The Cost of Violence.

Like a lot of people in our country, I’m a big proponent of watching football on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays, and even Thursdays. The first NFL game I ever watched just happened to be the first Super Bowl played between America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys… and that team from Buffalo. Not to make it sound like I favored the Cowboys, it’s just at the time I didn’t know I was supposed to hate them.

Just like I hate the Patriots. Not to mention the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s taken a lot of time, patience, studying and stat-watching to figure out the ways of professional football. It was like a shining light when I finally could watch games and understand nearly everything that’s going on. A moment of clarity in a world filled with uncertainties. I could tell the difference between a horse-collar tackle, unsportsmanlike conduct, a clean hit, and a reasonably assumed penalty for helmet-to-helmet contact.

I thought I knew what’s legal and what’s not. I was badly mistaken.

As you already well know if you read this blog on a regular basis, I am a big fan of the Baltimore Ravens. I’m guilty of being biased as much as any other REAL fan of another team, so it’s not like I am promising neutrality or anything. Anyone who watches games in our division, the AFC North, knows that we play big boy football. Physical, grinding football, as much as that is possible in today’s turbulent, changing times.

We aren’t talking about the jewels of North America here, like New York City, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami, or anywhere else you’d think of when taking your next vacation. You go to Baltimore if you want to eat crabs (or get crabs), buy drugs or squat in abandoned row-housing. You go to Cincinnati if you are lost and it’s the closest city with a hotel, or you are a locally born-raised Ohio native (who thinks Cincy is considered a big city). You go to Pittsburgh if you like Primanti Bros. sandwiches (big ass sandwiches stuffed w/ fries & coleslaw), if you just got here to America (like my parents did.) or if you still somehow earn a living making American steel. As for Cleveland, I can’t really think of too many reasons to go there unless your European ancestors settled the area. These cities are called ‘The Rust Belt’ for a reason.

All jokes aside, the main reason people come to my lovely city is either they’re stuck here because of work or family, and because of serious football. Ask any real Ravens fan who they’re favorite player is and I guarantee they’ll be able to tell you his jersey number, what position he plays, his first AND last name, and his stats this season. None of that bandwagon bullshit (“I’m from West Virginia but my friend likes the Cowboys so I like the Cowboys! Go Toby Romo!”). Here in Baltimore, there’s a common saying we use. ‘Ain’t shit to do around here so let’s get fucked up.’ Sad but true. That’s why our football is so important to us, and why we don’t care much for these fancy new rules changing our sport. At least I don’t.

Fancy new rules, what’s he talking about? If you watch football, anyone and their non-NFL watching mother can tell you that shit has changed over the past few years. Just a few days ago, the world watched as the AFC/NFC Divisional games set a record for most points scored in a single weekend. Denver and Baltimore combined to score 10 touchdowns and 73 total points. Houston and New England scored 69 total points. None of that happened because of luck or coincidence. Defense’s are being flagged for anything and everything. Quarterbacks and Kickers are nearly untouchable. Entire jobs are being erased that have been in the game since the very beginning. Something has to be done before this game is ruined forever (Then what am I going to do, watch hockey? pfft).

Ed Reed is a prime example of these changes. As a safety, Reed’s job since the day he was drafted was to provide deep coverage, almost like an outfielder in baseball. Anyone throwing the ball down the field knows that he will be waiting for them, either with a big hit or an interception. His job description is to stifle opposing offenses with fear, forcing them to rethink their game plan. If your a Ravens fan, you already know all the crap he’s had to deal with, including a number of legal hits that were penalized regardless. He’s not the only one guilty of laying the law down in Baltimore. Bernard Pollard, Ray Lewis, and a number of our defensive backs have all been flagged or fined for [hitting defenseless receivers]. Let’s explore this little rule, shall we?

There is NO SUCH THING as a defenseless receiver. That may not be 100% true, but it’s closer than you think, maybe 98 or 97% true. Before this ridiculous rule was implemented (or enforced), wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs were defending themselves just fine. Quarterbacks are taught not to put the ball where it will get their receiver killed, like up high over the middle when a linebacker is charging from 10 years away. With the change in rules/enforcement, all of a sudden QBs are putting the ball wherever they want too, possibly hoping to draw a flag. Ed Reed is good at hitting people like a ton of bricks without using his helmet. So if it’s considered a legal hit, and the receiver he just blew up purposefully left himself defenseless, why is he the one getting flagged. Enough with the flopping, ok?

This is not the only problem, and definitely not an isolated incident. Offenses are pushing off, hand-fighting, chop blocking and anything else they can get away with. If both the receiver and defensive back are pushing/holding each other, 75% of the time the defensive player gets called for pass interference. How is that interference when both players have an equal right to the football? These flags are bad enough to change the course of a game, especially when 3rd or 4th downs are turning into 5/15 yards and a 1st down, completely at the mercy of biased officials. I ask myself all the time how league officials could allow this travesty to occur.

After careful consideration, this is what I have come up with:

1. Offenses, especially passing touchdowns, bring more fans to the stadium. This means more tickets sold, more direct TV packages, more concessions, etc.

2. The commissioner, Roger Goodell, and his cronies are in cahoots with the large market teams. Pittsburgh, Dallas, New York, San Francisco, these are teams that have fans across the country. If these teams do well, more people will watch. This means higher ratings, which in turn, leads to more lucrative TV contracts, advertisement money, etc.

3. Nothing in the world will remove the looming danger of concussions from the game of football. To actually limit dangerous activities to the point where players can’t get concussions would mean changing the sport until it’s unrecognizable. Why don’t they have players sign liability/injury waivers, and let them go back to their barbaric ways of yore.

4. The players union claims that many retired players should get royalties, free insurance, a pension fund, etc. The minimum salary for a rookie is $405,000 this season (as of 2013). The average salary for any NFL player is OVER $1.9 million(as of 2011). You give me either amount of money and I guarantee I will be able to pay my own insurance/start my own retirement fund. It’s the players own own fault if they can’t invest their huge incomes wisely.

5.  Only real fans of football could watch a theoretical game with a final score of 6-3. I’m not talking about two inept teams that are just unable to score points. I’m talking about two teams filled with brutish, violent ogres on defense. Can you imagine the physical battle, blood-stained jerseys and a test of sheer willpower. Dominating your opponents with a gap-toothed smile, rain and mud flying as bodies slam into each other and the ground like bulging sacks of meat. If you can’t envision, or enjoy, this spectacle in your imagination, real football isn’t for you.

So go back to your Banana Daiquiri, sipping it delicately through a twisty straw. Perhaps you should watch figure skating, or gymnastic floor routines. It’s not like I have anything against watching men spinning around in spandex on ice skates, or Gabby Douglas  flying around like a tiny squirrel across a floor mat.. it just isn’t football. If your jersey is clean, either your opponents aren’t very good, or more likely you ain’t doin’ it right. That’s what I think about finesse football.

The best example of what could happen to professional football is probably Arena Football. It’s kind of like NFL or NCAA football except the field is only 50 yards, it’s always indoors, and there are padded walls instead of boundary lines on each side. If you haven’t seen it yet, Arena Football is very exciting to watch. There’s a ton of offense, and very little defense. Players often hit the padded boundary lines, jumping or getting tackled into the bleachers. A lot of people who didn’t make it in the NFL or can’t play professionally anymore end up in the AFL, like Terrell Owens. Nobody bets on AFL games, there’s no high drama, it’s kinda like a pick-up game except that they get paid and they have fans. There is no draft, and I doubt many people even know when their championship is played.

This is the future I foresee for the NFL if it doesn’t shape up quickly. The reason the game is so successful is because the rules are enforced, the stage doesn’t get any bigger, statistics are carefully kept and tradition/history is honored. There is no bigger sport in the world. From Vince Lombardi to Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman to Tom Brady, heroes are immortalized for all eternity. The more we change the sport, from taking away kickoffs to changing the rules, adding games or changing playoff format, the farther away we move from the original, unadulterated version of football.

 

 

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Dear NFL: Can you please, please bring back the Refs?

On so many occasions in the past, I, like other casual fans of football, found myself screaming at the television screen until I lost my voice. I yelled and screamed, kicked over furniture, drank heavily to console myself, sobbed, pleaded and ultimately made a complete fool of myself. How could they miss the call?! It’s not like they’re staring at the play through a flickering, freezing TV screen like I am, I mean they’re right on the field with the players! Are you BLIND?! Everyone in the room, including the completely hammered unconscious man sitting in the recliner that I’ve never met before, can see that it was the other team who started pushing and throwing punches and whatnot, but somehow your throwing a yellow flag at the guy on my team? I don’t know how old the man in the corner is, what he does for a living or whether he’s a child molester or a serial killer, but I’m 110% certain that he’d do a much better job calling the game then the zebras on the playing field.

Or at least that’s what I used to think. Like one of those bedtime stories my parents used to tell me, it seems there’s a moral to the story, karma has come back with a brutal vengeance to bite me in the rear. Those idiots who couldn’t possibly call a game any worse have been replaced by a group of shopping mall employees, or perhaps rag-wearing drug abusing vagabonds. Yes, you heard me correctly, vagabonds, the guys wearing filthy ripped rags, shuffling slowly across the street from their dumpster homes to the street corner they beg from. Instead of reading the rules handbook they were given on their first day of employment, these faceless drifters must have ripped out the pages and used them in a trashcan fire to help them stay warm.

Maybe they aren’t actual vagabonds. These “replacement officials” are probably trying to officiate these games as best they can. They probably aren’t out there trying to destroy the game I love and yet, that’s exactly what they’re doing. It’s not their fault that they haven’t been educated in the strange and complex language of the NFL rulebook, they were just the bottom of the officiating barrel, what was leftover after the team owners decided they would rather line their pockets with even more money than to give the real officiating crews a pay raise. As a fan of the game, someone who has nothing but time and interest invested, it seems to me that the team owners have more than enough money. If it takes a couple hundred thousand dollars or even a couple million dollars to settle this ridiculous negotiation, so be it.

Let me put it this way, the contract for even a mediocre player on an average team would cost at least as much, not to mention it would be paid for by a single team under a salary cap.

Any pay raise or benefits package for the officiating crews would be paid for by the combined might of all 32 team owners, each of who has a net worth over a billion dollars. Are you fucking kidding me? Jerry Jones and Dan Synder, owners of the Dallas Cowboys & the Washington Redskins respectively, have the 1st and 2nd highest net worth of any sports team in the world. THE WORLD! Under the circumstances, when the officiating has begun to affect the product put on the field, it wouldn’t be out of the question to pay the referees anything they asked for, new cars, private airplanes, millions of dollars, you name it.

Good officiating is part of the package we the fans are paying to see. When the officiating is actually causing serious reverberations across the country, such as in the Green Bay/Seattle game last night, it should send up a serious red flag to the owners and league offices. Now it’s affecting the product they are selling by causing us to have serious doubts over the validity of the win-loss columns. Maybe it will or maybe it won’t change the playoff fortunes of the two teams involved last night, either way I’m completely sure this isn’t the last time we hear about it. If my team failed to reach the playoffs due to a single horribly called game, I would probably riot, running through the night with a blazing torch and a glittering machete screaming like a maniac. [Note: For legal purposes, none of this would actually happen.]

So please, please, pay those damn referees! Am I going to boycott football games like certain television personalities say I should? Probably not. Will I still buy tickets and watch certain must-see games at the stadium? Absolutely. Is the NFL still more entertaining than watching professional baseball or hockey? Yes. How about basketball? Maybe. Either way, the owners can afford it, the referees deserve it, and the fans expect it. When the rules are enforced correctly, or at least more correctly, we as fans should not be able to point out how blatantly wrong the referees are.

Privately, we might question whether it was fair for them to throw a flag on our team when the play before that someone on the other team had done exactly the same thing, but at least we should feel reasonably comfortable that the referees aren’t taking bribes from the mob to throw the game [Note: Over a billion dollars in sports betting changed hands last night]. Just a couple of weeks ago, the NFL almost let a Seahawks fan officiate a regular season Seahawks game! Think about that for a second. Do you really believe that you could be impartial if asked to call a game for your favorite team? What if you were nearly bankrupt and had to take care of your wife and children?

It makes me suddenly grateful that someone else has to make the calls on the field. Well, most of the time. Hopefully the owners and the referees will soon shake hands, sing Kumbaya around the campfire and get back to making difficult rulings that are only tempered by the failings and limitations of being human. Otherwise, someone far more unstable than me is going to make this decision for them real soon.

Michael, Wong_83@hotmail.com

Teams Michael identifies with: The Baltimore Ravens (NFL), Baltimore Orioles (MLB), Miami Heat (NBA), Washington Capitals (NHL), Maryland Terrapins (NCAA) and sometimes the Philadelphia Eagles (NFL).