Do you hear that? That’s the sound of baseballs hitting the mitt as pitchers and catchers begin reporting to Spring Training. How about that? That’s basketball’s dribbling amidst 30+ meaningless NBA games prior to a month-and-a-half of equally meaningless playoff games en route to a repeat of last year’s Miami/Oklahoma City championship. And that? That’s me, and others like me, moaning and groaning, ruing the next 6 months minus the game which now dominates this country’s sports landscape.
The Super Bowl and the BCS Championship Game are behind us, recruiting is no more, and April’s NFL Draft lies somewhere on a horizon seemingly further away than a Barry Bonds Hall of Fame induction ceremony. February and March are like a Football Purgatory full of torturous spectacles like Spring Training, half-assed professional basketball, and a once-great college roundball tournament which has been relegated to 68 teams consisting of relatively unknown players. In addition, we get C+/B- golf tournaments, early season minor league…errr…MLS soccer, and something called NHL hockey (Your guess is as good as mine).
Don’t get me wrong; to an extent I’m just whining. I can be entertained by a Major League Baseball game, will gamble on March Madness, and can tolerate a Timbers game with the help of an adult beverage or 6, but football has watered-down my excitement for all things not, and the “nots” have done the rest on their own.
I love the Blazers and would love nothing more than to follow them on a championship run, but David Stern and the rest of his minions have spent the better part of this century killing the game by way of “creative officiating” and competitive mismanagement. There are only a handful of teams that can win, and everyone outside of home team fanatics know who those teams are from the opening tip. Without luck or a desirable free agent locale, franchises in the league of Stern’s creation are left with #5-#8 seeds, first-round defeats, and dreams of success they’re inherently left to never reach.
College basketball? You can blame that one on the NBA as well. Due to their 30-year marketing plan of individual over the team, coupled with their ridiculous “one-and-done” policy regarding draft eligibility, they’ve watered-down their own product by means of killing the NCAA’s. Aside from your alma mater or hometown team, few follow the game on a national level and fewer can name the players responsible for their team’s success. It isn’t until the tournament that the majority of people learn anything about these teams, and it’s soon after that those teams are finding new players.
Golf is a month into its season and I enjoy that more than most, but it’s merely warming-up on the way to its first major and prior to the aforementioned always seems a bit like the preseason leading up to opening day (The Masters).
And the MLS – while a better alternative due to a hometown franchise – will always be a substandard product to the real thing overseas. I know this city loves it, and I enjoy it more than I ever imagined I would, but soccer will always be the made-for-TV-movie full of second-rate-stars longing to make it to the “Big Screen”…but never will.
Football is king, and now it’s gone. No more weekends filled with endless games, no more weeknights ending with primetime showdowns, and no more talk show banter revolving around fanatical passion for a game like no other.
But maybe we need it?
Maybe this break is a small part of what makes the game so good. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and is it possible that said absence is a part of Football’s secret recipe? The NBA season lasts nearly 8 months, baseball…more than 7, MLS soccer…an eternity, and the PGA Tour lingers for the better part of 10 months. Certainly, the excitement of the game coupled with the importance of each and every contest drives the bus that is American Football, but maybe it’s that lack of fulfillment that leaves us wanting more.
Maybe that’s why they’ll (meaning every possible ESPN television and radio program) talk and I’ll listen regarding the NFL Combine and Draft? Maybe that’s why stadiums nationwide will fill to the rafters for glorified scrimmages called “Spring Games?” And maybe that’s why all these sports I used to love have become stepping-stones on the way to the genuine entertainment that is college and NFL football?
I don’t hate baseball; it just doesn’t light my fire anymore. I don’t hate the NBA, it just drove me away. And I like golf’s majors, “March Madness,” and the Timbers from time to time. But football has my heart, and I’m going to miss it while it’s gone.