Monday, August 22, 2011

Why Football is the Best Sport

TriggPack West team scouting the Raiders for week 14.
I attended my first NFL game in-person this week.  Granted it was a pre-season game.  Granted it was the 49ers against the Raiders in one of the most decrepit venues in the NFL, Candlestick Park.  But, after a long and uncertain off-season, I was psyched to see a game -- particularly when it was free seats in the first row on the 50-yard line, courtesy of my buddy Mark.

As I soaked in the ambiance of an NFL game, I found myself marveling at how fully awesome football is. Like a Minnesotan tucking into a deep-fried Twinkie, I just can't get enough.  I've been lapping up pre-season games with an intensity usually reserved for the playoffs. You'd think after the whole lock-out thing there might be some lingering bitterness. A slight diminishing of enthusiasm coming into the season. Instead I, like most NFL fans, am greeting the start of football like a rabid hyena clawing for zebra scraps.

It all begs the question: why exactly is football so awesome? Well, there are lots of factors, but I've boiled it down to 3 fundamental reasons.  The 3 "S's":

One thing that's not scarce: deep-friend Twinkies at Mall of America
1) Scarcity.  The fact there are only 16 games in the regular season distinguishes it from every other team sport.  No question one of the most critical factors in the NFL's success is it's scarcity.  Every single game matters, and matters greatly.  A 16-game stretch in the NBA or MLB is like a long road trip. Teams like the Mariners go on 16-game losing streaks.  The Astros are 34 games out of first place in their division.  34 games!  That's more than two full seasons of football.  Even for die-hard baseball and basketball fans, it's hard to get very worked up until the games mean something in the playoffs.  Even then, they have 7-game series -- that's half the season in football.  Soccer is worst of all.  Nobody knows when a season is even happening, and just when you think a game actually matters, it turns out to just be a friendly with all the star players off with their national teams.  A 16-game season, though my addiction wishes there were more, is perfect -- keeping us glued to every game and every play.

2) Strategy.  There is so much planning and preparation that goes into each NFL game.  Sure, other sports have "plays" too -- like when a basketball guard holds up a number 1 finger as he comes down court.  It must be hard for players to remember which of the two play options they are supposed to run.  Football teams have hundreds of plays.  For every play, eleven players on each side of the ball need to know where to go in 40 seconds.  Each play requires meticulous preparation, studying playbooks and practicing it on the field.  And each play has hundreds of hours of analysis behind it -- with dozens of coaches, scouts, and assistants combing through tape of their competition to determine the exact time to call the exact right play.  The results of all that strategic planning, and the players' ability to execute the strategy, directly determines the outcome of the game.  Unlike basketball, you can't just give the ball to LeBron James every play.

Civil War picnickers before the advent of NFL Sunday Ticket.
3) Savagery.  It's often stated that football is a violent game.  But "violence" isn't quite the right word.  "Savagery" isn't either but it starts with "S" so I'm going to use it -- plus, I think it more accurately captures what I see as the appeal of football's "physicality."  Violence to me means bloodshed and broken bones.  There are plenty of more violent sports, like UFA or pitbull fighting, that hold no widespread appeal.  No -- it's not the violence.  It's the scale of the violence.  (Maybe "Scale" would have been a better third "S.")  Nothing else offers eleven individual simultaneous hand-to-hand battles.  A one-on-one fist fight will draw a crowd, but when it's 11-on-11, or more like 45-on-45, there is some shit goin' down!  That's more akin to a bar fight.  Or a riot.  Like an army of gladiators charging at each other, you just don't turn away from football.  The scale of human conflict you are about to witness is just too fascinating.  It's like picnickers at the outbreak of the Civil War.  They were compelled to watch -- though many of them probably realized later it might have been preferable to catch that one on DirecTV.  You don't turn the channel on football.

There you have it: the three basic reasons that you'll be glued to your TV every Sunday through February.  It doesn't matter how much they strike.  It doesn't matter how much money they make.  It doesn't matter how much they mis-behave off the field.  You may be disgusted at times, but you watch.  You have to watch.  It's just too compelling.

1 comment:

  1. Nice. I think you're right on it. The other factor for me is Fantasy. Not an S word, but I have to admit I'm unlikely to be as engrossed in the season without it. Football is the perfect Fantasy sport and I think primarily for the same 3 reasons.