Featured writer for Sideline Report covering the Jets
Not the NFL your daddy remembers
Getting older does have some perks, even as a sports fan, it gives you an opportunity to look back and reflect on how far things have come. The basics of sports have been an ongoing evolution, and it will continue to be. Let me look back at the portion that has affected my life from the 60s until today.
The NBA first saw a rival league, the ABA, draft offensive stars like Julius Erving, but then also had the pleasure of having Mr. Jordan play. Michael’s game changed the philosophy of not only coaches, but players themselves. Defense is hard teamwork, but offense is prettier and talented individuals can shine even more (Michael’s Doctrine).
MLB was built on strong pitching and great fielders. The HR titles were never to be broken, until Aaron did, and what he accomplished was far more devastating to the game, than to Babe Ruth himself. Hank opened the eyes of the young kids of his day, and they grew up wanting what he had. The Mark McGwires grew up realizing that homerun kings could break the bank, and doing it the old fashioned way required a God given talent not easy to have. Drugs were the easy way to the promise land.
The NHL was the epitome of defense, the game was very much like world soccer, and the true stars were the Ken Drydens and Brad Parks of the world. Even the amazing scorers like Howe did not really get the notoriety that you would expect. Along came Mr. Gretsky, the Michael of hockey. Wayne was so popular, even though he played in the abyss of Edmonton (most Americans didn’t even know where Edmonton was until he came along), he put Hockey on the US map. The league eased rules to make sure more goals would be scored, the game needed to grow, especially since they didn’t even have a TV contract.
The pattern is similar; there is no question that the leagues have moved in the direction of offense. Goals, points, runs are what America wants to watch. My greatest example was soccer. The NASL was put together in the 70s because we felt that we were missing out on the world’s most watched game. The league used an enormous amount of money to bring in stars, but even then…. Everyone remembers Pele, who had been retired already and barely looked like himself. Nobody remembers the best star was a defenseman from Germany, Franz Beckenbaur. The games usually had 1-2 goals, not enough for the public, and the league folded.
Back to our game, the NFL……..
The pride of Brooklyn, Vince Lombardi and the success he had, laid out the blue print for all to follow. All you needed was an offense that ran the same 5-6 plays over and over again to win games, why? All the skilled players were on defense. The logic was simple; if your defense stops the offense you will win the game, even if you only score 10-15 points.
As the leagues merged after the lowly Jets beat the mighty Colts, putting an end to the 60s, the 70s gave us the No Name Defense, and the ’72 Dolphins. This was followed by the great Steeler Curtain, which led to Ditka’s Bears.
Those games were amazing events, but rarely on television, and loved only by the most devoted. The NFL was an up and coming sport, but it did not hold ground with America’s Pass time. It barely could compete with the NBA. What changed?
First similar to the NBA, the NFL had to fight off a rival league. USFL’s thinking was that offense would give them instant fame. It almost worked too. They drafted skilled players and neglected defense, at least as compared to the NFL.
Suddenly college football became more popular, their teams had fun creative offensive plays, and high scores. Networks were fighting to get the rights to televise the games. So much so, that Notre Dame even chose to sign a separate contract from other division one schools.
When MLB reached its height in popularity, as McGwire, Sosa were destroying the record books. There wasn’t a TV station that didn’t carry those moments pitch by pitch. It was all everyone talked about. The NFL had to make their move. Tagliabue realized that offense sold tickets. Fans wanted more points, and defense was not the flavor of the week anymore.
Highly skilled players were no longer choosing defense over offense, the result? Better offensive weapons all around.
First step, rules. Follow Hockey’s lead and ease the rules, even invented the two-point conversion. We no longer praised the Steelers D or the genius Defensive Coordinators.
A great example is in our own division. Maybe few remember Bill Belichick’s other life; but he was considered a master, a genius in designing defenses that won SBs. Yet as the game really progressed in the late 90’s early 2000’s, Bill adjusted and today nobody seems to remember his roots. He has won SBs with offense, he has won as many if not more games than any other HC of his era.
I remember watching Dan Fouts throw to Kellen Winslow, a TE!!! Everyone was shocked, but it would never last, we all thought.
It has not only lasted, but also evolved football into a totally different game. Someday, we will actually remember the 2TE system in New England as the door that opened the game to new levels. TEs more than likely will become regula WRs. FBs who have really vanished, will be the new TEs. RBs all better learn to catch, running will be about as important as a blocking TE.
The question that remains unanswered: is this going to make the game better?
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