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London Franchise? No thanks

January 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Like all the other British NFL fans, I have thoroughly enjoyed the introduction of the annual International Series game at Wembley stadium and I myself have been lucky enough to have attended three of the games. Each year the stadium is (almost) full and the crowd are down in London hours before kick off, taking in the atmosphere of the entire day and the whole operation has proved to be a success in taping into the undoubted fan base within the UK and Europe with fans travelling from across the continent to the English capital.

On the face of it, it all sounds like the perfect build up to the much talked about arrival of a full time NFL franchise being based over here, most likely in London. However, I am firmly of the opinion that any such move would NOT be a success and I know I am not alone amongst British based fans of the sport in this belief. Here are just a few of my thoughts as to why I wouldn’t move a team over to London.

•    Travelling and Scheduling

One of the more obvious stumbling blocks the league would have to overcome is how they would compensate for a team having to play 8 games in the UK and 8 in the U.S. as well as the 8 teams having to play away in the UK. At the moment, the two teams who compete in the International Series game have their bye week immediately after. It would be impossible to leave the schedule in it’s current format with a team based in London but there would probably be a way round the problem, maybe changing the bye week system and having the UK team play a few away games and a few home games in a row to prevent constant back and forth travel. Having the team play say three or four games in a row away from home would leave UK fans on the sidelines however meaning that idea would probably be unusable.

•    The Novelty Team

The weekend of the International Series still has a novelty factor to it, both to people in the UK and the U.S. and I would expect a permanent to team to have that as a permanent issue. Taking a team out of the U.S. would basically alienate them from the rest of the league and basically make them outcasts with American fans having little to no interest in what happens to them. I would think this would be an issue when trying to sign players and draft picks also with players having to relocate to another country and be removed from the rest of the NFL. With the team being plucked out of the air and placed down in London, having no history in the UK and

•    Cultural Differences

American football (it would never be called simply football) is still viewed as a nothing sport by many in the UK with people offering the same reasons such as the stop start nature of the games and the amount of padding worn compared to rugby players. I always look to defend the game when confronted with these arguments but it just goes to show how different the game is to any other major sport in the UK. American football really is perfectly American in every way and it is that American style that attracts so many of us to the sport, but it also turns many others away. Trying to anglofy it would simply make it a side show from the real thing and would only serve to make the team further removed from the rest of the league.

The fact that the NFL season takes place between from September to the Super Bowl in February, it would have to compete with sports that have long been established as national sports within the UK, football and rugby. There is pretty much 0% chance that an NFL team placed in London would prise football and rugby fans away from attending their teams games in favour of watching an American football team they have no long standing emotional attachment with.

•    Fan Base

Whilst the level of fan interest around the International Series games has been strong each year but that interest has seemingly dropped since the first game between the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins in 2007. There were large areas of Wembley with seating covered over at last year’s game (as seen in the picture taken by myself before the game) and I fear this would be a regular sight with more and more seats becoming redundant should a team become based at the stadium.

Wembley stadium before the 2011 International Series between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears with covers over unused seats

Clearly there are thousands of NFL fans within the UK and Europe with the fan base continuing to grow but the vast majority of those fans already have their own teams that they support and would be unlikely to change their allegiance just because a team has popped up in Europe. It would also be expecting a lot of fans to make regular trips to London for the games. A day trip to London to watch the International Series is both expensive and time consuming for fans from the Midlands and the North of the UK, not forgetting those who come over from Germany, Sweden, etc. Most likely you’d have people making one off trips to games, picking a weekend when they are free to do so and whilst this combined with the ‘newness’ of the entire concept may keep the attendances relatively high initially, after a couple of years, the ‘take it or leave it’ fans will have lost interest and those who have their own teams would likely go to the game should their team be playing and not support the London side.

Football teams and rugby teams in the UK have built up their fan bases over a long history and fans pick up their teams for various reasons at a young age and stick with them through thick and thin, most of the time thin. Should a London team prove to be unsuccessful early on, you can guarantee plenty of people would lose interest as they have no emotional ties to team and why bother forking out three figure sums to go and watch them play. Whilst on paper it may seem like a great idea, all European NFL fans rallying behind and supporting a team based in London, it wouldn’t be the case. Why would an NFL fan who lives in Hull, Glasgow, Cardiff, Birmingham, Newcastle, Liverpool or Manchester for example, feel any passion for team based miles away in London when they have their own local football, rugby, cricket teams to support? It’s not like they would have any connection with the team other than the fact it is being played a couple of hundred miles down the road. It takes time to develop a relationship between teams and fans and before that can be established at a sustainable level, the bubble of interest surrounding the new attraction at Wembley may well have burst.

 
As you can clearly gather, I don’t see the reason for taking an NFL franchise away from the U.S. and bringing it over here. The International Series is fantastic and we will continue to enjoy that and the amount of coverage of we receive now is great but I really do think it would one step too far to try this. Obviously this is all just opinion and conjecture and should a team be moved into Wembley, the exact opposite could happen and you could see me writing a new article a few years down the line singing the praises of the London team after winning their first Super Bowl and saying how I always believed in them and how it could work. Who knows.

Post NFL season prediction examination

February 11, 2011 Leave a comment

As the NFL season is now at an end, it’s time to see how pathetic my pre-season predictions were which you can see in this previous post from September – https://smegheaddave.wordpress.com/2010/09/08/nfl-predictions/

Well, here are how the standings actually finished, with my pre-season prediction in brackets:

AFC East

1. New England Patriots 14-2 (12-4 – 2 games out, not bad)

2. New York Jets 11-5 (9-7 – 2 games out, not bad but underestimated)

3. Miami Dolphins 7-9 (8-8 – 1 game out, pretty good)

4. Buffalo Bills 4-12 (5-11 – 1 game out, ok but a bit generous with the wins)

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4 (8-8 – 4 games out, what was I drinking?)

2. Baltimore Ravens 12-4 (13-3 – 1 game out)

3. Cleveland Browns 5-11 (3-13 – 2 games out, not bad)

4. Cincinnati Bengals 4-12 (8-8 – 4 games out, wow they were bad)

AFC South

1. Indianapolis Colts 10-6 (13-3 – 3 games out, can I blame injuries?)

2. Jacksonville Jaguars 8 -8 (7-9 – 1 game out, alright)

3. Houston Texans 6-10 (8-8 – 2 games out, not bad but I thought this was to conservative)

4. Tennessee Titans 6-10 (10-6 – 4 games out, a rusty like Smith prediction)

AFC West

1. Kansas City Chiefs 10-6 (4-12 – 6 games out, those Chiefs are fast…)

2. San Diego Chargers 9-7 (11-5 – 2 games out, not bad but I’ll blame injuries again)

3. Oakland Raiders 8-8 (5-11 – 3 games out, underestimated)

4. Denver Broncos 4-12 (6-10 – 2 games out, not bad but overestimated)

NFC East

1. Philadelphia Eagles 10-6 (8-8 – 2 games out, not bad, this was made when Kolb was the guy)

2. New York Giants 10-6 (7-9 – 3 games out, can’t remember my reasoning for this)

3. Dallas Cowboys 6-10 (11-5 – 5 games out, doubt I was alone with this poor judgement)

4. Washington Redskins 6-10 (6-10 – NAILED IT, I love a nice predictable franchise with no drama…)

NFC North

1. Chicago Bears 11-5 (4-12 – 7 games out, yeah I’m sorry Chicago)

2. Green Bay Packers 10-6 (13-3 – 3 games out, not the worst ‘3 games out’ ever)

3. Detroit Lions 6-10 (5-11 – 1 game out, pretty good)

4. Minnesota Vikings 6-10 (11-5 – 5 games out, bye bye Brett)

NFC South

1. Atlanta Falcons 13-3 (9-7 – 4 games out, poorly underestimated)

2. New Orleans Saints 11-5 (12-4 – 1 game out, pretty good)

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-6 (3-13 – 7 games out, maybe worse than my Chicago prediction)

4. Carolina Panthers 2-14 (6-10 – 4 games out, massively overestimated)

NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks 7-9 (9-7 – 2 games out, not bad and I didn’t know anyone else picking them for the division)

2. St Louis Rams 7-9 (5-11 – 2 games out, not bad but clearly a bit better than I thought)

3. San Francisco 49ers 6-10 (9-7 – 3 games out, not good)

4. Arizona Cardinals 5-11 (8-8 – 3 games out, ‘3 games out’ also the Cardinals quarterback philosophy)

In terms of the playoffs, I did predict the Packers to reach the Super Bowl but I had them losing to the Colts so I can’t really claim to much of a victory in that. Anyway, roll on the new season and lets sort this Collective Bargaining Agreement out and get back to the action.

The NFL and Los Angeles, a never ending story?

December 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Ever since the Raiders and the Rams left Los Angeles in 1994, a host of teams have been linked with moves to the second biggest media market in America. The NFL would no doubt welcome a move to Los Angeles with the potential financial benefits a team would bring and a team in Los Angeles would be nothing new with the city having a long and eventful history within the NFL.

In 1946, the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles to play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Remaining in the Coliseum until 1979, the Rams became a successful franchise however they struggled to sell out the Coliseum causing blackouts on local TV and when they were unable to build a new stadium with Los Angeles they moved down to Anaheim in Orange County.

Anaheim Stadium, home of the Rams before their move to St Louis

The Coliseum wasn’t without an NFL team for long however as Al Davis moved the successful Oakland Raiders down to Los Angeles, regardless of the fact he didn’t receive the approval of either the Commissioner or his fellow owners. Davis wanted to take advantage of the potential TV and media market in Los Angeles and moved the Raiders into the Coliseum despite its numerous flaws as a football stadium. The stadium was developed and improved in the late eighties and early nineties but Davis never got the full lucrative amenities he was hoping

for in Los Angeles and in 1994 he agreed to a new stadium offer in Oakland and moved the Raiders back to their former home.

1994 also saw the Rams move away from Los Angeles with the team languishing behind other NFL teams in revenue and stadium developments such as luxury boxes. Luxury boxes generate huge income and both the Rams and Raiders stadiums were lacking behind a lot of other venues in the NFL. With Rams owner Georgia Frontiere talking with prospective cities such as St Louis and Baltimore, Rams fans voiced their concerns. Combined with poor performances on the field attendances continued to drop off and the Rams were eventually relocated to St Louis.

Both teams had been linked with moves away from Los Angeles well ahead of time problems such as dwindling attendances at games causing major concern. In 1993, the Los Angeles Business Journal reported that the average attendance at NFL games during the season was over 63,000 whilst the Rams were averaging 48,000 and the Raiders around 41,000. At the time, sports analyst Michael Megna stated that the average attendances were well below the accepted average for that of a healthy franchise however he also believed neither team would leave “But I really can’t see anyone leaving a lucrative market like Los Angeles, even though the two teams could be doing better.”

Despite the undoubted market in Los Angeles, both teams did move on and ever since the city has been mentioned as a potential new home for a number of franchises. Almost instantly after the departure of the Rams and the Raiders, franchises such as the Cleveland Browns were rumoured to be moving in to take their place. However, the Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens in 1996 with a new Browns team returning in Cleveland in 1999. The Los Angeles factor has since been used as a bargaining tactic by franchises that need stadium developments approved by their cities or want to generate more supporter interest. For example, in 2004 the Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay visited the Southern California area with rumours surrounding the team’s relocation to Los Angeles. Although these rumours remained simply as rumours, the Colts reached a deal for a new stadium in Indianapolis.

Since teams being linked with Los Angeles is nothing new in the NFL, is this year any different? So far this season teams such as the San Diego Chargers, Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills and St Louis Rams have all been rumoured as potential Los Angeles franchises. Are any of these rumours at all realistic?

Jacksonville Jaguars

Attendance issues have been a major factor for the Jaguars in an NFL market that appears to dwindle. Jacksonville have had a number of games blacked out over the years with the team failing to sell out the stadium and since 2005 vast areas of the stadium have been covered over with tarp to lower the official capacity and reduce the blackouts. With one of the smallest markets in the NFL combined with the Jaguars being near the bottom of the league in attendances, season ticket sales and merchandise sales in recent years and seeing as the major driving force in the NFL is money you could suggest that the Jaguars would definitely benefit from relocation to Los Angeles.

Attendance problems are a constant feature at Jaguars home games

Another thing to consider is that the Jaguars have only been established since 1995 so it’s not like they have particularly strong historical links with the city that would make it harder to move the team.

The Jaguars have been the most talked about team that could be relocated yet in the summer, Commissioner Roger Goodell visited Jacksonville and stated “The NFL wants to be part of the future of this city” and Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver is eager to keep the Jaguars in Florida.

It seems that the Jaguars will remain in Jacksonville for the foreseeable future but whilst they still struggle to sell the team to the locals and fail to sell out their home games they will always be included within discussions about relocation, be it to Los Angeles or anywhere else.

Buffalo Bills

Similarly to Jacksonville, Buffalo is one of the smallest markets in the NFL. However, unlike the Jaguars in Jacksonville, the local community is passionate about their football team. With the team playing in Buffalo since 1960, the Bills have developed generations of loyal fans within the Buffalo area whereas the Jaguars have struggled to do this over their short history. Of course, with the recent poor seasons from the Bills, the interest in the team has been put to the test. In 2007 and 2008 the Bills average attendance was just over 71,000, with a slight drop off in 2009 to 70,000. The 2010 season has continued to see the team fail on the field and the average attendance has slipped down to 64,000 according to ESPN.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson has always remained committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo, however with Wilson now 92 years old, questions around the Bills future in Buffalo will continue to arise. The Bills stadium is also relatively ancient, with the first game played in 1973, compared to a lot of the newer stadiums across the league and a state of the art stadium in Los Angeles would need to be taken into consideration.

Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Bills since 1973

The Bills have moved into playing a home game once a year at the Rogers Centre in Toronto since 2008. If the Bills were to relocate in the future, Toronto would possibly be a more viable market for them to move into rather than Los Angeles.

Would the Bills be a good fit in Los Angeles? Maybe not, and as long as Ralph Wilson owns the team they will probably remain in Buffalo. Like the Jaguars they will be one of the teams in the discussions about franchise movements, but with a passionate market already in Buffalo, albeit small, the Bills seem a safe bet to remain in Buffalo.

St Louis Rams

The relocation of the Rams to Los Angeles seems to make a lot more sense than either the Bills or the Jaguars on the face of things. Firstly, there is the history of the Rams in Los Angeles as we’ve already looked at. Secondly, the current stadium is in need of plenty of renovation and with the stadiums lease running out in 2014, if the Rams under new owner Stan Kroenke are not offered a new stadium deal the Rams may not be long for St Louis especially if there is a new state of the stadium ready and waiting in Los Angeles.

Adding to the uncertainty about the team’s home stadium, supporter attendances have continued to be near the bottom of the NFL. No doubt in large part to the team being one of the worst performing in the last decade since winning the 1999 season Super Bowl and losing it two years later. The Rams have had one winning season in the last nine and have finished bottom of the NFC West, often labelled the worst division in football, in the last four seasons. St Louis has let go of a losing team before with the St Louis Cardinals moving to Phoenix, Arizona in 1988 after a string of losing seasons and falling attendances with an outdated stadium.

If issues such as the stadium cannot be resolved by the franchise and the city, the team may well be an attractive proposition for potential owners looking to relocate. With the team up for sale for a while last year, this would’ve appeared much more likely. However, with Kroenke taking full control of the team in August 2010, St Louis’ franchise seems more secure. Kroenke stated after completing the deal “I’ve never had any desire to lead the charge out of St. Louis. That’s not why we’re here. We’re here to work very hard and be successful in St. Louis” and with the team obviously improving under second year head coach Steve Spagnuolo and rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, interest in the team may start to increase around the city. The future of the franchise in the city does seem to rest on the stadium debate over the next few years.

San Diego Chargers

Earlier on in the year, former basketball star Magic Johnson teamed up with an investment group looking to bring a team to Los Angeles, and the Chargers were on the radar. More recent rumours around the Chargers have involved billionaire Philip Anschutz purchasing a 35% stake in the team with the intention of moving them to a new stadium he plans to build in Los Angeles. Unlike the Rams, Bills or Jaguars, the Chargers have been relatively successful although they haven’t managed a Super Bowl. The issue for the Chargers is not a losing team struggling to cope in the local sports market; it is the issue of a new stadium. For years now, fans and the local media have been desperate for new stadium, not just to provide better facilities for the team but to also make sure the team remained in San Diego.

The Chargers have been threatening to bring long awaited sporting success to San Diego and they still continue to be touted as one of the most talented teams in the NFL. With only the Chargers and the Padres Major League Baseball side, San Diego has been crying out for one of their two teams to achieve success. The Padres moved out of Qualcomm Stadium in 2003 into the newly built PETCO Park whilst the Chargers still remained in the outdated stadium. A new football stadium would not only keep the franchise in San Diego, it would also become involved in hosting Super Bowls. A warm weather location combined with a new state of the art stadium would be a perfect Super Bowl destination for the NFL.

Potential design for the new Chargers stadium in San Diego

The threat of losing the Chargers has led to talk of a new stadium increasing in San Diego. If this lack of a new stadium continues on, the morelikely the Chargers are to move across to Los Angeles with prospective buyers such as Anschutz becoming involved with the franchise. They have the team, they have the fan base, and all they need is the stadium.

Minnesota Vikings

Along with the Chargers, the Vikings are in need of a new stadium with the lease on the Metrodome, their current stadium, running out in 2011. Whilst the discussions around a new stadium continue, the Vikings have been approached by groups looking to bring a team to Los Angeles. Vikings Vice President of public affairs Lester Bagley stated “Yes, we have been approached by two different groups in Los Angeles – the Ed Roski group and more recently by former Timberwolves CEO Tim Leiweke and AEG”

The Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is aiming to keep the team in Minnepolis but the stadium is still only at the proposed stage still and as long as this remains up in the air, the Vikings will be linked in the same discussion as the Chargers for potential moves to Los Angeles.

As long as Los Angeles remains without an NFL team, there will always be franchises linked with the city. Although these five teams have all been heavily linked with relocation, the media power of Los Angeles may well help to fuel these discussions and until anything does occur all this remains as speculation.

Six degrees of Sports Separation

October 29, 2010 Leave a comment

This article will look at six major sports news stories that are in some way linked together beginning with Diego Maradon and ending with the second game of the Baseball World Series. So let’s begin the journey through today’s news.

Maradona would love to manage in the Premiership

The former Argentina coach and arguably greatest footballer of all time, has stated his desire to manage in the Premier League. After leading Argentina to the quarter finals of this year’s World Cup before his team lost to Germany, Maradona is now open to a new challenge and has expressed an interest in managing a team in the Premiership.

Maradona told Sky Sports News “I would like to manage in the Premier League. It has very good teams, an exceptional level and great players.” After being linked with the vacant Aston Villa position before Gerard Houllier was appointed, Maradona will now no doubt be in the mix when the next vacancy presents itself.

Maradona to coach in England?

Although he is looking ahead, Maradona is still disappointed in the manner of his parting with the Argentina national team. Maradona built up a good relationship with a number of the players in the national side and it was thought he would be kept in charge of the national team after the World Cup.

Maradona has a particularly strong friendship with Argentina and Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez.

Tevez injured and back in Argentina

Tevez the key man for City

After limping off in the 3-0 loss to Arsenal last weekend, Carlos Tevez has been ruled out of Manchester City’s next two matches against Wolves in the Premier League and an away trip to Poland to face Lech Poznan in the Europa League.

Tevez has been in typically good form so far this season and his absence will certainly be felt by City who will now have to look to Emmanuel Adebayor and Mario Balotelli to lead their attack. Tevez has now flown back to Argentina to recover from his dead leg and there has been speculation in the media that he is unsettled in England and missing Argentina.

City fans will be hoping this is not the case as Tevez has led by example since being appointed team captain and with the eagerly anticipated Manchester derby against United coming up, City will require Tevez to be fit and ready against his old club.

A former teammate of Tevez at Manchester United is goal keeper Edwin Van Der Sar.

Van Der Sar looks to continue after hitting 40

The veteran Dutch stopper has had a long and illustrious career with Ajax, Juventus, Fulham and now Manchester United and although he has today turned 40, he is keen to keep playing.

Van Der Sar still United number 1

Still the number one choice in goal at United, Van Der Sar’s current deal runs out at the end of this season and because of his age there is a question as to whether he will retire. However, there is now talk that Van Der Sar is looking to remain a Manchester United player for another season and continue to perform right at the top level regardless of his age.

Another sporting superstar still playing in his 40’s is Brett Favre.

Favre injury may end record run

41 year old Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre is at risk of ending his NFL record 291 consecutive starts. After deciding to come back for another season in the NFL rather than retiring, Favre has struggled in his 20th season with injuries to his ankle and elbow and after taking a hit to his ankle in the loss to the Green Bay Packers last week, Favre’s consecutive streak of games (he hasn’t missed a game since 1992) may well come to an end.

Favre has struggled with injury this season

The Vikings have had a less than impressive start to the season currently sitting third in the NFC North with a record of 2-4 and Favre himself has been mediocre at best. There has been talk about Favre being benched simply on form but that would seem unlikely with the efforts made by the Vikings to get him back for this season.

Favre managed to practice today with tape on his ankle, which has two fractures, and the decision on whether he will play against the New England Patriots this Sunday falls to head coach Brad Childress.

Favre holds pretty much every record that matters for quarterbacks in the NFL his name has been synonymous around the globe with the NFL.

NFL international series takes place in London this weekend.

Wembley prepares to welcome the NFL once again

After the success of the three regular season NFL games held in London at Wembley stadium, the next instalment of live action in the UK features the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos this Sunday.

Wembley Stadium welcomes the NFL once again

Regardless of the poor form of both teams, the 49ers 1-6 and the Broncos 2-5, Wembley will be nearly if not completely sold out for the game as UK

fans get their yearly dose of live NFL.

The game itself promises to be a close one although a potentially un-exciting encounter. San Francisco have been forced into a change at quarterback with the injury to starter Alex Smith and instead of David Carr, they have gone with former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith as the man for the game in London.

Both teams are in dire need of a positive result in an attempt to kick start their season and with all the divisions in the NFL extremely close at the minute, neither team will have given up on potential play-off hopes.

San Francisco is the designated home team in London and this week has been a good one for San Francisco sports teams at home.

San Francisco Giants go 2-0 up in World Series at home.

Giants shut out Rangers to take 2-0 lead

After a high scoring 11-7 win in the opening game of the best of seven series, the San Francisco Giants thrashed the Texas Rangers 9-0 to take a two game lead in the World Series to decide the MLB champion for this season.

Taking home field advantage in the series, the Giants have won their two home games before heading to Texas for the next three games and then returning to California for the final two games if needed.

Giants pitcher Matt Cain lead the team to a second win

The Giants crushed the Rangers thanks to an inspired performance from pitcher Matt Cain keeping the Rangers without a run before SanFrancisco sealed the win with a glut of runs in the eighth inning.

Texas’ pitchers failed miserably giving up seven runs to take the game from a potential 2 run difference going into the final inning to a 9 point blowout. The Series now moves onto game three in Arlington, Texas where the Rangers will look to rebound from these defeats and turn the series around.

NFL Celebration Hypocrisy

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

This is something that has never made sense to me for a while and since Mike Carlson mentioned it this week during Sunday Night Football on Channel 4, it proves I am not the only one who has a problem with it. For those unaware who Mike Carlson is, he is the studio analyst on Channel 4 for Sunday Night Football as well as being the greatest football analyst/presenter/commentator/journalist, whatever you want to call him in the UK or the USA or anywhere else for that matter.

Anyway, the issue I am referring to is the NFL’s policy on over celebrating and how referees can hand out immediate 15 yard penalty’s to a team if players are deemed to have celebrated ‘over the top’. For the past few years, the league has been trying to curtail players’ celebrations after scoring a touchdown.

Chad Ochocinco one of a number of players renowned for his touchdown celebrations

There are a number of players who have made a name for ‘creative’ celebrations after scoring. Some of the most memorable in recent history include Terrell Owens signing a football, Chad Ochocinco giving CPR to the football, proposing to a cheerleader and playing a golf shot with an end zone pylon, Steve Smith (Panthers, not Giants) creating a snow angel and cradling the ball like a baby, Randy Moss mimicking mooning the Green Bay crowd after scoring for Minnesota and Joe Horn phoning his mum on a phone hidden in the padding of the goalpost.

Throughout the game there have been a lot of famous celebrations. Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson always performed the funky chicken dance after every score and for a period in the early 80’s the Washington Redskins team performed a group high-five after scoring. All of these celebrations have endeared the players to a lot of supporters providing an extra dose of entertainment to the games. There are of course those who find the celebrations far too excessive and egotistical as the game is all about the team and not the individual.

Players are no longer allowed to leave their feet or use props or have pre organised celebration routines. For example, this season we saw Dallas Cowboys’ offensive lineman Marc Colombo penalised 15 yards after Jason Witten’s touchdown. Witten gave the ball to his lineman to spike (spiking the ball is still allowed) before the two performed a jumping chest bump (also allowed even though they are jumping off the ground), however Colombo last his balance and stumbled to the ground, the referees then threw the flag and penalised the Cowboys 15 yards on the kick off for this.

This is not the most baffling thing I find about the rules however, if the league wants to ban excessive celebrations then that’s their choice and although I personally think it removes something from the game, plenty of others agree with the NFL. However, there is one GLARING omission that it is just beyond belief. The Lambeau Leap.

The famous Lambeau Leap

Any football fan knows what the Lambeau Leap is, for those who don’t it is a celebration performed by Green Bay Packers players at their home stadium, Lambeau Field. After scoring, the Packers player leaps into the crowd of celebrating Packers fans. Now, if Marc Colombo is being penalised for falling over as it breaks the rules of going to ground, how is sprinting over to the crowd and leaping into the stands after every score not against these rules!? Don’t misunderstand me here, I enjoy the Lambeau Leap and love to see it whenever watching the Packers, but why do players from every other team have to behave like robots after scoring like it means nothing to them when Packers players can display the emotion and delight of scoring in this manner!?

Those who support the lack of celebrations, but also support the Lambeau Leap will argue the usual point of it being ‘tradition’, well how is it any more of a special tradition to general celebrating? NFL players had been performing all sorts of celebrations before the Lambeau Leap was ever performed. It just seems that they should enforce the penalty on this along with other celebrations if they are serious about the rule

If I was suddenly appointed as the commissioner of the NFL, it’s a long shot I know; I’d simply remove this rule entirely and allow players to design and perform as elaborate a celebration as they want. This really is just another example of the NFL standing for the ‘No Fun League’.

NFL clamps down on hits, what’s next, touch football?

October 21, 2010 2 comments

The recent hot topic in the NFL is the matter of illegal hits by players and how the league are looking to stamp out these illegal hits to reduce the risks of serious injuries amongst players. The league showed their current tough stance on the matter by handing out three huge fines to James Harrison, Dunta Robinson and Brandon Meriweather hitting them hard at the wallet after they hit hard to the helmet. In total, 11 players have been fined this week and the NFL have come out firing with these fines and the league has stated that fines will continue for dangerous hits with the possibility of players also being suspended.

Steelers linebacker Harrison suffered the largest fine for an illegal hit this week

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Harrison’s fine has been the biggest talking point after the player stated he would consider retiring from the game as a result of it because he didn’t feel as if he could continue to play if he wasn’t allowed to play how has done since a child. Harrison has developed into one of the premier defenders in the NFL over the last few seasons, becoming renowned for his strength and pace to beat blockers and make big hits on ball carriers and the quarterback. However, the league decided that his hit to the helmet of Cleveland Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi deemed a $75,000 fine although he was not penalized during the game for the hit. Harrison was also fined $5,000 dollars earlier in the season for a hit on Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young. Robinson and Meriweather were both fined $50,000 dollars for their hits. Meriweather was also penalized during the game with a 15 yard penalty for his helmet to helmet hit on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap and has since apologised for the hit stating that he would “play within the rules” from now on.

Clearly vexed by the fine, Harrison was excused from Steelers practice on Wednesday giving him time to sort out his emotions and so he himself could decide if retiring was what he wanted to do, although the Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin expected him back the next day, and Harrison did return to the team in preparation for the weekends game in Miami.

To many, including myself, Harrison’s reaction to his fine may seem a little over the top. Although the fine is undeniably huge, the reasons for it are understandable. In the last season or two, head and neck injuries and in particular concussions have become the big worries for the NFL as they look to increase protection to players. The rules on hits to defenseless receivers and helmet to helmet tackles have changed in an attempt to increase safety and these fines and threat of suspensions demonstrates how seriously the NFL is taking the matter.

Nobody wants to see players seriously injured during games, and the NFL will always try to improve safety to players, especially on the back of a spate of similar injuries or a major incident such as the Kevin Everett injury in 2007. Everett suffered a fracture and dislocation of the cervical spine when playing on special teams for the Buffalo Bills that was described as life threatening by doctors. However Everett did make good strides in his recovery and managed to walk out at the Bills final home game of the same season just over three months later. After Everett’s injury, the league decided that system teams used to block for kick returner’s, using a wedge made up of a number players charging down the field, was to dangerous and the rule was changed to limit the number of players allowed to form a blocking wedge to 2 players.

Although anyone can understand that player safety is of paramount importance, the NFL has been built upon tough defenders who strike fear into the hearts of opponents because they know they are going to be hit, and hit hard. Harrison is not the only defender to come out and express his disappointment and concerns about the new hard-line taken by the NFL. A number of the best defensive players, and unsurprisingly the hardest hitters in the league are worried about how the game is developing. Baltimore Ravens linebacker told NFL.com that the way things are going “the game will be diluted very quickly.” Lewis has always been a fearsome defender and he has expressed that he won’t be changing anything about his game because of the league’s official view. “My opinion is play the game like that game is supposed to be played, and whatever happens, happens”.

Another veteran defender, Arizona Cardinals’ Joey Porter told NFL.com There’s no more hitting hard. That’s what our game is about. It’s a gladiator sport”. A number of other players voiced their concerns to NFL.com including Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman “”What they’re trying to say — ‘we’re protecting the integrity’ — no, you’re not…It’s ruining the integrity. It’s not even football anymore. We should just go out there and play two-hand touch Sunday if we can’t make contact” and Miami linebacker Channing Crowder “If I get a chance to knock somebody out, I’m going to knock them out and take what they give me,” Crowder said. “They give me a helmet, I’m going to use it”.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says the league isn't changing rules, simply enforcing them.

Players are clearly worried as to how the league officials are fighting against illegal hits. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stated to NFL.com “It is incumbent on all of us to support the rules we have in place to protect players” and the leagues executive vice president, Ray Anderson agreed that tough football was what fans wanted and what the league wanted and that they are not trying to get away from that, but what the league wants is to remove the illegal and dangerous hits that can put players careers at risk.

No doubt this debate will continue throughout the season and there will probably be more fines and punishments handed out to players by the league. The debate itself simply adds to another problem to the negotiations for the new collective bargaining agreement for next season, causing more worries that there will not be any football to debate about next season.

One thing the league must do is maintain a consistent and fair approach to the punishments they intend to give out. The legality of a hit should not be judged on the outcome of that hit. If a player is injured because of a hit, it does not automatically become an illegal hit. Regardless of whether an injury occurs or not, there should be a clear distinction between the legal and the illegal.

The NFL has a long history of violent and aggressive play that has contributed to its success, not only in America but across the globe. Many fans are attracted to the ferocity of the game and whenever you see a big hit laid on a ball carrier, there is a collective gasp of awe followed by huge cheers around the stadium. I agree that it is important to try to protect players wherever possible but if players are worried of receiving serious repercussions for performing the big tackles, there is a chance that the game will become a slightly watered down version of what it once was.

Defense Wins Championships?

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

So long a cliché in the NFL, the statement ‘defense wins championships’ has those who believe it and those who refute it. A number of NFL pundits and fans will say that defense will give you a chance, but a team needs to put up points if they are going to win. However, regardless of your view on this defensive philosophy, you can’t ignore what is happening after the first 5 weeks this season.

 

In terms of giving up points per game, the top 6 defenses in the league are:

 

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers               12.5
  2. Atlanta Falcons                       14
  3. Kansas City Chiefs                 14.2
  4. Baltimore Ravens                  14.4
  5. Chicago Bears                         14.8
  6. New York Jets                        16.2

 

The 6 best records so far this season:

 

  1. Baltimore Ravens                 4-1
  2. Atlanta Falcons                     4-1
  3. Chicago Bears                         4-1
  4. New York Jets                        4-1
  5. Kansas City Chiefs                 3-1
  6. Pittsburgh Steelers               3-1

 

Notice a pattern here? At the moment, the teams with the best defenses are the best teams in the league. An obvious statement maybe? Well, to win games, they need to score points. Do they have the 6 best offenses as well? The simple answer is no. The top ranked offensive team in points per game out of these 6 are the New York Jets (4th, 27 ppg). As for the rest, Atlanta Falcons (10th, 22.6 ppg), Pittsburgh Steelers (12th, 21.5 ppg), Kansas City Chiefs (19th, 19.2 ppg), Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears (joint 22nd, 18.4 ppg).

 

Other than the Jets, and to a lesser extent the Falcons, these teams have been winning with great defense whilst having just enough on offense. If the Steelers defense hadn’t started so well, Ben Roethlisberger could well have returned to a 0-4 or 1-3 team.

 

There are two other teams sitting at a .750 record and they are the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both at 3-1. The Patriots currently average the most points per game in the NFL.

 

Unlike the top defenses, having an offense that puts points on the board hasn’t necessarily led to success so far this year. Of the top 6, there are the Jets at 4-1 and Patriots 3-1. There are however two teams with losing records in the San Diego Chargers (2-3) who are averaging 28 points per game and the Detroit Lions (1-4) averaging 25.2. The Lions stats have been skewed with them putting up 44 points in their win over St Louis, but they still averaged 20 points per game before this, putting them ahead of the Chiefs, Ravens and Bears offenses.

 

Having great offenses has always proved successful throughout the years, especially in recent times with teams like the Colts, Saints and Patriots dominating the league with their offenses. For instance, looking at last season the Saints won the Super Bowl with the 20th ranked defense in the league.

 

Maybe this season, the cliché becomes a reality and defense really does win championships. Maybe the high powered offensive teams such as the Houston Texans, San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints will get back to some consistent form and win games regardless of their defenses.

 

However, if the season continues as it has begun, who’s to say we won’t see a Super Bowl involving the Jets and the Falcons or the Steelers and the Bears battling to see who can limit the other teams scoring the best.