The NFL is so popular that five million or so viewers tuned in for at least a few moments last week to watch young men in spandex lift weights and race around pylons at the league's annual scouting combine. We're not talking about practice, mind you, but guys practicing for practice.
Now fast forward to spring and put those same guys in suits and ties, attempting nothing more athletic than donning a hat and walking across a stage to shake the commissioner's hand. Even that show likely will beat the ongoing NBA playoffs in a ratings battle.
So you don't need a poll, or even a stroll through the bizarro tailgating crowd outside Oakland Coliseum every Sunday of the season to know that NFL fans are certifiable, and not just during the months the game is actually being played. But testing the limits of that loyalty?
Well, that's another level of crazy.
In the run-up to Thursday's negotiating deadline, we suggested you could attach a "greedy" tag to either franchise in the labor dispute and not be wrong. But it's time to take sides.
The NFL generates $9 billion a year in revenue and under the last contract, they took $1 billion off the table even before discussions began on how to split the rest of the economic pie. This time around, their opening gambit is for $2 billion off the top, plus two more regular-season games for free.
But if you dressed all the owners in full uniform and set fire to the conference table they were meeting around, even family members would change the channel soon enough. The president said as much, too, suggesting he'd check back when the bickering was over.
"I'm a big football fan," President Obama said, "but I also think that for an industry that's making $9 billion a year in revenue, they can figure out how to divide it up in a sensible way and be true to their fans, who are the ones who obviously allow for all the money that they're making. So my expectation and hope is that they will resolve it without me intervening, because it turns out I've got a lot of other stuff to do."
No doubt the rest of us do, too.
But with the Lingerie Football League not scheduled to return until late August, fans of pro football will have countless hours to while away. Some will have even more free time than they planned on, if the NFL Players Association estimate that a lost season will cost each city an average of $160 million in revenue and 3,000 jobs is even close to correct.
So here are a few recommendations:
- Talk to your kids. There's no better time than a leisurely Sunday afternoon to teach a toddler the intricacies of the 3-4 defense, including which blitz package is appropriate for every down-and-distance situation. Granted, that can test patience, it won't do much to improve their math skills and they could probably learn a foreign language in the same amount of time.
- Write your congressman and demand a college football playoff. Billionaire owners locking out millionaire players with fans still lined up around the block for a glimpse of anything that resembles football is hands-down the dumbest thing in sports. But letting the suits who run the Bowl Championship Series and a handful of computer operators hijack the sport's postseason is a close second. Regular-season college games will help ease the pain, and the main BCS argument against a playoff -- the season will drag on too long -- is turned on its head if there's no NFL games.
- Join a NASCAR fantasy league. Turn down the sound on any stock-car telecast and focus on guys wearing helmets and brightly colored armor hurtling into each other at very fast speeds. Think of the restarts as huddles. Then watch slow-motion replays over and over and scream "kill the ref" at your TV until you're hoarse. No, it won't be nearly as satisfying as the NFL. But until the real thing returns, at least it's something to wager on.