I used to be able to watch a National Football League game end to end, with only the usual toilet and beverage breaks. Not any more. Now when I settle down of a Sunday afternoon I’m armed with my newspaper and a crossword puzzle or two, the better to amuse myself through the frequent breaks in the action. They also give me an alternative to dwelling on the other things that make me gnash my teeth during a game.
Being a blogger, I need not suffer in silence. Here are five things I’ve come to hate about the NFL.
CONSTANT REPLAY-- Yes, I’ve complained about this before, but in its never-ending quest for perfection the league has doubled down on the practice the last couple of seasons, making it more irritating than ever. From 1999 until last year, play-call challenges pretty much had to be initiated by coaches’ red flags, which were limited to two a game until the last two minutes of each half, when the replay booth took over. But beginning last season all scoring plays were tabbed for automatic booth review, and this season all plays resulting in turnovers were added to the list, ballooning it.
Most of those automatic reviews are handled out of the sight of TV viewers, without disturbing the flow of the game, but some aren’t, and together with the ones made necessary by the red flags they’ve slowed some contests appreciably. On top of the other types of game breaks—for TV commercials, penalties, each team’s three time outs per half and the two-minute warnings—they’ve turned games into stop-and-go- affairs that are far more stop than go.
The NFL has a stock answer for people like me who gripe about all the play reviews: “You want to get things right, don’t you?” it asks. But even if one’s answer is “yes” it’s far from clear that constant replay achieves that goal. That’s because calls on some plays remain questionable even after being viewed from many angles, and the boys in the booth can still get it wrong when the visual evidence seems clear.
I refer specifically to the celebrated “worst call ever,” the last-play touchdown catch that gave Seattle its victory over Green Bay in a game last September 24. The play came on the last weekend of the league’s ill-conceived “replacement refs” adventure, and was widely viewed as evidence of the novices’ incompetence, but the real bad guys were the replay officials who upheld the catch even though the film showed that the defender clearly had possession and that the receiver had decked another Packer before the ball arrived. With “right” calls like that who needs wrong ones?
The REAL bad guys, though, aren’t the microscope peerers in the booth but the league’s major suits and their absurdly puffed-up view of their game’s importance. Jeez, fellas, it’s just football, played and coached by erring humans, and Gibraltar won’t crumble if a zebra makes an occasional mistake. Just let ‘em play the game.
PHANTOM TOUCHDOWNS-- I hate it when a ball carrier stretches the ball toward the goal line and is credited with a score if it breaks the “plane” even though it bounces away when he lands or is swatted away by a defender. When did that start, anyway? The word “touchdown” stems from football’s roots in rugby, where a scorer was supposed to touch the ball to the ground in the end zone before his tally could be counted. To be credited with a touchdown, a football player should have to control the ball after the play is completed, not just possess it fleetingly. That’s what the NFL already requires of a pass receiver who makes a diving catch anywhere on the field. Why should a higher standard be required of an ordinary pass completion than of a scoring play?
“THE CRAWL”—I hate the “crawl,” the info that’s scrolled along the bottom of my TV screen while the game is in progress. Actually, it’s not the crawl I hate but the surfeit of information it contains, no doubt dictated by the unholy partnership of the NFL and the TV networks.
What I want from the crawl are the scores of the other games in progress, the better to follow my bets, but what I get are the endless lines of individual statistics that make an update interminable. Those stats are there to please the army of “fantasy” football players who have turned the game into a nerdish computer exercise. That’s fine, I guess, but as far as I know only full-game stats count in the “fantasy” models, so why the running tallies? Also, the crawl invariably ignores one game each week, and it’s usually one that I’ve bet on.
“FLOPPING”—That’s a term usually associated with basketball or soccer, describing an exaggerated reaction to minor contact designed to draw a foul call. Footballers are manly men, and so generally don’t flop, but just about any time a pass goes uncaught the would-be receiver throws his arms into the air to feign outrage over a foul against him that he thinks an official missed. Sometimes --usually when the home crowd is in cahoots-- he gets his way. I hate that.
LIP-READER DEFENSE—I hate it when coaches cover their mouths with their charts while calling in a play. Do they think that a lip reader at home can decipher a message that’s coded anyway (“blue, 74, Oklahoma, on 3”) and call it to the opposing sideline for relay to the field before the next play is run? I doubt it. It’s just another example of the self-importance with which football types take their enterprise.
Also, who would do a thing like that? I mean, who besides Bill Belichick?