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Murph: Why we should celebrate the NFL at 100 years old

© Steve Mitchell | 2019 Aug 22

The NFL is 100 years old!

Man, that’s a lot of commercial time.

Is the NFL now as good as its ever been, or has the best of it gone by?

Your reference point for the “golden age” of the NFL depends, of course, on your age.

My Dad used to wax nostalgic about the “Million Dollar Backfield” at Kezar. Those were four players, to be clear. Meanwhile, Jared Goff just got $110 million, guaranteed.

For me, it got no better than the majesty of Howard Cosell’s 1970s ‘Monday Night Football’ halftime highlights, set to the familiar ABC music, as rich and lush as a John Williams movie score. You waited all week to hear Howard say “ … to this man!” as the Pete Rozelle-signed pigskin settled, slo-motion, into a receiver’s outstretched paws. We’d dream of it as we slept on our NFL-themed sheets and pillowcases, the blue-starred ’N’ warring with the red-starred ‘A’ on JC Penney’s cotton.

For kids today? If you haven’t seen a minutes-old highlight on your phone, dude, you better upgrade your cell service.

I’d imagine fans in their 20s and 30s wistfully remembering growing up on Tom Brady and Bill Belichick Super Bowl moments.

I’d also imagine fans 12 and under, wistfully remembering growing up on Tom Brady and Bill Belichick Super Bowl moments.

There is also currently an unborn generation, ready to wistfully remember Tom Brady and Bill Belichick Super Bowl moments.

Nothing is as good as it once was. That’s the nature of life and memory. Black-and-white photos of Johnny Unitas will never be topped by tweets saying Dak Prescott wants a new contract. The mysterious power of Al Davis’ Oakland Raiders will never be topped by Mark Davis’ soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders. The old traditional matchups like the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers will never be replicated by today’s Carrie Underwood-fueled cut-rate product.

Except, wait — it’s the Packers and Bears on our TVs tomorrow night. Same as it ever was.

There is plenty to dislike about the NFL at 100. The awareness of CTE hangs over our minds. Players with domestic violence arrests drive some fans away. Race and politics are never too far away, as Colin Kaepernick and Donald Trump are happy to remind us.

So why should we celebrate the NFL at 100, why should a Packers-Bears game move our American sporting souls, when we know too much how the sausage is made?

I would answer: This is life. Life is a deeply imperfect journey. I have no beef with those who turn away from the game. That is their right as sports fans. But I have come to terms with the flawed nature of it all, understanding that to cheer the NFL at 100 is to join a communal event, to participate in an American tradition, to marvel at athletic drama.

And let’s be honest: to play fantasy football with your pals. I’m joking. Kind of.

On we go, into the second century of pro football. The 49ers and their five Super Bowl titles are glorious memories for Bay Area fans all over, as rich and together as the Warriors and Giants of recent vintage. They could do it again one day soon, with Jimmy G and Bosa and Kyle and all the names in our minds.

On we go, into memories of Kezar and Cosell, of Brady and Bradshaw, of the Philly Special and the Immaculate Reception and the ongoing dreams of the Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills. It’s what we do in the USA. It’s football season.


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