We are a mere 10 days from football cranking back up for another year.
The Chick-fil-A kickoff game on August 31 gets the college season underway. It's assumed there will be no gay men participating. What would our dear sponsor do?
The NFL kicks it off Sept 5: Cowboys v. Giants.
I did an informal survey of sports talk radio hosts from the following markets; Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Boston. My takeaway? Every one of the hosts in these cities believes their home team will make it to the Super Bowl. Hope springs eternal for fans and sports media alike.
Football is America's game. The ratings are the biggest, and the money – the money is massive; the league generated approximately 9 billion dollars last season, and that number is expected to continue its upward tilt.
I will be watching both college and NFL games, my hope (and no dollars) bet on The University of Iowa Hawkeyes and the Chicago Bears, with secondary nods to my locals, Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers.
I enjoy Saturday night prime time college games, with ABC's Brett Musberger greeting me with his signature line, “YOU ARE LOOKING LIVE AT (fill in stadium here)!” Sundays this season will once again be spent at Ben's house enjoying every NFL game simultaneously, thank you Direct TV. That said, my love for football has waned a bit in the past couple of years.
I have rekindled my adoration for baseball. I think I know why, and I'd offer up the following as argument as to why it's better sport.
1. They Got The Name Wrong. Ask every other country on Earth what football is – the ball is round.
2. Showoffs? Few to None. The great Barry Sanders, he the only good thing back in the day about the Detroit Lions, set the template for professional behavior on the field. He scored a touchdown, left 5 defensive players' jocks on the turf, and defied gravity no fewer than 3 times on his way to the house.
He walked to the official, handed him the ball, and jogged back to his bench.
There is nothing more annoying than the hotshot, show-off, narcissistic, me-me-me-me-me-me behavior of football players. They taunt and flaunt, they dance. They get off of a sacked quarterback and strike a ridiculous Neanderthal pose. They look like morons, and they are.
Baseball players strut their stuff occasionally, but it's muted. Baseball players honor the game first, themselves second.
3. In Baseball, It's Okay To Be Hurt. Baseball players have a disabled list; 7, 15 and 30 days. An injured baseball player is not ostracized by his teammates. The guy just ripped his Achilles; take a couple of weeks off and get better, his team says. A football players' mentality is regrettable – play at all costs, no matter the danger to the body in the long run. The average career in the NFL is 3.4 years. The stakes have been made so impossibly high that these men are forced to play with ripped muscles, marshmallow heads and broken bones. They have to be carted off on a stretcher to legitimize not trying to be on the field.
The average time “playing” an American Football game is 11 minutes. You'll note the actual game is about three hours. Those few minutes a week are so incredibly violent the injuries take only seconds to be inflicted.
A baseball career is about twice as long, even though there is about 15 minutes of actual playing time in an average nine inning game. These guys play more, and they play longer than their football counterparts – and it's believed baseball players' life expectancy is actually shorter than footballers, contrary to perception. Tough guys are allowed in baseball (Curt Shilling's bloody socks are a good reminder), but taking time to heal is not a scarlet letter in this sport.
4. Football Media Is (Sort of) Feminine. This sounds anti-woman; not my intent. Read on.
The hours of pre and post-game coverage are rife with idle gossip, speculation and drama. It's The View, with dudes. These reporters breathlessly give us details about the locker room vibe, the narcissistic tweets of the players calling each other out, and the relationships between teammates. It's so funny that grown men, jerseys on, nachos and beers at the ready, consume this chit-chat with such voracity, while ridiculing their wives and girlfriends love of all things Pinterest. Baseball media (the current Red Sox soap opera notwithstanding) is stats, pitchers and unwritten rules. Football media is General Hospital. Watch New York Jets media coverage and try to find reporting about athletics.
5. Football Has Too Many Rules. When a soccer ball rolls out-of-bounds, a player grabs it and tosses it back in from wherever. It's one of a million ways soccer is easier to play and watch. NFL referees measure first downs with an electron microscope, for chrissakes. There are probably 300 rules that could be thrown out immediately in the NFL that would speed up the game and simplify its play. Baseball is easier to understand and vastly easier to watch.
6. Baseball is Sport. Football is War. And do we love war. Our government loves to wage it, and we love to watch it. The militaristic theme music the networks use to the vernacular used to describe players is all lifted from the armed forces playbook. The “Field Generals” command their platoons downfield. That linebacker is a “warrior”. In baseball, a durable pitcher is a horse. I'm pro military and pro-troops, always. But I don't buy into the same imagery juxtaposed on a sport. It seems as if they're trying too hard.
7. Baseball has better fans. You can take your kids to a baseball game. Lots of people bring gloves. They have fun battling for foul balls, then high-five the guy who grabs it. They talk ball . They get along, for the most part. You can wear your Dodger jersey to a Giants game and not get cold-cocked. Regrettably, Brian Stowe was a sad exception.
I would not recommend taking a kid to an NFL game, if you are a good parent. I did have a pleasant experience at Lambeau Field years ago; I was wearing a Bears beanie. In the parking lot, I got booed soundly, then this same group of guys offered me a beer and a brat. We had a great time. I suspect those Wisconsinites are generally nicer than our brothers in Philadelphia.
Last season, the atmosphere at the Oakland Coliseum where I attended a Bears/Raiders game could be described in the following way: dangerous, ominous, and threatening. Some enormous woman, looking like an escapee from the local prison, threatened to kill my girlfriend's 10-year old daughter in the parking lot. I would never wear visitor's colors at a Raider game. It's dangerous to do it, unless you don't mind throwing hands at some point. Football tailgating at Candlestick Park used to be a family affair, back in the day when the Niners were routinely dominating. Now, not so much. There are roving bands of dudes, all wearing jerseys, many daring you to say something. You can get beaten at an NFL game. Baseball games and baseball fans are so much more chill.
I love the smell of freshly cut grass. I love batting practice and the comaradarie between the players. I like the rhythm and tempo of the game – perfect on the radio, glorious in HD. I like the pace of the proceedings, the beer and AT&T Park's legendary garlic fries. I love the National League brand of ball, with its strategy and chess moves. I love the anticipation of the next pitch. I love the little conversations the opposing players have on the field during the game. I love 2-1 final scores with otherworldly pitching and defense. I love my San Francisco Giants announcers – Krukow, Kuiper, Higueros, Miller, Fuentes and Flemming- the best in the business. I love that a baseball broadcast is a conversation with a round ball attempting to be smacked by a round stick in the process. I love that since 1900, a measly 17,000 people have stepped on the field to play at least one inning of major league baseball. Of the tens of billions of people on earth who have been born and died since, this microscopic number of men have been deemed good enough to step on the grass, to get the ball and to jump in the box.
Baseball was my first love, and while it is far from perfect (like real life), it is my love forever.
Now where did I put my old school Singletary jersey…?