Until the controversy engendered by the Eagles/WTFs game on Sunday Night Football changed my plans, today’s rant was supposed to have been yesterday’s. Over the weekend, I thought I would look back at 2020 – – clearly a year that will live in infamy – – to find a few positive sporting events to take the edge off the image of 2020. Then I wanted to look ahead to 2021 and identify what I hoped might happen in 2021 to return to “sports normalcy”. Here is what I came up with for 2020 in hindsight:
- In 2020, the CFP produced a great championship game. Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence went head-to-head and put on a show.
- Andy Reid and the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, and that victory removed the one stain on Reid’s coaching career. I believe he is a great football coach and now he should be a Hall of Fame football coach.
- The LA Dodgers broke a longstanding World Series drought. Dodgers’ fans have had many World series disappointments; the team was 6-17 in world Series appearances until the Dodgers beat the Rays in 6 games in October.
- David Ayres was an employee of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was a goalie for the team in practices; he drove the Zamboni; he maintained lots of the team infrastructure. He also served as the team’s “house goalie” and he had to suit up for the Carolina Hurricanes when they needed an emergency goalie. Ayres played for the Hurricanes and beat the Maple Leafs – – his employer – – in the game. That is screenplay material.
- Alex Smith made it back to the field as an NFL QB after almost losing his life and/or his leg during myriad surgeries to repair his broken leg.
- In baseball, Daniel Bard made it back to MLB after being out of the game since 2013. Bard suffered a loss of control and that usually means a pitcher is finished with baseball. Bard somehow found a way to regain his control and record 6 saves for the Colorado Rockies.
If things go well in 2021, sports may return to a semblance of its regular self and rhythm. Here is what I hope to see in 2021:
- I hope to see sports events with a full complement of fans in the stands or in the arenas. Crowd noise is a whole lot better than “piped-in crowd noise”.
- I hope to see March Madness – – even if it needs to be played in April or even May.
- I hope the Olympics happen in Tokyo this summer. I have no particular affection for the Olympic Games themselves, but the athletes who will participate have been training for most of their lives to participate. Organizers have said that if the Games do not happen in 2021, they will be canceled and not postponed for another year, so I hope they take place as scheduled for the sake of the athletes.
- I hope to be able to go and see a minor league baseball game on a warm summer evening later this year.
- I hope the NFL learns from the 2020 season that its future seasons can be considered complete without staging any more Pro Bowl Games.
Bob Molinaro had this comment recently in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:
“Futurewatch: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence may be relieved that the Jags jumped the line on the Jets for the No. 1 draft pick, but how is the sport helped when the top quarterback prospect plays in an NFL backwater?”
My response to that is to say that the only way to avoid having “top prospects” at any position play in an NFL backwater is to avoid putting teams in backwaters. If the NFL were to decide tomorrow to expand from 32 teams to 36 teams and to put all 4 of the expansion franchises in the US of A, they should pay heed to the “desirability” of the locale for the new teams as much as to the willingness of a prospective owner of the new team to pay the exorbitant franchise fee.
What makes for an NFL “backwater”? Too often folks equate market size with the desirability of a franchise venue. That measure is true at the extremely high end of the scale; franchises in NY, LA, Chicago etc. are generally desirable based on the sheer number of fans in the area. However, Green Bay and Pittsburgh are desirable based on their history of professional football. Cincy is a successful franchise based on history too; it was Paul Brown who left Cleveland and started his own team in Cincy.
There is more to having a successful/desirable NFL franchise than market size. One of the hidden factors, I believe, is the fundamental sports interest of the region where the franchise is to be located. Take the northeast US plus the “snow belt” of the upper mid-west. I count 11 or 12 NFL teams in that region and the only ones that may or may not be thought of as “backwaters” would be Detroit and Buffalo. [Aside: I think Detroit is one; I do not think Buffalo is, but others might.] Here is my theory as to why that is the case:
- In that region, MLB is a dominant sport and has been for a long time. NFL football grew up there as “something to do when there is no more MLB”. Families could still attend pro sports events when MLB had shut down for the year. Having been in that situation for 50-80 years, the NFL franchises there are now also important local foundation pieces.
Now look at the region of the southeastern US – – whare Jax is located. There are 8 NFL teams located there. Washington and New Orleans are successful and desirable franchises – – if one ignores the ownership of the WTFs. The other franchises are successful, but none are the pillar of their city. My reason:
- College football is the king in the southeastern US and not NFL football. And, unlike the situation in the northeast where MLB is dominant, college football and NFL football overlap in their seasons. Jax hosts the Georgia/Florida game every year; it is a bigger event by a mile than any Jags’ game has been. Jax is a city in a college football dominated region with merely an NFL franchise.
The problem is not that Trevor Lawrence will be toiling for a while in a backwater; the problem is that the NFL put a team in a backwater and has failed to recognize that and make it right.
Finally, I said above that I looked forward to attending a minor league baseball game this summer; and of course, I would partake of a hot dog while in attendance. So, let me offer this definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:
“Hot Dog: The toenails, lips and eyebrows of various animals served on a bun.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………