One Week: To Restore the NFL’s Competitive Morality

Patriots practice squad player Malcolm Williams high-fives a Mexican TV reporter after taping a vital interview on Tuesday.

Settle down, people. Thank you. Let’s get started, shall we?

Good morning, and welcome to this year’s Pre-Super Bowl meeting of the Bert Bell Memorial Support Group. Yes, it’s been a long season in many respects but we’re almost there! [Half-hearted applause] With each other’s help, we can survive another NFL season with our families and psyches in tact. My name is Rudy, and I’ll be your enabler this morning.

I can see we have some unfamiliar faces this year. Great to see you; you’re welcome here. Are there any questions? … Yes, you can leave that Colts paraphernalia in the coat check room… Okay, sure: The trash can is down the hall, around the corner… No, but that’s an excellent question: This is not an NFL-sanctioned meeting. This is important people, so listen up: Our group is not affiliated with the league office in any way.

This isn’t about the league, people; it’s about you. As we are each week during the NFL season, we’re here for your benefit. The fans’ benefit…

We have a busy morning planned. Today we’re going to discuss chip-to-dip ratios and the merits of large-screen television rentals. Those will be round-table discussions. We’ve also set aside some time for role-playing; our topic this week is, “Can I bring my wife? No really, I’m serious.”

But before we get started, we have a special guest speaker. I’d like to introduce Hal Phillips; he’s vice president pro tem of SWACO, Sports Writers Against Corporate Omnipotence, and he’s here to talk about scheduling.

Mr. Phillips?

[Light applause]

“Thanks, Rudy. Nice to see you back in football, putting that Jesuit education to good use… Good morning, football fans.”

GOOD MORNING, MR. PHILLIPS.

“Before I get started, I want you to know that we at SWACO are just like you. We love football and that’s why we want you to look back — back to January 2000, when the NFL in its momentary wisdom chose to conduct the Super Bowl exactly one week following its conference title games.

“As you know, the league routinely extends the period between its  conference championships and Super Sunday to a full fortnight. But that year, 2000, was different, and look at the results: The game itself was superb, a last-second tackle at the goal-line to preserve a 23-16 Ram victory over the Titants — not the anti-climactic blowouts we’ve come to expect.

“Further, the ‘short’ week automatically reduced the drone of media hype by half, leaving in its place actual anticipation for the game itself. Imagine that! Less insipid pre-Super Bowl prattle AND a competitive championship game that fits into the time-honored scheduling parameters to which pro football teams have adhered for 80 years.

“Simply put, football enthusiasts — even those who, like you, don’t have meaningful lives outside of football — don’t need two weeks of pre-Super Bowl ‘coverage’. The litany of reports (‘on location’, where desperate pundits literally scrounge for meaningful ‘news’) is nauseating enough after three or four days. Two weeks of this piffle is completely over the top. We at SWACO further believe that if football fans, fresh off 21 days of fawning playoff coverage, aren’t by then familiar with the respective Super Bowl combatants, surely they never will be.

“Make no mistake: This extra week isn’t there for teams to ‘get healthy’. It isn’t there because the two teams couldn’t fully adjust to the gravity of their Super Bowl moment in a single week.

“No. The extra week is there so the NFL’s corporate partners will have 7 additional days to foist their products upon us, via television, radio, web and the print press. [Circumspect murmurs float through the crowd]

“To support the thousands of Super Bowl-oriented advertisements, to synergize with the ubiquitous and tedious Super Bowl contests (which are essentially corporate fronts for still more advertisements), media outlets are obliged by their corporate sugar daddies to ‘preview’ and analyze this single football game for two solid weeks.

“This sort of rehash, while unnecessary and invariably annoying, is obligatory during the week directly leading up to the Super Bowl. We at SWACO understand and accept this. However, we feel it’s craven and superfluous to jam this piffle down anyone’s throat a full 12 days before kickoff.

“Even more important, however, we at SWACO believe the two-week break is competitively amoral. Yes, you heard me right. Pro football games aren’t meant to be played every other week; they’re meant to be played on consecutive Sundays, one after another, until a champion is crowned.

“Let’s be very clear about this: Professional football is predicated entirely on a team’s ability to prepare for an opponent — physically, mentally and strategically — in one week’s time. Bye weeks notwithstanding, regular-season records, playoff position and playoff qualification itself are determined on the sole basis of this 7-day framework.

“To throw it out the window for the Super Bowl — the most important game of the season — perverts the entire process.

“Think about it: The two-week layoff is one reason Super Bowls are traditionally lopsided, mind-numbing affairs. It’s a pretty simple equation: Give a superior team two weeks to prepare and the possibility of a walkover is only enhanced.

“Keep it to a week and anything can happen.

“Exhibit A: The absorbing Rams-Titans game in 2000.

“Exhibit B: The previous Super Bowl to be contested just one week after the respective conference championships — the 1990 affair, when the Giants claimed a similarly thrilling 20-19 victory over the Bills.

“Indeed, the Super Bowl’s average margin of victory when employing a two-week layoff is 17 points; with a week’s break, the average margin is a mere 7 points. Isn’t that what we want? A game where the conclusion isn’t forgone? A game contested in the same way as those preceding it, under the same competitive strictures? Was the Giants’ win over the Cowboys on the last game of the regular season this year any less important, in the great scheme of things, than this Super Bowl? The Giants wouldn’t be in Indianapolis right now if it weren’t. That game was contested with a week’s preparation. Why should the Super Bowl be any different?

“Corporate America has already perverted football in too many ways to count. Witness the plethora of mandatory television time-outs, the most offensive being those book-end commercial breaks following points after touchdown. You know the ones I mean: the PAT, three minutes of ads, the kick-off, then three more minutes of ads. The new kickoff-from-the-40 rule results in so many touchbacks, rarely does the return even represent actual game content. It’s outrageous!

“Citizens: You may think this policy is set in stone, but it’s not — not if we act immediately, with purpose, together. The sanctity of the Super Bowl depends on it.

“Thank you.”

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