attendance, and if there's any sport that can continue to increase TV viewing while keeping ticket-buying fans, it's the NFL. But as the league kicks off another year, I wonder - is this the year that the turnstiles begin to stop ticking?

*On with the links: 

*Chris Brown explains how the Vikings are using a half-century-old play to let Adrian Peterson dominate. (Bonus link: he also writes about how NFL teams will defend Colin Kaepernick and other practitioners of the read option.)

*Wright Thompson at ESPN writes what I suspect will become the defining portrait of Johnny Manziel's college years, of the quarterback who's both a superstar and still a kid.

*Can Diamond Dallas Page change the world, or at least save a couple of fellow pro wrestlers? Tom Ley of Deadspin heads to Georgia to find out.

*Ignore the final two paragraphs of this Economist article about football and head injuries, and it's as good of a defense of the game as you'll likely find.

*And finally: sometimes, in addition to everything else they do, dads have to step in and get slaughtered in a Legion baseball championship game, too.

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