Goodbye To All That
23 Posted on January 14th, 2014 by Himself
In which we bid a fond adieu to that wretched hive of scum and villainy, the National Football League. Not even the Saints are worth the price of putting up with these assholes.
What can you say about a 93-year-old sports league that died? That it was exciting, compelling, riveting? That I loved it from childhood? That it was killed by greedy, mendacious slugs pretending to be dedicated stewards?
This is my last post here, because I’m done with the NFL. So let’s get one thing straight from the beginning: this is not a response to the Saints’ loss at Seattle. Actually, I had been planning something like this for quite a long time, to be posted after the last game of the season—whatever that game was, however it ended. I had hoped it might end with Payton hoisting a Lombardi, and I had fantasized about him hoisting it up Roger Goodell’s cloaca; but it was not to be. I’m okay with that. No sour grapes here: I’m not mad at the Saints, or at the Seahawks (well, yeah, I am mad at them, but over a different issue…more on that later), or even, Lord bless them, at the Falcons. This is all about the damnable behavior of the so-called men behind the current NFL.
There is almost no issue I can think of concerning football on which the NFL hasn’t come down on the wrong side. About all there is, frankly, is the new attitude toward concussions. You get traumatically enstupidated, you sit. Period. You don’t go back in unless you can prove you’re over it, even if that takes weeks, even if it never happens. The NFL has stated that it considers itself the stewards of a tradition, and that what happens at the NFL level trickles down through every other level of football, all the way to the peewee leagues at the very bottom.
Of course, it’s just window-dressing; but they’re right. They are stewards of a tradition, and what they do does matter. And what they do, mostly, is lie, cheat, and steal. And they don’t seem to care too much whether or not this trickles down, because goddamn does it pay well.
The NFL Lies
The NFL, under Roger Goodell, has become a mirror of politics in America, in which either side is willing to tell the most shockingly obvious untruths in order to advance their agendas.
You want examples? First and foremost, there is Bountygate, which was a pack of lies from the very beginning and only got worse as it snowballed. It’s been extensively analyzed, here and elsewhere, so I won’t bother reiterating the whole sordid mess. If you don’t know by now, it’s either because you don’t care or you’re stupid. If you didn’t care before, read Reid’s book to find out why you should.
But Bountygate is simply the most monumental example of the League’s propensity toward over-the-top propaganda. How about…oh, the high-decibel fan demand for more football? Goodell has been trying for years to advance the idea that the NFL season should be expanded, to 18 games, based on fan demand.
“I appreciate the enthusiasm for it and I hear it from the fans consistently…People want more football. I think they want less preseason and more regular season and that’s the concept we are talking about here.” [Source]
But the only thing fans have had to say on the matter relates to preseason games, and only the season ticket holders care. The problem, from the fans’ point of view, is that the NFL teams require season ticket holders to buy two extra tickets—at full price—for exhibition games they’re not interested in. Ditch that requirement and everyone’s good.
But that’s crazy talk. That could mean depressed NFL revenues, and that’s been illegal since the Cambrian.
Actually, the reason Goodell and the owners want an 18-game season has nothing to do with the relative unpopularity of preseason games…it’s a ploy to get two more high-profile weeks of NFL action on television. For which, of course, the price of broadcast rights goes up. Ka-ching! So I guess what fans are demanding is that the owners get paid more, right? I mean, I’ve lain awake at night worrying about this myself. Will Jerry Jones be able to meet his stadium mortgage? Can Dan Snyder still afford apples for Christmas? And what about Tom Benson? Since he already owns all the car dealerships and sports franchises in New Orleans, how else can he hope to increase his walking-around money? I’m sure the fans are as concerned as I am.
What they’re not interested in is an 18-game season. The AP polled this in 2011, when the idea was first floated, and found less than overwhelming support for it. In fact it was less than majority support. In fact it was 18 percent of NFL fans “strongly supporting” the proposal. The rest of the support, I take it, was of the “yeah, sure, I guess” variety.
Interestingly, Doug Farrar of Yahoo did his own Twitter poll in 2011, when the idea was first floated. The result?
Of the 100-plus replies I received in about half an hour, not one was in favor of the idea without qualification, and most responses were profoundly against it.
In other words: Goodell (and Aiello, and anyone else who speaks for the NFL) is lying like a rug. Not mistaken, and not delusional: deceitful. Prevaricating. He knows fans are not in favor of an expanded season, but he credits us with the impetus behind the proposal because it serves his purposes to do so. (And hell, why shouldn’t he? Usually, when people lie this big, we elect them president.) Anyway, he’s still at it. And don’t expect him to stop until the owners get what they want. They don’t care what it takes, or what claims they have to make in our name. The next enlightened suggestion from the NFL is that we expand the playoff seedings by an extra team. (Which is also wildly popular with fans. Not.) And that brings us to…
The NFL Cheats
Doing everything it can to manipulate the results is apparently in the League’s DNA. That, after all, is the entire point of the draft structure. It’s the point of the NFL’s scheduling, too, and it’s a holy word: parity. The idea that any team, at any time, can rise up to win it all is what keeps fans interested (so they say). The League is actually proud when a bottom feeder floats belly-up into the playoffs.
And most fans never even notice. That’s the beauty of it: rampant manipulation of competitiveness over decades, and most fans think of it as “fairness.”
I have always been a fan in spite of the moral inversion inherent in the way the League operates, in which excellence is penalized and bad franchises (and remember, the Saints used to be a very bad franchise) live off of a sort of sports welfare. That’s because, despite what the League does to or for them, the teams themselves somehow always seem to rise up to, or sink down to, their real levels of competence (kinda like with welfare). That’s why, despite drafting last and playing rigged schedules, there were still “dynasties” like New England and Pittsburgh, competitive every year. And, conversely, why there were Buffalos and Clevelands, despite drafting first and playing creampuff schedules.
The NFL has never cared about fairness, because fairness means getting what you deserve. Being penalized for being better than the rest doesn’t result from fairness, but from cynicism. And the League doesn’t believe anyone will ever notice…and that those few of us who do will accept the process because at least the games must still be played.
But even that is changing. For instance, the League demonstrated conclusively this season that it cares nothing for the integrity of its records. How else could Peyton Manning break Drew Brees’ record for passing yards in a season without actually, you know, breaking it?
To his credit, Peter King flabbergasted the world by actually calling on the NFL to rescind Manning’s record. Read through this…it will save me from having to explain the whole thing, GIFs and all. (One caveat: no, Peter, it wasn’t close at all. Peyton’s 7-yard pass was a clear lateral. And also, be aware that this was written before Elias Sports Bureau had reviewed the play. I don’t know if King made any objections to their final ruling.)
The record for passing yardage in a season was once almost the Mt. Everest of NFL records. It took someone 27 years, during the most pass-friendly period in NFL history, to eclipse Dan Marino’s incredible 1984 record of 5,084 yards. The man who finally did it was the same man who had already flirted with breaking it once: Drew Brees. Since then, Brees has broken 5,000 yards twice more. It is astounding to realize that the guy usually touted as the all-time greatest, Peyton Manning, had never before come any closer than 300 yards to the 5,000-yard barrier.
Something must be done to correct that.
Enter today’s NFL. Drew is good and all, but he’s small-market (and small). Peyton is football royalty, and he needed that record. To be fair, he had a phenomenal year, and probably would have broken Drew’s record by a couple hundred yards if John Fox hadn’t pulled his typical über-cautious act and dragged Manning from the field as soon as he apparently had the record by a single yard. (There was an entire half yet to play. Against Oakland.)
Thing is, though, as King (I can’t get over that) points out, you can say all you want that Manning would have broken the record. The fact is, he didn’t. Subtract seven yards that actually should go into the record books as rushing yardage, and Manning finished the season with 5,470 yards. In my high school, they taught us that this is less than 5,476. It was a Louisiana public school, I admit, but I think they got this one right.
This might still wind up being a nearly-unbreakable record: the biggest “oops” moment in the history of professional football. But it wasn’t the record Peyton wanted…and in today’s NFL, what Peyton wants, Peyton gets. After carefully reviewing [sic] the evidence, Elias decided that “the fairest resolution” of the controversy would be to let the stat stand as called on the field, and allow Manning to keep the record. There’s that word again: fair. They keep saying it; I don’t think it means what they think it means. Maybe they’re using it in some ancient, original sense, where it means “just think of the jersey sales.”
Still, it’s revealing that their purported standard is what’s fair and not what’s right. That’s because right is absolute, but fair is a judgment call. The NFL loves judgment calls—the more, the better. The rule book is crawling with them, and collectively they give the League the opportunity to manipulate games.
Walter Cherepinsky doesn’t mince words when he writes about the San Francisco-Carolina divisional playoff game:
…Carl Cheffers and his crew completely sabotaged this game for Carolina, as they seemed like they were doing everything in their power to make sure there was a San Francisco-Seattle matchup next week, which will obviously draw higher ratings. That’s the only reasonable explanation for this one-sided officiating.
Does he exaggerate? I don’t know; I didn’t watch it (for obvious reasons). But I do know that the Panthers weren’t happy, either:
[Safety Mike] Mitchell’s first beef was an unnecessary roughness penalty called on him in the game’s first series for a late hit on receiver Anquan Boldin after a third-down incompletion from the Carolina 40-yard line.
“That was a terrible call,” Mitchell said. “This is playoff football, the National Football League. That was a terrible call. The ball was not on the ground. The replay showed it was still in the air. The receiver actually had an opportunity to bend over and catch the ball.”
“It was a terrible call,” Mitchell said. “A terrible call. One more time, a terrible call.”
I didn’t see it; but I don’t doubt it. Multiple sources accusing NFL officials of making terrible calls in a season noted for terrible calls? Sounds right to me.
What doesn’t sound right, though I hear it all the time, is this idea that during the playoffs the rules should change. “I don’t know if you call that in playoff games, but it is what it is,” according to Mitchell. Here’s what you should flag in a playoff game: any infraction. Was it a violation of the rules? Then, for God’s sake, call a penalty! What is the logic, what is the rationale, what is the ethical basis, for ignoring rule violations just because you’re in a playoff game? Seriously, if I hear one more time that the officials should just “let ‘em play” I may puke. You know what happens when officials don’t call penalties that ought to be called?
I said earlier that I was mad at the Seahawks, and this is why. Not that they knocked the Saints out of the playoffs, but that they did so, in part at least, by cynically (and accurately, damn them) gauging the unwillingness of the NFL to play hardball when enforcing the rules, and making the calculated decision to cheat as much as possible. The hell of it is, before the game this reputation leaked out of the sports pages (where it was already well-known) and into, of all places, the Wall Street Journal:
The Seattle Seahawks—the favorites to make the Super Bowl out of the NFC—employ an exasperating defensive game plan: They blitz rarely and drop an army of defenders into pass coverage. And those defenders mug, obstruct and foul opposing receivers on practically every play.
Quietly, the Seahawks have achieved a 13-3 record and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs by exploiting a loophole: NFL referees are reluctant to throw endless flags for pass interference and defensive holding, even if defenses deserve them.
“They look at it and say, ‘We may get called for one but not 10,’” said Mike Pereira, a former NFL vice president of officiating who is now a Fox analyst.
Combine the Seahawks’ penchant for pass interference with the NFL’s lax enforcement, and you wind up with a largely predetermined result. And if the result was predetermined, there is so much leeway in on-the-field enforcement that it would be nearly impossible to prove: was the game fixed, or are the officials really this incompetent? I don’t want to suggest—yet—that the NFL is fixing games; but I do know this: look at the Seattle game to see what a fixed game looks like. (Or, from what I hear, the Panthers game. Two NFC South teams knocked out by lousy officiating…hmmm…)
Greg Bedard at Sports Illustrated makes a good argument in favor of playoff officiating—so long as it extends into the regular season. I feel the same way: the way Seattle’s secondary plays is only against the current rules. In 1977, they wouldn’t have turned a single head (except to say, “Gee, these Seacows are really good. Where are they from?”)
In the officials’ defense, it must be pointed out that the NFL rulebook has become so arcane and clumsy that it’s supernaturally difficult to call a game properly. That, I’m convinced, is the point of the constant, yearly rule tweaking the League indulges in. If even the game officials don’t know how the action should be called, how can anyone be sure that their team got hosed? And don’t be under any illusions that there aren’t some teams marked out beforehand for a good hosing…one of them being the New Orleans Saints, who violated the paradigm by actually getting good. Remember: before Bountygate was even a gleam in Roger Goodell’s eye, the Saints prompted a change in the overtime rules—rules that had stood for decades without any serious challenge—simply by winning.
The NFL Steals
Finally, the NFL is not content to rely on television and stadium revenues, or even ancillary sources like jersey sales. They’ve set their sights big-time on a big-time source of money: tax receipts.
Greg Easterbrook (who else?) chronicled in The Atlantic the recent misadventures of these wacky crony capitalists. “Pro-football coaches talk about accountability and self-reliance, yet pro-football owners routinely binge on giveaways and handouts,” he writes. Unfortunately, the example he gives here is Tom Benson and the Saints—perhaps the single really good example of a city which profits enormously from its team. Still, Benson profits even more; and what Benson gets, most of the other owners get, too, and for little in return other than football.
For instance, teams routinely find public financing for stadiums. They also benefit from tax breaks and incentives not available to the average Joe (or several million of them). Even when people think they’ve made out okay, it turns out they’re actually paying millions behind the scenes to subsidize some of the richest businesses in America:
Many NFL teams have also cut sweetheart deals to avoid taxes. The futuristic new field where the Dallas Cowboys play, with its 80,000 seats, go-go dancers on upper decks, and built-in nightclubs, has been appraised at nearly $1 billion. At the basic property-tax rate of Arlington, Texas, where the stadium is located, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would owe at least $6 million a year in property taxes. Instead he receives no property-tax bill, so Tarrant County taxes the property of average people more than it otherwise would.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for Jones to go all Lester Burnham on us: IT’S! JUST! A! STADIUM!” No: what it is, is Jones’ monument to his own ego. Considering the current state of the national debt, the motto of the NFL owners might as well be “Après nous, le déluge.”
* * *
To be honest, there are numerous reasons why I’m calling it quits, and many of them may seem illogical. And they are, because logic doesn’t enter into them. For instance, I foresee an NBA future for the NFL: frantic scoring action by thugs. It’s “what the public wants,” so the League will continue tweaking the rules until the game bears little resemblance to what used to be called “football.” Well, maybe the public does want it; if so, the public can go fuck itself. I prefer the “old school” football played in the 1970s. A game that ends 13-10 because of fantastic defensive play is, to me, more riveting than a pinball contest that ends 51-48 because the defenses have been deliberately neutered. That’s the hell of it: I like Seattle’s defense. They did a magnificent job; they just did it 40 years after that style of play was made illegal.
Along with that, there are all sorts of other issues that have frayed my connections to the NFL: the League’s increasing internationalism (to me, NFL football is quintessentially American—and to me, that’s not a bad thing), the concocted furor over the Redskins’ name, doubing down on the Rooney Rule (yet another form of welfare). The League has become, by my standards, anti-American, just another arm of the leviathan progressive movement. I can’t in good conscience support it any longer just because Saints victories give me a thrill.
And for that, I will hate Roger Goodell and the NFL’s ownership forever. I’ve been robbed of one of the great joys of my life. Some day (soon?), the Saints will win their second Lombardi; some day, Drew Brees will take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame; and though I’ll be happy for those involved, and for the people of WhoDat Nation, I won’t be able to be a part of it. Thanks to you, Roger, and the blood flukes you work for.
So, that’s that. I’m really too busy with other things to continue this, anyway. It’s been educational, and at times fun. It just didn’t end well.
Bar’s open. Drinks are on the house.