Friday, September 23, 2011

"Ten Reasons Football Is An Extremely Blessed Spectator Sport"

I don’t mean that football is blessed by God. I don’t think God watches sports. At least I hope not. There are some famines going on that would seem more worthy of His attention. Not that I’m telling God what to do. Everybody needs a break. But so do the famine victims. I’m just sayin’.

Regular readers are aware that, though I appreciate the moments of heart-pounding excitement, and the mouth-dropping ability of players to execute under pressure, football is by no means my favorite sport.

Rabid football fans seem readily forgiving the huge amounts of time swallowed up by the huddles, the first down measurements, penalty announcements, ball placements, the discussions between the officials, the “Instant Replay” assessments that are far from instant, and the ever-popular rolling injured football players off the field on gurneys. I imagine if you added up all the “down” time during a football game, there is less actual playing time than there is in baseball, which is incessantly criticized for being slow.

Aside from my, arguably irrational, resentment because football is more popular that my favorite sports – baseball and hockey – it is football’s inherent chauvinism that bugs me the most. You know how, at certain sporting events, like, four military jets fly over, reminding everyone watching how strong and powerful and proudly testosteronal America is?

Football is like the flyover that never leaves.

It is my view that a considerable portion of football’s popularity results from the advantaging blessings the game enjoys as televised sport. I will now delineate what these are.

One: The Schedule

I realize that rabid football fans watch every second of it – including the exhibition games, which involve scores of players who, by the start of the actual season, will inevitably be working elsewhere. But, for the casual viewer, the early part of the football season has them still focusing on baseball, culminating in its climactic finale, the World Series. By the time the casual viewer turns to football, the season is half over, and the remaining half season of games are all critically important.

Two: The Fewer Number of Games

A six-game losing streak in baseball (162 games), hockey (84 games) or basketball (82 games)? Worrisome, but there are plenty of games left to bounce back. A six- game losing streak in football (16 games), and you’re likely to be hunting for elk on Super Bowl Sunday.

Three: The “Fewer Games” Excitement Factor

With football teams scheduled to play only one game a week, every game feels like an event. In baseball, “I went to Game One Hundred and Twelve” offers the “memorable experience” uniqueness of brushing your teeth. (Unless something spectacular happens. I once saw a Perfect Game, during the first game of midseason double-header.)

Four: Linearity

(Or call it something that sounds clearer, let me know, and I’ll change “linearity.”)

Football is primarily an “up and down” game. You go up the field; you go down the field. This makes it very easy for the cameras to cover. Compare this to baseball, which is not linear, but multi-directional. The outfielders are looking in. The catcher is looking out. The pitcher is looking in. The batter is looking out. The infielders have that “diamond thing” going, so they’re looking all over the place. And the runners proceed around the bases, in an angular direction that in no way resembles a straight line.

In baseball, when the action starts, meaning after the ball is hit, numerous things are happening at once. Unable to present everything, which action is the director supposed to show us – the runner(s) proceeding around the bases, the outfielder chasing after the ball, in infielders positioning themselves for the throw, the catcher, bracing himself for the tag?

When you’re in the stadium, your eyes dart around, and you can process the whole play. But exactly how is the television viewer at home, not watching on a three-dimensional television – because they currently don’t exist – supposed to comprehensively follow the action? With “up and down” football, this problem does not exist.

Five – Advantageous Technology

I don’t know if “Instant Replay” was invented for football, but football exploits it, by far, the most. Almost every play is replayed after it takes place, filling the time during the endless huddles. Baseball replays the meaningful highlights, but who wants a second look at “Ball Two – Low”?

Football, with its dozens of cameras, offers viewers the opportunity of seeing multiple angles of the same play. Hockey, due, I believe, to the inexperience of the camera personnel, relies primarily on a single camera, sweeping the ice surface, like a prison yard searchlight. Can you imagine a football game covered in a similar fashion? It would be like a “traffic camera”, looking for speeders.

Recently, football came up with a new gizmo, a simulated orange line, allowing viewers to see how far a team has to go to get a first down. In hockey – even with HD – you can still barely see the puck. Advantage: football. A big one.

Six – Helmets and Pads

Substantial padding and wraparound football helmets send a clear, edge-of-your-seat-inducing signal: A person can get hurt in this game. Hockey players wear pads, and, now, helmets, but they’re dinkier. The message? Mayhem is possible, but unlikely to require an ambulance.

Seven – Parity

Since the primary source of revenue – the multi-billion dollar network TV contracts – is shared equally by all the teams, the Green Bay Packers are on an equal financial footing with the New York Giants, allowing both of them to compete for top-of-the-line talent. Compare that to baseball, where, due to hugely unequal local television contracts, the Yankees boast the highest payroll in the Major Leagues, while Green Bay has a team playing in the Northwoods League called the Bullfrogs.

Eight­The Championship Game Is Played In A Weather-Friendly Venue, Or Indoors.

Nothing’s worse than having your showcase event turned into a joke by weather conditions that the game was not meant to be played in. Television often requires the World Series to drag on into November, and tradition decrees that the games be contested on the competing teams’ home fields, whether there are icicles hanging from the scoreboard, or not.


Football is particularly blessed in the area of betting, where for reasons, explainable and less so, the “point spread” – essential to the wagering process – is considerably easier to establish. In basketball – I mean, I personally, have seen a twenty-point lead disappear in two minutes – calculating a reliable “point spread” is virtually impossible.

It is my belief that “ease of betting” is, as much as anything, what shot football ahead, to become America’s, now, most popular sport. Without the betting, football is just twenty-two men, slamming into each other. Which has its own appeal, in a car crash kind of way, but it’s nothing like pocketing the spoils, because the team you put money on exceeded the “spread.”

– Synchronicity

Today’s sports fans show a strong preference for a game that’s in sync with the intense rhythms of contemporary life, rather than the time-banished tempo of yesteryear. I myself prefer a greater respite from reality than I get from watching a game, reminiscent of crossing a busy intersection at Rush Hour when the streetlights aren’t functioning. The majority of the sports viewing public, however, believes I’m insane.

Look at that. I said “ten reasons” in the title, and I made it to “ten.” That was pure luck. I wonder if there’s a football game I can bet on, while I’m on a hot streak.


Lord Lillis said...

"Football is the embodiment of the worst elements of American culture. It is violence punctuated by committee meetings"

--George Will

Keith said...

I think football and baseball share some commonalities with what we love about movies and television. There are clearly defined and meaningful short-term, medium and long-term goals. This may be why they're the most popular sports here in the US.

Trying to get a first down/man on base is like Indiana Jones trying to get past one of the traps guarding the idol. Retrieving the idol is the touchdown/run. Getting the Ark of the Covenant is winning the game - all sports have this.

Basketball is missing a clearly defined medium-term goal (being ahead at the end of the quarter? boring - there's no significance to being ahead at any specific time other than the final buzzer). Hockey is missing a clearly defined short-term goal (getting possession? boring - it changes every 10 seconds).

So, if any screenwriters out there are writing a new sport, make the scenes as interesting as the acts, and the acts as interesting as the final buzzer.

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; the fixed time allowed for the huddles between downs allow commercials to be aired, too. This is one case where the commercials are more exciting than the action they're interrupting.

William C Bonner said...

Years ago one of the networks broadcasting hockey experimented with added graphics on the screen like the yellow and blue lines in football. They added colored puck trails so you could find the puck on the tv screen. I believe they stopped doing it because hockey purists complained. I liked it. I think resistance to change is part of the reason some sports get less coverage.

It used to be that pro football was on Sunday, with a single game on Monday. That also makes it easier to follow, since you only have to learn the scores once a week and can talk about them all week long. spreading games to Thursday dilutes the experience. I think that the threat of a longer season would dilute the experience as well. My problem with baseball and basketball on TV is that each season lasts so long and has so many games that no individual game seems critical.

Frank said...

Watching football is like watching rugby in slow motion with more commercials.

JED said...

Hi Earl,

You said, "I imagine if you added up all the “down” time during a football game, there is less actual playing time than there is in baseball, which is incessantly criticized for being slow."

If you're interested, the Wall Street Journal ran two stories about this. The first was about football (American Football that is) which said that the parts of the game where the ball was in play totaled about 11 minutes. They ran a follow-up about baseball and found that the amount of time the ball was in play totaled about 14 minutes. I find the anticipation in baseball makes it much more exciting than football. I prefer just about any sport to football - except competitive eating.

The two articles are found in these links.

Football story:

Baseball story:

Your loyal reader,
Jim Dodd