A chilly Sunday morning gradually blossomed into a gorgeous, late summer afternoon. But being a golfer of marginal talent and fully aware that our local football team had an enticing matchup in Pittsburgh, I still wondered if I’d made the right choice. Our annual fraternity scramble was on tap at the University of Minnesota course, and I’d reluctantly agreed to once more expose my shaky game to all those alums eager to sneer at my worm-burning iron play.
After watching the Vikings cruise past New Orleans in surprisingly easy fashion last Monday, it was tempting to leave my cell phone on when we gathered at the first hole for our late morning tee off. But I’d convinced myself that I would avoid all distractions and forget about football … for at least a few hours.
Before long, we were sharing old stories, shedding our windbreakers and even making a good shot or two. So it wasn’t until we were returning our golf carts and sipping on beers, that someone mentioned the Purple. “They were losing big, the last I checked,” said one of the brothers.
Suddenly it hit me. I’d managed to spend a Sunday afternoon away from the Red Zone Channel and hadn’t suffered NFL withdrawal symptoms. In fact, I found myself grateful to have reconnected with old buddies and gotten some much-needed exercise and sun, in the process.
What should be worrisome for Roger Goodell and the rest of the league’s cronies, is that my revelation about life without pro football is happening to many others these days. And that spells trouble for a business already too greedy for their own good.
Let me attempt to connect the dots by starting at the bottom of the food chain of a multimillion dollar operation that has been captivating Americans for years. Or conning them … depending on your perspective.
Ruben is an avid pro football fan. We’ll call him “Rube” for short. He loves the Vikings, wears everything purple and shells out thousands of dollars to occupy a nosebleed seat at US Bank Stadium. Rube watches NFL games Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. He plays in six fantasy leagues. But lately, Rube has been angry and frustrated for a variety of reasons.
First, there were those annoying preseason games where he was forced to pay full-price for tickets in Row Z. The games where the teams played mostly third stringers to protect their stars from getting injured, since they still figured the studs would get battered around in weeks to come.
Then Rube put in months of planning to prepare for his fantasy draft and was thrilled to land the top-rated running back, David Johnson, of Arizona. But a couple of days later, Johnson went down with a season-ending injury. In fact, many top players were dropping like flies, tearing ACLs and separating shoulders.
Speaking of injuries, Rube was really down in the dumps when he learned his favorite quarterback, Sam Bradford, also had to sit out for the Vikings on Sunday. Why, just a few days ago, Bradford had displayed laser-like accuracy in carving up the Saints, only to come down with a mysterious swelling of the knee prior to the Pittsburgh game. No wonder the Steelers throttled our boys, 26-9.
And remember, Sam was supposed to be replacing Teddy (as in Bridgewater), the previous Viking QB who suffered his own major injury just a year ago. Poor Rube had envisioned a dream where his squad would be the first NFL team in history to play a Super Bowl in its own stadium, since Minnesota will host the event this February. Now, in Week Two, that already seemed highly unlikely.
Realistically, Rube already knew he’d never be able to afford a seat at the Super Bowl anyway. Most of those would go to rich folks or corporations. Now his team might not win half its games, with a worst Case (as in Keenum) scenario at quarterback. His fantasy teams weren’t looking much better with all those injuries.
So here’s what’s unfolding: The Rubes of the world are beginning to notice a few things. Their wallets are lighter. The endless games they’ve been watching seem less interesting. Every team in the league lacks depth, at one position or another, resulting in poorer execution.
An obvious sign of trouble is already evident in Los Angeles. Since departing from San Diego over the winter, the Chargers made their home field debut in La La Land Sunday. Capacity for StubHub Stadium is 27,000 and only 25,381 purchased tickets. Far fewer actually showed up. Fittingly, the home team lost in the closing seconds when their rookie kicker blew a 44-yard field goal attempt, more evidence that rosters are short on competency.
For Minnesota fans, at least misery loves company. Their biggest rivals, the Green Bay Packers, got blown out by Atlanta last night. Already missing their two starting tackles, the Pack had six more players leave due to injury. Defending champ New England was beaten at home by Kansas City last week and is without several key players. Both have stellar QBs in Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady yet are no better than 1-1 thus far.
A watered down product due to countless injuries, skyrocketing ticket prices and numerous off-the-field issues are penalties that have NFL owners losing ground with followers. Too many games on too many nights have made even important contests seem less significant.
As we walked off the golf course Sunday, one of my buddies mentioned how happy he was that he didn’t “waste another weekend” watching football. Another said he’d taped the Viking game but now planned to skip reviewing it, after learning of the result.
It’s only September. Maybe when the snow begins to fly and we’re cooped inside, I’ll be glued to my television. Watching Case Keenum engineer a comeback to help the Vikes finish at 8-8. Then again … there’s always bowling.