Sunday, August 01, 2010

Can't you Hear me Knocking on your Window? Can't you? Now? Anything?

I went for a run yesterday morning and was listening to Bill Simmons' podcast with Mike Lombardi. (My opinion on Simmons' podcasts: they are highly dependent on the guest. I pass on any of his interviews with celebrities and his friends. I like the podcasts with subject matter experts. Lombardi falls into the latter category.) Simmons started off by making the point that football has snuck up on us this year because this has been a sports year full of interesting stories. If the American sports scene were struggling for stories, then we would get a lot of college football and NFL coverage because those are the two most popular sports in the country. Instead, we've had the Winter Olympics, above-average NHL and NBA seasons (although the NBA playoffs lacked a compelling series between the first round and the finals, save for the Boston-Cleveland matchup), Tiger's return, the Big Dance (although Simmons was wrong that this year's edition was in any way above average), and the World Cup.

I nodded when Simmons made this point, as he was hitting on something that I've been feeling, as well. Football hasn't grabbed me like it normally does over the summer. I normally get Phil Steele the moment that it hits the rack at Borders, but I got it as an afterthought this year. I had to remind myself to order the Football Outsiders preview, despite the fact that they have done a great job in beefing up the college coverage. I'll freely grant that as someone who has always been a soccer fan and has become more intense in that preference over the past several years - in part because so many games are on the TV and in part as a coping mechanism because Michigan football and the Braves have been weak while Barca has been very strong - I'm not a representative example. Or at least I felt that way until Simmons voiced similar thoughts.

It was interesting to me that Simmons omitted baseball from his list of stories that have reduced the anticipation for the season, especially in light of the fact that he just wrote a column explaining why Red Sox fans are feeling a sense of ennui about this year's edition. If any fan base should be looking forward to football season, it's one with the expectations of Red Sox fans that sees its team well behind the Yankees and Rays in the AL East. Spoiled fans, perhaps? (I don't mean this as a criticism. This hasn't been an especially compelling baseball season in terms of national stories.
Upon reflection, though, the distribution of teams having good season might at least partially explain why college football isn't on the front of our brains in the summer like normal. (Obviously, Simmons wasn’t talking about college football when he said that football has suck up on him this year. As a product of his environment, college football is about the last thing on his radar.) There are two major regions for intense college football interest: the South and the Midwest. The flagship baseball team for the South - the Braves - is in first place. The Texas Rangers are in first place and the Rays are awfully close. In the Midwest, the Twins, Tigers (until recently), White Sox, Cards, and Reds have all had good summers. There was a heavy prevalence of Midwestern teams in the rankings of local ratings that I linked last week. In short, this has not been a baseball season dominated by the coasts, so fan bases that would normally give up on baseball and start obsessing about the depth chart on the offensive line have had their interest held by their local baseball collectives. The fact that the baseball playoffs have been a random number generator for years adds to the interest.

Another factor in the comparative lack of college football dominating my thoughts as it normally would at this stage (and, if I’m representative of other fans, the thoughts of others) is that this season doesn’t have an obvious dominant team(s) to drive attention. At this time last year, we had Tebow and Florida as the kings of the hill and McCoy’s Texas and Bradford’s Oklahoma in challenging positions. With quarterbacks filling a sometimes excessive role as driving attention, 2009 lent itself to a lot of preseason hype, but 2010 is not the same.

The “no alpha male teams” explanation does not apply to the NFL, which finished a banner season in 2009 with the lovable Saints beating Manning’s Colts in exciting fashion. Those teams are back again, as are a number of other very good teams with ready-made plot lines. There’s no reason for the NFL to sneak up on us this year, other than the fact that there has been less oxygen this summer for football stories because of LeBron, Tiger, and the vuvuzela.


Anonymous said...

I am as excited about football this year as I've ever been (and I have also been into baseball/Braves for the first time in years). The reason I am excited is because I continue to believe in the Falcons onfield leaders and their GM; with UGA I don't know if Grantham will be the answer to our problems (penlaties/discipline, turnovers, and a strange sense of timidity) but I know that the defense has to be better than the Martinez years.
If nothing else, I hope that the days of UGA falling behind 28 to 0 (a Martinez staple) are over.

Plus, as Blue Duck said in Lonesome Dove, "Let's Gamble".

34 days and counting...

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Jesse said...

Michael, did you see the report of the Premier League will have the fourth official actually helping to referee the matches? That's a step in the right direction if you ask me.

Also, I keep hearing how Thierry Henry is the best player in the MLS. Even better than Donovan? Or are people simply remembering his play from the previous two World Cups and overplaying the 'MLS is bad' meme?

Michael said...

If Henry is the best player in MLS, then there is something wrong with MLS. He's not as good as Landon Donovan right now. LD scored three goals at the World Cup; Henry couldn't get off the bench for a disgraceful France squad. Henry was supplanted at Barca by Pedro; LD made it into the first team at Everton and did very well.

It's hard to say if Henry's weak 2009-10 was the result of him losing his pace or if he was just disinterested after a 2008-09 when he scored a ton of goals and finally won the Champions League. I suppose it's possible that he'll try harder in MLS and come closer to his top form, which would make him the best player in the league.

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