Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Thrill is Gone

Most years by the time August rolls around I have only one thing on my mind when it comes to sports: The NFL. While last season was a disappointing one for the teams I cheer for, at the end of last year's Super Bowl, I was pumped for the 2010-2011 NFL Season.

Fast forward five months and nearly all of the excitement has dissipated. I've tried on several occasions to write NFL-related posts and couldn't come up with jack. I'm sure part of the reason for my dip in interest has to do with the vast decrease in free time that accompanies the start of medical school. I no longer have time to research stats for fantasy football, read training camp previews from 5 different websites, or play the entire upcoming season on Madden between the start of training camp and opening night.

Yet while I won't be able to do those things, their absence is not at the root of my lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming NFL season. I have tried to figure out exactly what happened in that five month span to cause such a drastic dip in interest and here is what I have come up with.

1) For the first time ever, I'm finding it hard to cheer for my team
God I hate him
Look, the Steelers, who seemed legitimate candidates to repeat as Super Bowl champs last August, had a disappointing year in 2009-2010.  There is no denying that.  However, it was not what happened between week 1 and week 17 that made my blood a little less black and gold.  Instead it was just one guy: Ben Roethlisberger. I had always suspected that Big Ben looked at himself as somewhat of an invincible superhero.  From refusing to take a sack in the pocket to his infamous motorcycle crash when he wasn't wearing a helmet, Roethlisberger always seemed to be a bit of an idiot.  But I was fine with that.  People care if their doctors, lawyers, and accountants are intelligent, not so much NFL quarterbacks.

Consequently, I was fine having a guy whose IQ rivaled Snookie's as my favorite team's quarterback.  That all changed however when the news came out that he took advantage of a 20 year old girl in a bathroom stall. A few weeks later, a feature in Sports Illustrated discussed his continued riding of motorcycles without a helmet and a general pattern of douchebaggery throughout the city of Pittsburgh .

Around the same time, the Steelers cut loose of  Santonio Holmes who had a breakout season in 2009-2010, but also had a series of legal issues since he joined the team.  Despite several rumors of attempted trades, Ben Rapelisberger still remains the QB of the Steelers going into the season.  I understand that it's hard for a front office to cut loose of a QB who has brought the organization two Super Bowls, but as a fan I just can't bring myself to cheer for a guy like that.

Ideally, the Steelers would have traded Roethlisberger for a second round pick (or even cut him if it came down to it) and drafted Jimmy Clausen with their second round pick.  This coming season I would probably be cheering for a talented team with Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon, or Clausen at quarterback.  Yeah that team would probably miss the playoffs, but at the end of the day I would have fun cheering the team on to an 8-8 finish, knowing my team's quarterback hadn't violated a girl three years younger than me.  Anyways, I've seen the Steelers win two Super Bowls, I could deal with a down year.  Instead I'm stuck with Rapelisberger.

2) On the flip side, I'm don't have a team to hate
Maybe the fact this picture makes me want to vomit is a good thing 
If you took a poll of who was the most hated team in the NFL anytime between 2003 and 2008, the New England Patriots would have won in a landslide.  Two years after David Tyree took down the most dominant and perhaps most hated team in NFL history with a miracle catch, the Patriots dynasty has been officially put to rest.  The fact is that the Pats have not won a Super Bowl since 2004 and that in that time no team has been able to quite take their place.  The Colts blew their chance this February, the Steelers have followed up both their Super Bowl seasons by missing the playoffs, the Giants seem to have been a flash in the pan, and the Saints just aren't that hateable.

Without an antagonist, the exploits of a protagonist become less significant, and that is the case with the upcoming NFL season.  Having a team to cheer against can be just as important as having on to cheer for.  That said I do think there are four possible teams that could take the role if the cards fall right the Patriots, the Jets, and the Cowboys.  If the Patriots get off to a hot start and win 7 or 8 straight games, they could easily regain their title as public enemy #1.   The Cowboys are always a threat to be the NFL's antagonist just based on principle.  The Jets have amassed a lot of talent this offseason and clearly have an air of cockiness to their game, and a coach who doesn't do much to filter his thoughts.

The wild card is if Rapelisberger's suspension gets reduced, the Pittsburgh starts winning, and the Steelers instantly become the most hated team in the NFL (see this season really is lose-lose for a Steelers fan).

3) The NFL offseason storylines have become trite
It seems like at the moment 90% of offseason storylines fall into one of three categories: 1) Player X got in trouble with the law 2) Player X is holding out for more money 3) Brett Favre may or may not retire.  With regards to the first, honestly I just don't care.  Put the person in jail, suspend him a few games, or do nothing (depending on the offense).  Just don't spend 25 minutes talking about it on Sportscenter.  With regards to the second, the NFL instantly needs to go to slotted salaries for the draft like the NBA.  Rookies haven't proven anything and thus don't deserve $50 million over four years.  Just like every job, you need to produce results to demand a higher salary.  As to the third point will someone just man up and take a shot at Favre's knees during the preseason and end all this nonsense.

4) The aren't as many exciting personalities in the league anymore
Back in 2005, you had T.O. when he was still scoring touchdowns and doing driveway sit-ups and you had Steve Smith and the artist formerly known as Chad Johnson seeing who could come up with the most innovative end zone celebrations.  Fast forward to 2010 and all of the great personalities in the league have either washed up (T.O.), toned it down (Steve Smith), or become parodies of themselves (Chad Ochocinco).  Yes the Bengals might as well put Pauly D in the slot this season to cement their reality show at WR, but it all feels a bit contrived.  Outside of Cincinnati the only exciting personality in the league is Rex Ryan.  I'm not sure if this trend is due to a change in attitude among younger NFL players, or if Roger Goodell has actually managed to turn the NFL into the "No Fun League".  Either way, despite what Goodell would like to think the NFL is an entertainment industry whose primary audience is males between the ages of 13 and 40, not a Fortune 500 company.

All of this said, perhaps when the actual season rolls around my excitement for the NFL will be back at full force.  Maybe some team will get desperate at the beginning of the season and offer up a first round pick for Rapelisberger.  Maybe the Patriots or the Jets will unify NFL fanbases by taking up the mantle of NFL Public Enemy #1.  Maybe the Ochocinco & TO combination will have a trickle down effect and make the league more fun again.  Maybe.  All I do know is that when it comes to the NFL offseason the thrill is gone.