For millions of Americans, the first Sunday of February is the sporting equivalent of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Independence Day rolled into one. Parties are planned, food and beverages are purchased, significant outfits are carefully selected, and there is a tacit acknowledgment that Monday morning might not be that productive.
For anybody who has recently been living under a rock, it is Super Bowl Sunday again. The annual celebration of the best two teams in the NFL playing each other for the right to be called World Champions. Super Bowl LIII features the Los Angeles Rams – the first time an LA team has been involved for 35 years – and the New England Patriots … who may have appeared more recently.
As you might expect, the media hype in the run-up to this event goes into overdrive, and the average person can be forgiven for thinking that nothing else matters in the wide world of sports. A quick scroll through my cable TV stations this morning, for instance, delivered an never-ending number of talking heads pontificating about Super Bowl LIII, coupled with the disturbing sight of CNN anchor John Berman wearing a Patriots shirt and holding a puppy.
The million-dollar question is whether I am looking forward to the game itself. In addition, I have been asked by numerous friends as to where I intend watching the entire process unfold. My answers to these two simple requests are a) no, and b) I will be in a bar without a TV.
Haters Gonna Hate
Granted, I live in Boston, and it is reasonable to assume that the region is going to focus on the game.
Irrespective of the fact that this is the Patriots fourth appearance in the end-of-season showdown in five years (and the third on the bounce), and setting aside that Tom Brady is widely considered to be the embodiment of some returning religious deity, the simple truth is that I really don’t care who wins, loses or drops a ball at a some point.
Perhaps I should clarify my position. I do live in the United States so it is not too much of a stretch to think that I like American sports. And I do … baseball and hockey. But that is about it. Basketball doesn’t really do anything for me, NASCAR is just people turning left at high speed and the fascination with lacrosse is just baffling.
American football, on the other hand, is one of my least favorite sports. Ah, I hear you say, that is because you are a soccer fan. You don’t like a sport that requires tactics and physicality, you prefer to watch players throwing themselves to the ground in a game that doesn’t even allow time for regular commercial breaks. And you probably don’t enjoy high-scoring encounters that can’t end in a scoreless draw.
Here’s the thing. I don’t dislike American football for the fact that it is as far removed from soccer as it is possible to get. If you like the NFL, we are not enemies. I don’t have any problem with you enjoying a sport that can be physical and exciting to watch. I also have no issue if you think that soccer is boring, because some games can be brutally dull.
Hell, I even watched the NFL in the UK for a number of years after Channel 4 started showing games from 1982 onwards. I have been to NFL games, my soccer club has a partnership with the NFL that will see regular season fixtures played at our new stadium (when it is built), and I am friends with people who love the game.
No, my growing dislike and desire to avoid the game on Sunday comes from both the fact that I live in New England and the knowledge that the NFL is flawed on numerous levels.
The Obvious Stuff
Let’s start with the simple things.
American football is not a global game. Yes, it may have fans all over the world, but that doesn’t make it a global game. Soccer is a global game. Rugby (for the most part) is a global game. Cricket – the second most watched sport in the world – is played professionally on several continents. The NFL, however, is almost exclusively based in the United States.
In other words, I can strike up a conversation about soccer almost anywhere in the world. I would bet good money that the average NFL fan would struggle to find like-minded individuals in a bar in, say, Australia, New Zealand or the majority of Europe.
The time each game takes is another pet peeve.
According to the rule book, the game consists of four 15-minute quarters, with a 12-minute break for half-time. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that this equates to just over sixty minutes of potential watching time. So how can a game last for over three hours? And why can I walk into a bar with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and still be subjected to at least 30 more minutes of a particular game.
The obvious answer is that the game is tailored to small bursts of action that lead to commercial breaks. Ironically, this is probably the only reason to watch the Super Bowl. Presumably, this is to allow the players to rest after their athletic exertions, but nobody has ever given me a definitive reason as to how a 60-minute sporting event can last longer than the latest installment in the Avengers franchise.
Soccer, conversely, is a 90-minute game split into two halves of 45 minutes each way, with a 15 minute break at half-time. Simples. I can allocate less than two hours to watching a game, with the added bonus that if I walk into a bar and the game has 10 minutes to play, I know that I can stop watching in about 13 minutes (injury time has to be taken into account, obviously).
Slightly Less Obvious
Over the last few years, the NFL has seen a number of controversial moments or events that have not only taken place on the field but also in the wider sphere of the game. I am not going to go into detail about these, there are other Turf writers who have more insight than myself. Suffice it say that the image of the sport has taken a bit of a battering, even to an outsider like myself.
There is a consensus that the appeal of the game is fading, a scenario covered by The Atlantic as part of its own Super Bowl previews – “The Super Bowl’s Base is Eroding Rapidly” – but the NFL doesn’t help itself when it fails to deal with well-reported issues that take place away from the playing field. Soccer players are far from angelic, but they don’t seem to get involved in the sorts of shenanigans that high-profile NFL stars do on a semi-regular basis.
Again, this is not the forum for this discussion. Suffice it to say that if a sport wants to attract a wider audience on a global level, then it helps if the brand itself doesn’t have a bad reputation.
The problem is that American football takes itself really seriously. Not just in the amount of media discussion that dissects every single aspect of a game, but in the way that the off-season is considered to be ripe for even more discussion. Some of that can be leveled at the quite ridiculous spectacle that is the NFL draft which, to an outsider, is a baffling waste of TV time.
But that is a discussion for another day.
Tale of the tape
For the moment, let us compare and contrast soccer and American football.
An English Premier League side plays 38 games in a season, lasting from August to May. A successful team may even play several games in Europe, have a reasonable cup run and end the campaign with more than 50 games under its belt. In addition, players may get called up for international duty and there is a tournament at least every two years (the World Cup, for example, is a huge drain on a club’s playing resources every four years).
Most American football teams play 16 games in a 17 week season that runs from September to the start of January. And if they don’t qualify for the playoffs, then the players have a reasonable amount of time off before reporting for training again. There are no international games, no tournaments, no additional cup games … just the NFL.
And that is not a good thing. On the plus side, the average fan probably follows the other major U.S. sports that take place during the year – baseball, hockey and basketball – but the NFL is the juggernaut that drives the sporting calendar, culminating in the Super Bowl in February.
Which Brings Us To Superbowl LIII
If you have got this far, then you have probably realized that I am not a fan of American Football.
The weird thing is that when I came here 10 years ago, I was expecting to find a team and get into the sport. For the first three years, that sort of worked. I went to Gillette Stadium for a playoff game (coldest I have ever been at a sporting event), purchased a tee-shirt and even live-blogged the 2012 Super Bowl from my local pub. If anyone wants to read this, you can find it here.
And then I realized something quite staggering. Even though most of the people I hung out with were Patriots fans, I was developing a dislike of the sport itself. Mainly because the New England Patriots seemed to be one of those teams that were always in the Super Bowl.
This revelation knocked me for six. Successful sports teams get there by dint of hard work and finding the right players, but the reflected glory that Patriots fans bask in is, to be quite honest, really annoying. This sense of entitlement overshadows almost everything that regular fans go through, and the oft-cited “New England vs Everybody” is not too far from the truth.
Bearing that in mind, I made a conscious decision that this form of football was not for me. Notwithstanding the fact that the game involves a limited amount of ball interaction with the foot, the main purpose of the game seems to be the throwing of a ball to a quick person, while large people push each other about. For about 10 seconds.
And the winner is …
So, who is going to win on Sunday? The simple answer is that I don’t know.
Logic dictates that the Patriots will probably get over their loss to the Eagles last year (which I also avoided) and that Boston will get treated to another parade. Part of me wants the Rams to win, mainly because it means that the Patriots haven’t and I can go about my business on Monday without having to feign interest in the game itself.
But I would be lying if I actually cared about Super Bowl LIII. After all, this is a weekend filled with EPL soccer, the rugby Six Nations championship and even some cricket. By the time Sunday night comes along, my sporting weekend will be over for another week.
Enjoy the game, and if you need me, I will be in a bar with no TV.
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