The No Fun League: How the NFL is Killing Itself in Front of Us

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“It all started in Green Bay” is about the worst way for a Lions fan to start a story. Unfortunately that is where this begins, and to make matters worse this is a story that starts with a Vikings player. Green bay Packers fans are obnoxious douche bags. Nothing is better evidence of this than their time honored tradition of mooning the visiting team’s bus after games. So in 2005 Randy Moss did this touchdown celebration as a jab back at the incredibly low brow Wisconsin faithful. As the Vikings went up 30-17 in the fourth quarter of a playoff game Randy Moss locked himself in as my favorite Minnesota Vikings player of all time. Moss was barely able to run due to an injury, and still managed to go in to “the frozen tundra of Lambeau field” and ice the game. Moss only managed four catches on the day. He scored the same number of touchdowns as Brett Favre and the Packers with two. Randy Moss was a hero worthy of infinite praise, and what he got was Joe Buck behaving as though his mother had been violated. This was the beginning of the NFL coming down on players for pretending to do something.

Shortly thereafter the NFL enacted rules forbidding players performing an excessive touchdown celebration. There had been fines before. Those fines were related to some behavior within the celebration however. Terrell Owens hiding a sharpie in the goal post pad so that a ball could be immediately signed and given to a kid in the stands was one example. A hidden phone so that Joe Horn could call his mom after a touchdown catch in 2003 was another. In neither of these cases was the touchdown celebration the fine-able offense though, it was hiding a pen and a phone on the field of play that got the players fined. In 2006 the league made sweeping changes to the rules that disallowed inappropriate celebrations.

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How That became This in the NFL

Initially these rules resulted in a fifteen yard penalty, and fines when a particularly out of bounds touchdown celebration took place. Seahawks wide receiver Johnathan Baldwin pretending to drop his pants and poop a football DURING THE SUPERBOWL, resulted in a $11,025 fine. That is understandable. Baldwin was in the most watched event in television, and did something that tarnished the image of the league. This week Giants’ defensive end Owa Odigizuwa was fined $12,154 for pretending to take a picture of his teammate, Landon Collins, after an interception return for a touchdown. You can’t actually watch the event online, CBS cut away from the players’ deserved touchdown celebration for such riveting moments as: the sideline cameraman’s shoes, the Giants’ head coach watching the scoreboard, and Case Keenum chatting with Tavon Austin as they left the field. As a fan of the game I have to ask if the NFL is fucking kidding me.

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A Couple of Familiar Examples

Anquan Boldin caught the winning touchdown for the Lions against Washington. In his moment of glory he threw the ball as far in to the stands as he could. While screaming in triumph at the top of his lungs, Boldin had the assembled crowd losing their minds in joy. He gave one member of the crowd what is likely the greatest sports related moment of their life up to this point: catching that ball.  For having given the league, and the fans this moment, which was featured prominently on the NFL’s own website, Anquan Boldin was fined $6076. Ndamukong Suh kicked another quarterback. That was not deemed worthy of a fine. Throwing a ball to a fan is worse than kicking another player. That is the product the NFL is selling right now as they preach player safety. The League was more than happy to paste Terrell Owen’s catch phrase all over their network in it’s infancy. Viewers couldn’t get through a commercial break without hearing Owens tell them to “get your popcorn ready.” The league has continually marketed these moments of unbridled joy and celebration, while fining players for producing them. They do not understand that these moments are why people tune in, not a discussion of how the cover regular two defense differs from the Tampa two while a team breaks the huddle. Anquan Boldin gave the people what they tune in for, and lost money for doing so.

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The NFL has been setting itself up for a fall from a marketing perspective for years. They have made their advertising about a select few players, and the rivalries between them. They have suppressed any and all attempts by players that are a little more “urban” to market the game in a way that naturally appeals to fans. The story line following one of their golden calves (Tom Brady) is how he rebounds from a court case in which the league was made to look ridiculous. The other (Peyton Manning) retired this off-season. In the other conference the players next in line for that mantle are struggling to generate the same kind of media punch. Aaron Rogers is not marketable on that level by himself, Matt Ryan has all the personality of a wet noodle, and Drew Brees plays for an awful team. The reason you’re seeing the entire marketing branch of the NFL come to bear on Matthew Stafford is that they desperately need him. A divisional rivalry with Aaron Rogers follows the exact formula of the Manning/Brady rivalry in its beginning. Two prime time games a year, and hopefully a playoff match up, that people are guaranteed to tune in for with baited breath. They would also get several more games with each of those players facing another pretty good quarterback that can be sold with the trickle down from that hype. The NFL is desperate for a story line they can sell.

For the first time ever ratings are down for NFL games. I am sure that nobody in the league office would ever be willing to admit it, but the reason is incredibly simple. They have taken the fun out of the game. Each week they trot out some of the least interesting players that have ever put on cleats to do commentary for games. John Lynch was a great safety, and over the years he’s become a technically solid color man in broadcasts, but there is no joy for the viewer in those broadcasts. The same can be said of Moose Johnston, Ronde Barber, Trent Green, Rich Gannon, and so on. They follow that boring presentation with a fine to any player who does anything moderately entertaining, and refuse to even show it to you.

What Could Be for the NFL

The CFL is an inferior product, let’s get that out of the way, but they’re trying to make their broadcasts as entertaining as possible. As a counterpoint to the NFL’s stamping on player creativity, they’re allowing their players to show their personalities; there is no fine levied for a touchdown celebration. It is the best reason to watch a CFL game, perhaps the only reason unless you happen to have a friend or classmate playing in the game, most of the players are former NCAA players. Some of these celebrations are ridiculous, but they’re entertaining. The NFL used to do that, when the league’s popularity was growing, when the people who are now have adolescent children were becoming fans. What are they doing to inspire the dreams of those kids now? In the era where we all know that these guys are literally breaking themselves for our entertainment every week, do we have to stop them from having some fun while they do it? Apparently the NFL thinks so. I say let them wear awesome shoes, let them putt a football with a goal line marker as long as they put it back quickly after, and let them dunk a ball on the field goal post as long as they don’t wreck it. Let them do what the CFL guys are doing if they want. Let them make football great again.

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About the Author

Ash Thompson
Ash Thompson is a fanatical football fan, and less fanatical hockey fan despite his Canadian heritage. He is sorry aboot that. His spirit animal is a beaver with a shark's head. He enjoys maple syrup and tacos, but never at the same time.