Yo, NFL. The pressure is on.
Entertain us like the college game, or face the wrath of public opinion.
We as a sports nation were just finishing mopping our brows from the Hollywood blockbuster that was the Penn State-USC Rose Bowl when along came Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship game between Clemson and Alabama.
Whether it’s Dabo Swinney screaming about loving his players and collapsing on the turf in exhausted bliss … or quarterback DeShaun Watson daring to tame the beast that is the Alabama defense … or linebacker Ben Boulware providing YouTube pregame and postgame speeches about “PLAYING FOR THE PAW ON THIS HELMET!” (not to mention a few good licks on the field, too) … or receiver Mike Williams skying to the heavens and out-leaping every Alabama defensive back for every thrown ball . . . whew!
The college game, growing so massively on the sports landscape these past few years, just went through another growth spurt.
It’s not that the NFL doesn’t have the potential to dazzle us. It’s just that these days, it’s choosing not to.
Last week’s Wild Card Weekend was a snooze fest. The regular season featured only a handful of memorable moments. Ratings are down, either because America couldn’t look away from the twisted reality show that was the election, or because Thursday Night Football and relentless parity has watered down the league’s product.
My attitude about the NFL could definitely be tied to the woeful slide into irrelevance that is the 49ers, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic for a whole ‘nother Jock Blog.
Meanwhile, everything about the college game is flourishing. Alabama’s dominance provided everyone a Darth Vader to root against. Jim Harbaugh’s resurrection job in Michigan — complete with his condemnations of his “enemies” and his recruiting sleepovers — has everyone picking sides. USC, as much as it pains this Bruin to say, finished its year with a Pete Carroll-ian kick, causing more angst and joy, depending on your world view. Penn State put awful recent history behind it to provide a white-out nation of fans to smile again.
And Clemson, little Clemson, is the king! What a wonderful story for a place so off the map that Bill Walton, dressed as Uncle Sam in ESPNU’s ‘MegaCast’ last night (yes, you read that right), was heard to ask Jay Bilas: “Where is Clemson, anyway?” Answered Jay Bilas: “It’s in Clemson.”
Point is, college football is FUN. The football field plays more open. Points flow more freely. Yes, that’s mostly because defenses are more flawed and big plays happen more frequently, but when you see high-level athletes running free, it’s a pleasurable sight.
Fans cheer with more abandon. Instead of YouTube clips of violent NFL fans fighting, you hear the sounds of bands playing fight songs.
Maybe in New England, where Tom Brady takes aim at that record 5th NFL ring, it’s a different feeling. Maybe in Dallas, where Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are burnishing that Cowboy star, it’s a different feeling. Heck, it could have been a different feeling right here in Oakland if Derek Carr hadn’t endured a twist of awful fate.
But the NFL has a stale feeling this year, and the Rose Bowl and CFP National Championship only served to heighten it.
Traditionally, the NFL’s Divisional Weekend is a doozy. We get four games, back to back on Saturday and Sunday, among the eight best teams. We’ll have Aaron Rodgers. We’ll see if it’s Matt Ryan’s time. We can all cheer against the Seahawks.
There is potential for redemptive drama. Come on, NFL. Don’t let us down. Otherwise, we’ll just start the countdown to college football, 2017.