Granted I’m a Chicago North Sider and for the moment, it’s almost all Cubs and the Major League Baseball playoffs. But I can happily split sports attention, especially when talking about my two favorites – baseball and football. The Bears, after an expectedly rough season start, are somehow enjoying a two-game winning streak. Jay Cutler looked like he might be alert and involved (I almost wrote “concerned” before recognizing the hyperbole) throughout most of Sunday’s action. It’s a definite improvement over the wrenching, constant woe that was fall 2014 in Bear country.
Yet I don’t think I’m alone in finding this NFL season rather surprisingly, terribly, excruciatingly boring. Maybe we lost interest before it started. Back in early May, the draft broadcast ratings were down 25 percent year over year. The Bears are not in contention, and my fantasy team is a hot steaming mess, but that’s the annual state of things. I still manage to have fun. But I’m not this year.
Part of it is definitely a Deflategate, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, fill in your favorite imbroglio, hangover. It was so much in the last 12 months. As a female fan and writer, I am rather tired of seeing pot smokers (who don’t even benefit from a competitive advantage) earn stiffer penalties from the league than violent, abusive criminals. The October pink ribbon festival in support of breast cancer (despite its ideological laudability) feels all the more hollow given Commissioner Roger Goodell’s refusal to exhibit good judgement and promote policies that demonstrate 21st Century awareness – until after a scandal explodes.
There’s also the aching blahness of many teams and players who were competitive in the near recent past. The Seahawks are 2-3, and I can personally attest to quarterback Russell Wilson’s struggles this season. I have alternated weeks benching him and my original starting fantasy QB, Drew Brees. The future Hall of Famer has struggled mightily through injury, and if we’re being honest, old age. This is a major contributor to the New Orleans Saints’ anemic 1-4 record.
The Broncos may be 5-0, but Peyton is gassed. The Ravens and 49ers are garbage and the Lions, now 0-5, were in the playoffs but last season. Detroit’s star quarterback Matt Stafford found himself riding the bench toward the end of yesterday’s humiliating loss to Arizona.
So very, very much 2015 mediocrity and that might be too kind a noun. Bright spots include the dependable Green Bay Packers with Aaron Rodgers, the Arizona Cardinals and of course Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. But aren’t we all, outside of New England of course, a little tired of them? This season it’s sort of extra annoying. Tom Brady may have been vindicated in a court of law but it’s hard to escape the deep impression that both he and his organization have leveraged a few dishonest tools in burnishing the legend. The farcical Republican party implosion is teaching the nation that staid, dynastic figures are so yesterday as far as the public’s attention goes.
Even if the quality of the teams and stars were higher this season, the action on the field has also tended to be laborious. I asked my partner Bob, a near-pathological football fan, if he could recall a “great” game this fall from any matchup. He could not, though cautioned me that the more exciting contests happen down the stretch. Fair enough.
There are other experts (yes people, Bob is an expert – you don’t live with him) such as writer Sam Farmer of The Los Angeles Times, who share my impression that a stilted sensibility pervades the game. Earlier this month, Farmer wrote A Plague of Penalty Flags Rains Down on the NFL. He records, “Bad weather has yet to hit NFL games this season, but yellow flags have been raining from the start. There were 884 penalties called in the first three weeks of games, an NFL record.” More penalties means more breaks from already pretty listless fall 2015 action – and a reason to change the channel.
The NFL may be struggling to find its mojo, with Roger Goodell’s profile intentionally lowered, but football remains America’s highest-rated sport. For now. Slow start or will the NFL season’s malaise outlast Chuck Pagano’s tenure as the Colts’ head coach?