I’m a baseball man. I played the sport as a kid, watched my home team get crushed by some Canucks, then watched them turn it around fifteen years later. Were it not for my participation in grade-school music programs, I like to think I might’ve at least tried to make the baseball team.
But now that baseball’s over, I’m turning my eyes to America’s newer pastime, thanks in no small part to my interest in fantasy sports. There’s nothing like a good-natured office rivalry to drive you to weighing the pros and cons of various backup running backs.
It appears I’ve picked a good year to start watching people toss around the old pigskin. Each season brings its own storylines (I wonder if Brett Favre’s hired someone to help write his perennial sagas), but the craziness seems to be boiling over this season: Brett Favre may be the first zombie ever to play professional football (or to text someone pictures of his junk); people are more worried about Michael Vick’s ability to run the ball than his time served for dogfighting (with animals not planes); and Pittsburgh’s proven their willing to turn the other cheek with regard to Ben Roethlisberger’s “indiscretions” – as long as he gives them a third championship.
Unfortunately, these are just the tips of this multi-pronged iceberg. Slate’s NFL Halftime Report addresses many of these issues and more in a lengthy discussion between a handful of writers/football fans. Two of the major themes they return to consistently are bad refereeing and the seemingly overwhelming number of injuries. Slate blogger and author Tom Scocca sees the two colliding in one of this year’s most devastating plays:
“For a concise summary of the NFL in 2010, it's hard to surpass the play that knocked Colts receiver Austin Collie out of Sunday's game against the Eagles…From the Colts' point of view, here was yet another key player lost to the senseless and still uncontrolled brutality of the game. From the Eagles' point of view, here was a play where they got totally jobbed by the refs.”
Of course what happened to Collie was a tragedy, Scocca says, but it’s also one of the clearest examples of referee incompetence. Plenty of sports are struggling to integrate increasingly powerful and precise technology into their outdated, flaw-ridden officiating systems, and football is no exception. How the league chooses to handle this and the rising tide of injuries will shape the game over the coming years.
Casual and hardcore (see: tailgating) fans of the sport should give this one a read. Nothing goes better with a few beers than a healthy dose of critical thinking about your Sunday ritual.