Lost Weekend for the NFL
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Hard to imagine anyone feeling sorry for the National Football League. The money, the TV ratings, the magnificently gaudy stadiums… professional football seems inevitable and unstoppable.

But …

Those TV ratings were down for the first week’s package of games and network executives inevitably blamed… the weather. Specifically, the hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida.

This may even be true and, if so, could actually work to the NFL’s advantage since most of the first week’s games were not especially good and the league needs an alibi. The website FiveThirtyEight, which views the entire world through the prism of accumulated data, summed up that first week thus:

Wow, Week 1 Of The NFL Was Terrible

Games were low scoring AND not close.

One imagines that the NFL and network execs figured that things would bounce back in week two when the games wouldn’t have to compete with bulletins from the national weather service and non-stop hurricane coverage on the Weather Channel. But, then, came a Thursday night snoozer between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Houston Texans. The game was won by the Texans, 13-9. The Bengals went the entire game without scoring a touchdown. Didn’t score one in their first game of the season, either. No team had gone through the first two games of its season without scoring a touchdown since the Chicago Bears of 1939. Back then, of course, defense was a part of the game. So the Bengals’ accomplishment was especially noteworthy.

But that was Thursday. The fan (and the NFL exec) could find consolation in studying the second week’s schedule of games and finding a couple of matches that would, almost certainly, produce a few touchdowns (field goals are fine, but not really satisfying), with the issue not decided until the final seconds or, perhaps, even unto overtime. The Dallas Cowboys playing the Broncos in Denver, for instance. Now that would be a game worth watching. And, then, there would be the Green Bay Packers playing the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night. Those two games would surely salvage earlier matches of Jacksonville and Tennessee, in which the Titans managed to squeak by, 37-19. Or Carolina and Buffalo, in which neither team scored a touchdown and the Panthers prevailed, 9-3. And, then, there was Arizona vs. Indianapolis. This one went to overtime, doubtless to the dismay of fans who were hoping to get home with enough time and daylight left to mow the lawn. But the Cardinals’ kicker missed a mid-range field goal with time running out in regulation. Must have been the pressure.

He made a kick in overtime and Arizona won, 16-13.

Still, the late afternoon came and the fan settled in for the Cowboys vs. the Broncos. Couple of playoff contenders, both teams had won their openers, last week, so the fan put a couple of IPAs in the refrigerator, made up a tray of artery clogging stuff, heavy on the cheese, and settled in.

The Broncos looked sharp in the first quarter but gave up the ball on a fumble and Dallas scored and… then the officials suspended play. Seems that thunderstorms were approaching and there was a danger of lightning.

So maybe the weather gods really were out to make things tough on the NFL.

Fox, of course, switched to another game. This one between the Redskins and the Los Rams. The game was being played in the Los Angeles Coliseum which had been packed the night before for a college game, Texas vs. USC.

But people who tuned in to watch the Cowboys vs. the Broncos could see that there were empty seats in the Coliseum. And a lot of them. As reported in the Washington Post, “… it would be generous to describe the Coliseum as half full. By the end, the loudest cheers were from the Redskins fans in attendance, some of whom sang ‚Hail to the Redskins’ after Washington’s 27-20 win.”

By then, however, the storms in Denver had passed and the Broncos began remorselessly taking the poor Cowboys apart. The game was another disappointment but not because there was no scoring. There was, in fact, plenty of that. Most of it done by the Broncos who won 42-17.

The long, disappointing Sunday ended a few hours later with Atlanta dominating Green Bay. The broadcast dealt extensively with the two team’s casualty lists. which was understandable since injuries more or less determined the course of the game and its outcome. Neither David Bakhtiari nor Bryan Bulaga, the Packers’ starting offensive tackles, was in uniform. And Jordy Nelson, favorite receiver of Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rogers, went out early with what was called a “quad issue.”

So the Packers were down 17 at the half by which time the football had surely lost its appeal for many fans. The games were blowouts. This happens but it leaves a bad taste. The tension of close, well-played games makes it possible to spend the better part of a Sunday watching football on television without letting the ads drive you to mayhem or drink.

The best technique for dealing with the ads is, of course, to DVR the broadcast of a game and then, when you watch, you can fast forward through the ads. You need to be careful not to check your phone or otherwise tip yourself off to what has already happened in the game. But you spare yourself the ads and the promos for the upcoming network sitcoms which make you wonder about the people who actually watch those shows. Do people really find them funny?

But if you watch in “real time” and can’t mute the sound because you left the remote in the kitchen when you went for another IPA, then you might find yourself watching, late in the second quarter, an ad for a drug that will help people with lung cancer live longer.

The ad is probably as tasteful as it could possibly be. But still …

If you had started your football Sunday at 1:00 PM and persevered through the 4:30 Broncos’ blowout of Dallas and then hung in to watch the Falcons’ beat-down of the Packers, that ad might have been the thing that finished it for you. For this day, anyway.

Lung cancer? Really?

There is always next Sunday and a new lineup of games. The season is young. But it sure doesn’t feel that way.

Geoffrey Norman’s column, “Fourth and Long for the NFL,” will run early each week this season.

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