A fan of the Yankees, Red Sox, and large sample sizes.
LONG LIVE AMERICA'S PASTIME
Maybe I'm biased, maybe I'm just excited, and maybe I just don't like football all that much. But I feel like baseball's picking up some steam in the MLB vs. NFL popularity debate. It's not that baseball all of a sudden has done something wonderful, except that it's stuck to its guns. The NFL is finally realizing the downside to a few of its decisions that were made originally to increase popularity.
The main point in baseball's favor was the high-dramatic and entertaining 2003 post-season. Both the Cubs and Red Sox had great chances to win the World Series, the Yankees lost to a bunch of young, no-name Marlins, and the pennant races were actually real this year.
The NFL on the other hand experienced another season of extreme parity. People have often hailed parity as a great asset to the sport, but I never have. Sure, you want every team to have its chance to compete without some team dominating year in and year out because they spend more money or some stupid non-talent reason like that, but things have gotten a little ridiculous. The salary cap has destroyed team continuity. Teams will turn over half their roster every year. Dynasties are no more. And the talent level is decreasing because most teams only have one year to make a system or QB-WR combo click. Steve Young's talked a lot on ESPN that quarterbacks today aren't playing as well as they could - not because of talent, but because it takes time to learn to play with the rest of your team within a system. Peyton Manning's numbers keep getting better and better because the Colt offense can keep building on it's foundation year after year, instead of spending time re-teaching the tricks to new players.
The NFL also relies too much on drama and one-upsmanship. My mom loves the whole Doug Flutie story. It's kind of neat, but if you want dramatic human interest stories, go watch a soap opera. A sport survives based on its product on the field. The rest is just icing. Without the strong product, the icing is too sweet. Some people love Sharpie and cell phone TD celbrations. On some level, so do I. But the NFL is doing the right thing in cracking down on that stupid stuff. They need to place the attention on the field, on the game, on the sport itself.
The number one thing both the NFL and MLB could do to increase their popularity is to educate their fans. Teach baseball fans about newer age baseball analysis instead of feeding them traditional drivel. At some level, every fan knows they're beeing had. Teach the football fans about the various routes the WRs are running. Teach them about the actual reads a QB goes through. Teach them about the various holes in the offensive line and how a gameplan is a complex strategy attempting to confuse the defense and take advantage of their holes. This is done to a certain extent, but just because some of the audience is stupid, don't think the rest of us are.
It will take the NFL a few years to get out of its currently overdramatic presentation of itself. MLB doesn't have to climb out of that hole (although FOX is attempting to put MLB into it.) And if Bonds keeps playing like Bonds, how big would a chase for Hank Aaron's HR record be for the game baseball? An additional popularity explosion on top of the current positive trend would be amazing.
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