Just Not That Into It Anymore
Ratings for the Cowboys-Redskins game Thursday evening were off the charts, so we probably won't hear that much about the NFL's television problems for awhile. Not hearing about something does not mean it goes away.
A game featuring one of the popular "national" teams on a national holiday held in the late afternoon broadcast window ought to have high ratings. What the hell else are people going to do on Thanksgiving after they eat dinner? Run Black Friday practice drills? Add to that situation the fact that Dallas-Washington was an entertaining game, and success was well nigh a given. Remember, the NFL's primary strength as a television show is the ancient phrase, "there's nothing else good on right now."
But here it is Sunday morning, and as I, a lifetime NFL fan since before the birth of the AFL, contemplate the 1 p.m. games one realization overpowers me. I don't give a damn about any of them. Whoever wins or loses means nothing to me. I look at their possible entertainment values and think, "maybe's there's something that needs doing around the house." Cleaning tile grout would offer more personal satisfaction than Giants-Browns or Bills-Jaguars.
I will watch the Pats-Jets game at 4:30 because I take a personal interest (not rooting, but personal, as in, I used to cover the team) in New England's fortunes. Broncos-Raiders should be a good Sunday night game. I might watch the first quarter. I am traveling tomorrow, and can't commit to a late night.
Try as I might, I can't remember the last time I watched more than a quarter of any Monday night game. I think it was Chiefs-Pats in September 2014, but I could be wrong.
I use myself as an example of what I think are the real threats to the NFL's status as the Last Big Network Hit Show. One is simple and curable. Night football used to be Event TV. Now overeliance has turned into just another NCIS spinoff. It's skippable. You've seen enough football already by the time it's Sunday night, let alone Monday night. Thursday night is and always has been Roger Goodell water-ski jumping over the shark tank.
It's simple supply and demand. If there was less night football, the audiences for it would grow. As of now, oversupply is choking off my demand. I suspect I have company there.
The most serious issue confronting the NFL Show is the one I'm contemplating this morning. The whole foundation of the show's commercial success is the premise that while a lot more people will tune in to see the home team play, enough people will tune in to games involving other teams to make them profitable as well. A real pro football fan will turn on the TV at one and if Giants-Browns and Dolphins-49ers are his or two options, the fan will watch one of them.
Maybe I'm not a real pro football fan anymore. Or maybe, just maybe, one whole NFL game and parts of one or two others is all the pro football any fan really needs.
Better Stones Make Better Walls
Bill Belichick has not and never will discuss personnel decisions in public. That assertion is based on what, 17 years of evidence now.
It is the duty of sports media personnel who cover the Patriots to ask about said decisions, even if they know damn well, as they do, they're not gonna get an answer from New England's head coach.
The above paragraphs are a formula for dissatisfaction on both sides, as witnessed by failed dialogues on the trade of Jamie Collins to the Browns and the healthy scratch of Jabaal Sheard for last Sunday's game with the 49ers. Reporters with a written outlet on the Web or print may be able to delve behind the scenes to get at the motives for a Belichick decision. TV and radio folks must get that soundbite, even if it signifies nothing.
Belichick placed the appropriate amount of weight on my advice and counsel back when I covered the team -- none if he thought I had a point, less than none otherwise. All the same, I think the coach is doing himself a disservice by his current all-purpose nonanswer to personnel decisions.
"We're going to do what's best for our football team," Belichick says. This statement manages to be both terse and patronizing at the same time. It implies that the questioners are impugning the coach's motives for any decision when they are doing no such thing. What they want to know is WHY he thinks a decision is best for said team. Given Belichick's record, it's likely a candid explanation would be most persuasive.
But Belichick won't take that road. He believes clamming up best serves his team and the players in it. Again given the record, there doesn't seem to be any evidence he should change that opinion. But there is one problem with the "what's best for the football team" mantra. It makes Bill look like a dick, which he isn't always or even often. It is a snotty brushoff, breeding ill will where there's no reason for it. Belichick is silent on personnel matters for business reasons. He should have a businesslike nonanswer.
Here's one I offer in the spirit of holiday giving. "I will not discuss personnel decisions in public," says some future Belichick who will never exist. It's the simple honest truth. It's not personal and does not contribute to Belichick's supervillain caricature. As a side benefit, it would make further questions on the same topic look like the badgering it would be. Might even cause some reporters to switch to a topic Bill will talk about.
Reporters are going to keep asking Belichick questions he won't answer because it's one big reason they get paid. Belichick will continue to rebuff them because he's sure that helps him keep getting paid. It's a stalemate annoying to all parties, but it could be LESS annoying.
If there's one thing a person ought to be able to be honest about, it's silence.
Some Sundays Are Just for Chores
One of the most difficult feats in pro football is for a good team to play consistently well for 60 minutes against a very bad team. Pushing hard against no resistance breeds slips and falls. In another tribute to the wisdom of Bill Belichick, the Patriots didn't even try to do so against the 49ers yesterday.
Not that the Pats' top priority wasn't winning, mind you. But once New England scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, other priorities came into play. Priorities like "it's raining hard, so why don't we just run the ball" and above all, "let's minimize injury risk, especially to Tom." Certain that San Francisco's offense was incapable of overcoming a 10-point deficit, the Pats' offense was somewhere between very conservative and timid the rest of the first half.
Defying all expectations, especially mine, the 49ers managed to trail only 13-10 at the half, presenting a dangerously close impression of a competitive professional football game. The chains came off the Pats' offense, Brady was allowed to make plays and hang the risk, and that impression vanished behind the low clouds. Final score: 30-17, one of those numbers that says "not much of a game" if one was lucky enough not to watch it.
There are no morals, lessons or examples to be derived from this one. If Belichick were to say only, "we're on to the Jets," he'd get no argument here. What should have happened did, and about as quietly as anything can ever happen in the NFL. It's going to make for some very hard airtime to fill on sports talk radio and the panoply of Pats-related cable TV shows.
Lucky for those guys there are THREE games on Thursday to talk about.