I love sport. I love the theatre, I love the atmosphere, I love the sense of occasion, the triumph and despair. I love it all. In all it’s shapes and forms.
I’m not a huge fan of lawn bowls, or diving, or motor sport. But do I openly hate them? No. Despite what it is on the surface, each sport has its subtleties and nuances that set it apart from the next. Each book has a different cover on which it should not be judged.
Which is why I grow tiresome of NFL-haters (I refer to a certain previous MOTD article). These are the people that profess to be “sport lovers” but openly and aggressively despise what is an iconic and massively followed game. On the surface, it appears to be slow, static and one-dimensional; played by a bunch of so-called “tough” players that wear enough body armor to protect themselves against a stampede.
I should note that since my colleague decided to start this debate, this will be written in defense of the NFL and will not be simply attacking his personal beliefs with childish name-calling. Sorry in advance for any disappointment.
I’ll address the most common “dislike” about this sport: the timing. It is apparently quite long and tedious to withstand. I put this down to the fact that it is an American sport, and all American sports are stretched in time to breaking point. NBA games are supposed to go for 48 minutes but sit down and watch a game and you’ll have lost about 140 minutes. Baseball goes for about 3 hours. Ice hockey has 60 minutes of playing time but stretches for almost 3 hours as well. And all of these games have overtime, which stretches them even further. Each game is padded with “dead time” – timeouts, substitutions and lengthy breaks between play for commercials. (One point: although annoying, aren’t Superbowl commercials a thing of legend each year, with everyone seemingly scrutinizing and analyzing them more than the game itself?)
In Australia, we are fed games with the smallest amount of dead time as possible. AFL games have 80 minutes of clock time but you’ll lose only about 160 minutes of your life to watch a game – no time outs, no review system, no dead time whatsoever. Either they are playing or they are resting between quarters. NRL is basically the same. Soccer, sorry – football, goes for 90 minutes –with zero dead time.
There are exceptions in Australia. Cricket lasts for days. DAYS. Yet we love it. We are drawn to it for reasons other than the length of time it takes to decide a winner and loser. The NFL is the same, but more on this later.
A fellow colleague mentioned that the average NFL game has only about 11 minutes of playing time. Wow. How outrageous! We want to see 60 minutes of non-stop, full-blown action!!
Give me a break. I’ve watched basketball games where the point guard holds the ball before each sequence for about 10 seconds, organizing the ensuing play. In rugby union, the clock can run for minutes while a scrum is being set and reset. In AFL the clock runs when a player gets ready to shoot for goal. In soccer the ball is mindlessly passed around the defense for minutes on end. In short, every sport has dead spots when the clock runs and nothing happens. This is not new, or particularly shocking.
Secondly, the supposed “toughness” of the sport. It is clear that padding and protection seem overblown in the NFL. All I will say is: make your own mind up. If you want to watch a game for pure toughness, watch boxing or UFC. You know, those sports where competitors are beaten to within an inch of their life, sometimes more. And if you want to argue rugby (league or union) is tougher than the NFL, then fine. Just remind yourselves that they wear padding too. Also, and I don’t have the stats but rugby union backs spend a lot of the game standing around catching their breath, probably about as much as NFL players.
Further, there are great discrepancies in the size of NFL players. Imagine you’re a running back, of about 215lbs or 97kg (average weight in the NFL). If you receive the ball and sprint straight into an oncoming defensive lineman, of around 300lbs, or 136kg, (average weight in the NFL) in full sprint as well, then you’d probably want some protection. The impact of such a collision really is mind-boggling. AFL players may have no protection but rarely would you see such a collision, especially these days.
Thirdly, the lack of creativity and flexibility in player positions and roles. This is not new in any sport. Players are conditioned to play a specific position exceptionally well. Role players in basketball and specialists in rugby union are two that spring to mind. To do well as a team over the length of a season or competition, you have to ensure players are exceptionally good at what they do, not simply average or above average in 2 or 3 positions. In NFL, sure, players may be ABLE to play more than one position – but consistently well? Probably not. All-rounders in cricket are great at batting and bowling, but even they always have a tendency to be very good at one and OK at the other. Rugby union and AFL have multi-position players but when push comes to shove, they are always found out in their weaker position.
Besides, it means more opportunity for more players and the greater chance of players playing at their optimal ability for 100% of the time. This is why in NFL we see great punt return and kickoff return touchdowns as specialists come into their own. We are conditioned to believe versatility is good, but the downside of versatility is often the lack of a player to perform optimally for 100% of the time.
So, why is NFL not a terrible, terrible sport? Hopefully I’ve helped to explain why. And if not, that’s fine. Me and the other NFL fans will continue to enjoy this great game, where games can turn on any play and the unbelievable can happen at any given moment. And if it takes too long to watch an NFL game these days, there’s always the internet – where you can watch all the best bits of each game in a few minutes.
And if that still doesn’t convince you, there’s always scantily clad females to watch.
Check, and mate.