The discussion heats up as we discuss parity, dynasties, the state of the NFL and Thanksgiving.
Beth: How was everyone's Thanksgiving? I thought the games were fairly lackluster, and the uniforms on the Chicago Bears were enough to make me vomit up my turkey.
Also, Sam, those Coney Dogs are an abomination before God.
Mer: I had a good Thanksgiving, save for some lost luggage and a Cowboys victory. Otherwise, no complaints.
Actually, I'm an east coaster. I can always find something to complain about. Here goes. Those had to be two of the worst Thanksgiving matchups of ALL TIME. Seriously. Watching the first half of that Cowboys/Bears game drained my life force. I don't know what they were calling that shit they were serving up, but it definitely didn't look like football to me. At halftime I put in a tape of the Eagles thrashing of the Cowboys from last week just to remind myself what football actually looked like.
As I left the TV and headed towards the dinner table, the Cowboys were up 7-6 and Drew Henson was getting knocked around the field. The next time I checked, the Cowboys were winning and their 41 year old quarterback had found his way back into the game. I assumed Henson must have been hurt, because surely Parcells wouldn't be naive enough to pull him in his first NFL start. I was wrong. Parcells is having a brutal year, but this move takes the cake. What a jackass he is. I don't care how many Superbowls the guy has won, he is dangling dangerously close to Mike Martz territory right now.
Beth: So...the Eagles thrashing the Cowboys was real football because it was a thrashing in your favor? :-)
Sam: You say that the coney dogs are an abomination before God. But you did not have to watch your father heartily consume one before a massacre of a football game. 'Abomination before God' does not do these allegedly meaty creations full justice. 'Vile spawn of a mind more deranged than the Mets management' starts to describe them, but even that seems too mild.
Thankgiving was fine, if you're one of those people who get their jollies by having someone tie you up and whip you with a studded leather belt. I kid, I kid. It was actually something that a masochist could only enjoy if they liked being tied up and whipped with a studded leather belt while the whip-bearer sent forth a stream of constant audibles.
Why couldn't the Lions have played the Bears? Without Urlacher we totally could have won that matchup. Instead we get the 'red hot' Colts, a team that *good* football clubs have trouble beating. Thank you, National Football League schedulers. I blame you for this blot on Lions history.
However, the good and occasionally merciful Lawd had pity on my downtrodden soul
and raised the Dolphins up above the dank, steamy pit of San Francisco. Sage Rosenfels got some playing time, so I had the added glee of Jews Representin' in the NFL. Whoop whoop, etc. Sadly it was not televised here, but the sarcastically cheerful coverage of the game in the Miami Herald almost makes up for this oversight. They're running headlines like "Nothing to lose," "Somehow, it doesn't feel right celebrating a win like this one," "Beat-up Feeley shows progression," and "Sad-sacks no more." You can almost see the columnists laughing grimly to themselves as they submit their latest articles, well-thumbed copies of The Stranger and other existentialist novels surrounding their bleak computer workstations.
So yeah. At least Thanksgiving dinner was ace.
Mer: The Eagles know how to play football, which is more than I can say for the Bears or Cowboys. As asskicking is still football. The Cowboys didn't exactly kick the Bears' ass - neither team wanted to win that game. They both tried to give it away a dozen times, at least.
Beth: ...I'd comment, but I don't think I can really top that post from Sam.
Parity, Dynasty, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree
Beth: Ok. Mer, I was interested in discussing something you had on your blog recently about the NFL's product declining due to parity.
I have to say I disagree. I think the NFL is the most successful league in North America right now, and I think parity is a big part of that--even if this year, talent has either declined or been overextended. The reason for diluted talent (if that's even the case, which i'm not sure it is--this could just be a dud year) is that there are too many teams--but not because each team has a salary cap.Baseball has a similar problem, but it's compounded by a lack of parity.
But dilution aside, I think it can only help the product if people in each city know that on any given Sunday, their team can win, that in any given year, their team might get to the Super Bowl or even win it (cf. Carolina).
I think if there is one reason for a lack of competitiveness in the league this year, it's lack of organizational imagination and / or coaching talent. The reason the Patriots are so successful is because they have a flexible owner and a genius each at GM and head coach.
When you have financial parity, the way the teams stratify themselves is according to talent and / or intelligence. And that kind of thing can't be controlled.
But I still find it interesting that while some people (not you, Mer--I mean in general now) criticize baseball for its lack of parity--saying it won't survive until people in, say, Denver or Tampa Bay have a reason to be interested in their teams--some others criticize football for having too much parity. To me, it has to be one or the other. It can't be both.
Sam: The problem isn't so much parity as it is the disparity of parity. If that makes any sense.
See, the biggest issue I have with the NFL this season is that a 5-6 or a 4-7 team in the NFC right now is as likely to get into the playoffs as anyone, while a 5-6 or 4-7 team in the AFC is pretty effectively screwed. I mean, is it fair that the Jets are 8-3, which would tie or securely put them at the top in 3 NFC divisions, but they're never going to win their conference simply because they're behind the Patriots?
It would be one thing if this was just one team, but you have a similar situation in all the other AFC divisions too. The Bengals are 5-6 in the AFC North, which kills them. The Seahawks are 6-5 and are AT THE TOP of their division, with the runners-up weighing in at 5-6 and 4-7, and none of these teams are guaranteed to win or lose on any given Sunday.
The NFC North is still wide open with two teams at 7-4 and two at 4-7. Because Green Bay won on Monday, both the 4-7 Lions and the 4-7 NFC Cardinals (who play this Sunday) are ONE GAME BEHIND THE FINAL WILDCARD SPOT. The closest AFC division is the West, and even that is basically just between the 8-3 Chargers and the 7-4 Broncos, because can anyone honestly see the 4-7 Raiders or the 3-8 Chiefs coming back at this point? How does any of that make sense?
OK, I need to stop ranting because I'm in digital class and my professor just glanced at my screen (with team and ESPN websites open all over it) and sarcastically asked me who was winning. Meep.
Beth: You make a good comparison between the AFC and the NFC. But obviously, the problems are not attributable to some teams (like the Patriots) having more money, as it is in baseball. Are you saying that for football the disparity is caused by parity? That doesn't make much sense to me.
I think certain teams are being smarter with how they recruit players, organize their team and operate under the salary cap. Other teams (*cough*Redskins*cough*) aren't.
I just don't understand how you can say parity--defined as a salary cap and a roughly equal theoretical chance of success for each team at the start of the season--is to blame for that. Too many teams, hence a watering down of talent and an oversaturation of some markets, maybe.
But parity? To me, that's not the problem.
And what's the alternative?
Mer: First off, yes - the NFL is currently the most successful league in North America - that I agree with. (Though, baseball is making one hell of a comeback.) However despite the fact that my team is 10-1, I am not enjoying the NFL nearly as much as I once did. I blame parity. Allow me to explain why.
First off, you seem to imply that I blame parity on a salary cap, which I do not. I think there are too many teams in all of our professional sports, but I know there's nothing that can be done about that. As a fan, I don't support taking teams away from dedicated cities.
Lets look at baseball for a bit of comparison. I hate the Yankees. They win every year and it gets quite tiresome. But the Yankees are GREAT for baseball. So are the Cubs and Red Sox, who until this year, were perennial losers. When the Yankees are in the World Series, people watch. Same with teams like Boston and Chicago. They either cheer for them to win or cheer wildly against them. Everyone has an opinion on those teams.
Conversely, let's look at the last few Super Bowls. If you aren't a fan of either of the teams playing, you probably don't have much interest in the game. One year it's Oakland vs Tampa. The next year? Those teams end with losing records. Rinse and repeat. This Monday's game: Dallas vs Seattle. Sure, fans of both teams can get excited because they've got a good chance to win. But as a neutral fan, even as a Cowboys-hater, I wouldn't sit down to watch that game if you paid me. Those teams just aren't very good. Mediocre teams produce mediocre football. Simple as that. While it's great for the NFL that fans of all teams feel they have a chance to win, it's not good for the overall product and quality of the games being played. There are teams at .500 who have a great chance at making the playoffs. In the name of quality football, this should never be the case.
There are basically three "great" teams in the NFL this year: Eagles, Pats, and Steelers. Then there are "good" teams like the Packers, Ravens, Colts, Chargers, Vikes, Broncos, and Falcons. The rest of the NFL is mediocre or, in some cases, atrocious. I haven't spent much time watching the Pats or Steelers, but I've seen a handful of Eagles games, and I just don't think they're deserving of their 10-1 record. Perhaps that should be worded differently: their record is a bit misleading. They've played almost all of their games against truly awful teams. Does anyone REALLY know how good the Eagles are? The same goes for those teams I labeled as "good teams." The NFC is a joke this year – that we can surely all agree on. Is Atlanta truly a 9-2 caliber team or are they just playing a bunch of struggling teams in their division/conference?
As an aside, I also blame the constant trades and lack of big name Quarterbacks. Do I race home to tune in to see what Steve McNair or Quincy Carter is up to each Sunday. Not a chance.
Sports needs dynasties. Sports needs perennial losers and winners, teams people love to hate and heartwarming underdog stories. This year the NFL is just flat out boring. People are morededicated than ever to their particular team, but it seems like that's where the interest stops. Yes, every Sunday, any given team can win. But the question is – do we even care?
And for the record, when I say parity, I am using the word in its dictionary definition - equality. There is too much equality in the league and in turn, the quality of games is hurting. I was never making a statement on the salary cap.
Beth: OK--I misunderstood. I thought you meant parity in terms of salary cap, since salary cap is what brings about parity in terms of quality of team--no one team can buy all the players.
Still, the Patriots have shown that it is possible to rise above league-induced parity with smart management. Which is the point I'm making.
I guess we just have a difference of opinion, though, because to me, perennial winners and losers gets pretty boring, too, if they're always the same teams. I think there's something to be said for Super Bowl teams having losing records the last year or the year after--it means anything can happen.
I also disagree that the Yankees are good for baseball. It seems sad to me that they draw higher attendance in some places than the home team. Same goes for the Red Sox. So you could argue that the Red Sox and Yankees and other "celebrity teams", by boosting attendance where they travel, are good for baseball, but I think that if those cities had teams that could ever possibly be competitive with the Red Sox and Yankees, they might not need their attendance boosted in the first place.
I agree that it's not right that a team with a .500 record is eligible for the playoffs. You'd expect better quality than that, but again, I'd point to there being too many teams, too many games in the season, and some pretty bad coaching--I still can't really see how parity is the source of the mediocrity.
So like I said, we have a difference of opinion, I guess.
Mer: Well at this point we're arguing over different things. You're bringing up salary caps and I never brought that into my observations.
But basically, you think the NFL's product this year is great and I don't. Just a difference of opinion, I suppose.
But I do maintain that teams like the Yankees are good for sports. Sports need stories. The reason it was such a big story that our Red Sox won a World Series is because of their story, their history. 99% of fans would agree that it was more exciting when the Red Sox won the WS than when the Marlins or Angels won. Sports needs those types of teams, and football is severly lacking in them right now, in my opinion.
Beth: No, I don't think the product is great. As I said in the last paragraph of my message, I do think there's something wrong with a .500 team being eligible for the playoffs. I think we have a difference of opinion about the reasons for that being the case.
I bring up salary cap because that's what creates parity--limiting all teams to the same amount of money they can spend. Or am I mistaken?
Mer: Ok, your last email made it sound like you thought the current NFL product was stronger than it's been in a while..
Parity is defined differently by different people. On one hand it's the spending limit imposed on every team. On the other hand, the term "parity" is used to describe the theory that on any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team. Of course, they're related. Basically the NFL imposed the salary cap in an effort to ensure that the NFL was more competitive (ie: any team can win). Well, it IS more competitive, but the quality of the competition has suffered. At this point, to most people in casual conversation, parity has come to be defined as the decline in quality of play in the current incarnation of the NFL.
As far as what causes parity (decline in quality), I think there are several factors. There are too many teams and not enough quality athletes, therefore mediocre players are playing professional football when they never should have made it past college. There are also too many unqualilfied coaches. mike martz? Are you kidding me? That guy shouldn't have a job coaching at the professional level. There are several others for whom I could say the same thing. There are also too many unqualified GMs, and for that matter - too many owners not dedicated to winning. So yes, I agree with you that all of those things have caused parity. But I do think that the salary cap is partialy responsible, as well.
I read an article recently which compared the current state of the NFL to college basketball. 95% of the time, you take a Super Bowl quality team and as they win, the players will start to demand bigger paychecks. It's only a matter of time before the team is forced to trade some of those players to make room for cheaper, younger substitutes. In college basketball, players are leaving for the NBA after 2 or 3 years...or even just one. In both cases, teams are constantly changing and the sports are suffering. I'd be willing to be that current Super Bowl champs would have their asses kicked by Super Bowl champs from the 70s. It just doesn't seem like the NFL is producing GREAT teams anymore.
Of course, this doesn't mean I'm against a salary cap. I support the owners in the current NHL lockout, and I think a cap of some sort would benefit the NHL. But the NFL has a lot more money coming in than the NHL does (TV deals, merch sales, etc), so it's a different situation. I don't necesarily think that the NFL's current cap is the best solution for that particular league. But, it is far from the only reason that the quality is hurting.
Oh, and I forgot something. I found this fascinating stat:
"Las Vegas oddsmakers have set the over/under on regular season wins for all NFL teams during the 2004 NFL season, and as expected, the majority of teams in this league of parity fall somewhere in the range of seven to nine wins. "
Wow. Attention Mr Tagliabue - 7 to 9 wins? Not good for your league. If the NFL keeps going down this road and the MLB has another few postseason like the last two, I predict that baseball will overtake football for the national pastime once again.
Beth: OK, I think I'm finally clear now. Sorry, sometimes you just have to keep pounding away before my skull will allow any new information to enter.
I think compared with baseball, football doesn't have nearly as many transactions and players leaving etc. Maybe that's just my perception. I mean, look at the Marlins' "fire sale" after they won the 1997 WS. And there they were again in 2003. I wouldn't be surprised if they were back again within the decade. That's not a bad rate, esp. for a small-market team.
Perhaps I'm biased here--but I DO think there are "great" teams, and I count the Patriots, Colts and Steelers among them currently. I think the Patriots are an example of how greatness can be achieved even in an era of parity, free agency and salary cap. I think if there were more creative thinking being applied to team management, you wouldn't see as much of the mediocrity. I think the post-season battles between those three teams in the past few years have been great, certainly rivalling baseball (except this year--but this year the Red Sox did something that's NEVER happened, and so it's not a fair comparison). The snow game at Foxboro vs. the Raiders? Punk'ng Peyton at Foxboro last year, and then the heartstopper in this year's opener? I thought those were fantastic moments.
Okay, I AM biased, and you probably have a better perspective on the rest of the league than I do. I'm just lucky to be enjoying a golden era for the Pats right now.
What would you suggest as a means to solve the issues we're talking about, though, for the NFL?
Also, I don't think that the champs from the 70's would beat the champs from today...not because they weren't tough or good players but because advances in science, technology, nutrition, exercise, conditioning, coaching, you name it, make it almost an entirely different sport now. It's faster, the players (especially on the lines) are MUCH bigger...it's apples and oranges to me. Now, if you PREFER the 70's style of play, then that's another thing. And you're not alone in that.
Sam: HOLY FREAKING CATS I go to class and take a nap and find myself a million emails behind you two. I can never sleep again.
Let's see if I can play catch-up here and hash this out.
1. When I say that the problem is disparity of parity, I mean that a) I clearly have a shoddy grasp of the english language and b) the problem is not that league is equal all over, the problem is that the league is much more even in the NFC than it is in the AFC. Pretty much everyone is close in the NFC, while you have those standout teams in the AFC (Pats, Steelers, Colts to a degree-- they're awfully hot right now). I wasn't really thinking about the salary cap because
2. I think that the salary cap, in evening out the amount of money a team can spend, is good for the sport in a purist sense. You DO get players who spend their entire careers on a team, or large chunks of their career on a team much more often than you do in baseball. Who's more driven to distraction, a Red Sox fan in the winter or a Packers fan in the summer? It seems like the team changes every year in baseball, often dramatically (OK, maybe this year is worse than usual, but you know what I mean). In football you can take a breather, ignore the hot stove, and come back to your team next season with most of the core intact.
In the marketing sense, is it good for football? Well, that's hard to say. You can't deny that high-rolling teams like the Sox or Yankees make for great drama and great arguements. It must be hard for Panthers fans to point at Bob Kraft and say, "That man is clearly Satan!" I mean, for one thing he's not doing anything obscenely ostentatious with his cash, a la Steinbrenner. And for another, the Panthers suck.
But hey, they're in a division where everyone except the frontrunner is 4-7. So again we hit the parity thing, and their great suckitude is minimized by the fact that they're playing alongside the Saints' Aaron 'Oh wow I'm supposed to throw *at* people?' Brooks and the Bucs' Brian 'I went to Michigan but I'm no Tom Brady' Griese.
3. No stories like the Red Sox in football? Maybe not exactly. But when was the last time the Detroit Lions won a Superbowl? If you can't think of the year, that would be because the answer is NEVER. They won some sort of championship thing back in the days before the Superbowl was created (I believe it was 1957), but they haven't ever won the big shiny phallus trophy.
4. OK, someone said a lack of big-name quarterbacks. I think. I can't read back through all that email. Anyways. Peyton Manning? ManningMarkII over in New York? Tom freaking Brady? Daunte 'I can do this without Moss, honest' Culpepper?Michael 'FleetFoot' Vick? Drew 'hottest bandwagon in football' Brees? Ben Roethlisbergererererreer? Donovan 'maybe not such a big name if TO wasn't around but he is so nyah' McNabb?
And then you have the B-listers, like Byron 'every game we win will be won by points gotten in the last 45 seconds of play' Leftwich and David 'smoking hot' Carr. Drew 'I used to be a Patriot' Bledsoe. Jake 'you all know me as that guy who used to be good' Delhomme. Joey 'I'm a team leader and I can throw really well' Harrington. OK, I'm kidding about that one.
In all seriousness, though, hello, Brett Favre, 200 consecutive starts this past Monday? Was that not FREAKING AWESOME? Come on, that was like the definition of feel-good football. What a perfect matchup for Monday night. Of course, next Monday we get the Raiders at the Seahawks. The most overweight team in football versus the team who imploded the most as the season progressed. I know I can't wait.
I'm stopping now before I find more things to write about and make this even more ridiculously long than it is. But... uh... I had a point here, somewhere...
That's what I think about football. I think that was the point. I think...
Mer: [Beth,] I definitely think you're looking at it with a little bit of Pats fan bias, but how could you not? Yes, the Pats have done quite well. They won two Superbowls in 3 years, though the year they didn't win, didn't they finish with a poor record? They are definitely a few dominating seasons away from becoming a dynasty, which should be good for the league. But then, you say that dynasties are not good for the league, so I guess you'd be ok with an 8-8 Pats team next year, right? :)
Anyway, my point is, the Pats have done well for themselves recently. But outside of New England, they don't generate the emotion and excitement that the 70's Steelers or early 90s Cowboys did. All of your great moments of the recent postseasons involved the Pats. Sure, the tuck rule thing was exciting for a while, and there were a few great moments, but it didn't come close to the MLB for outsiders. I have friends who don't support any of the teams involved (in both the MLB and NFL postseasons). They were 100% hooked to the ALCS this past year because of the rivalries and what was at stake. They don't find the NFL playoffs nearly as exciting. You can even look at the NBA playoffs. Detroit knocking off the mighty Lakers in the Finals attracted viewers because people love to watch the mighty get toppled. Would anyone have watched if it was the Cavs vs the Mavs?
I love my Eagles. I adore Donovan and consider myself enormously lucky to be able to watch him and T.O. every week. But outside of the Eagles, I am supremely bored with the NFL this year, whereas a few years ago I was watching every single game via Satellite each Sunday. And if I'm alone in this thought, well...I guess I'm jealous of you two ladies. I want to enjoy the NFL as much as I have in the past, but it's just not happening.
[Sam,] Not to rag on your hometown team, but the Lions' story is hardly comparable to that of the Red Sox. The Sox have fans across the globe. People love to love the Sox...loads of people were cheering for them to win the Series this year. The Lions...well...sure, they haven't won a SB, but it's not really even close to the same thing. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I doubt you'd find hordes of people in California praying for a Lions Super Bowl victory.
A bunch of those QBs you named are hardly big names to the average football fan. And others are leading .500 teams. How impressive. And as for that comment about McNabb needing T.O....well, I'm not even gonna touch that. :)
Sam: For the record, the Lions aren't my hometown team. I *am* from Massachusetts, so technically that's the Pats. I was raised on Lions, but I only go to school here :) And I know it's not quite the same, but I'd like to think that if the Lions didn't consistently suck they would be a much bigger story. The Sox story was so poignant because they used to get all the way up and then lose it at the last minute, and god it feels good to be able to say 'used to' there.
The Michigan QB thing was unrelated to the big-name quarterback thing. I'm quite aware that most of those guys are relative unknowns, but I was just throwing out my unreasoning glee at all these Wolverines in the NFL. Apropos of nothing, if you will.
I didn't say McNabb was *bad* without TO... I said he might not be such a big, household name without TO there. I know few people have heard of Byron Leftwich, but the guy's a pretty smart, solid QB. Jake Plummer isn't exactly a household name, but he's pretty good. Neither is necessarily McNabb-good, but bear in mind that both are in the AFC, throw TO onto either one of those teams, and suddenly everyone's talking about the Leftwich-Owens combination, or whether Jake and Terrell are buddy-buddy in the lockerroom or not.