This is without a doubt my favorite holiday (and that is only PARTLY because of the feasting)! Personally, I have been very blessed over the past year, and have much to be thankful for. The list of those things I am thankful for includes all the staples – family, friends, health, and the like… as well as some unique privileges that I am very grateful for, such as sharing this space each day with a group of people who are not only great writers, but who have also become great friends.
What can I say? Things are nice at Casa del Bleacher Fan!
So as I tuck in to a
little lot of deep fried turkey (yes, it really is THAT good) with all the fixin’s, let me tell you why I am thankful for the NFL…
First, from a personal standpoint as a fan of Cleveland sports, this was a tough year for basketball and baseball. The Indians decided after about only 15 games that they were going to just mail in the 2010 seasons. And as for basketball, well, I’d rather not talk about it (although I must admit that there is something cathartic in the knowledge that LeBron James isn’t having any fun). But then the Cleveland Browns season started, and it became a wonderful distraction from all the other garbage.
It is not a distraction because the Browns are successful on the field. In fact, they are only 3-7 right now. The reason why the Browns are able to provide a distraction to Cleveland fans is the very same reason why fans across the country should be thankful for the NFL.
Unlike baseball or basketball, where seasons can essentially be scripted before the first actual play ever unfolds, the NFL is the one sport where “Worst-to-First” is not only possible, but it is actually PROBABLE. You see, every season in the NFL is a fresh start for every team. It doesn’t matter that your team only won four or five games last season because, in the NFL, last season is ancient history. THIS season, your team is just as good as last year’s Super Bowl champion.
Take a look at the NFL standings. Of the eight division leaders, four finished last season with losing records (Kansas City, Jacksonville, Seattle, and Chicago), and NONE of those teams that won the division last season are currently sitting atop the leader board.
Likewise, two of the pre-season favorites to contend for a Super Bowl bid, the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, share a combined six wins, while last season’s worst team, the St. Louis Rams, are only one game out of first place.
Now, compare that parity to the NFL’s college counterpart. In the NCAA ranks, a team must not only win games to be successful, it has to also convince voters. So a team like Boise State, which has not been beaten since December of 2008, could still miss out not only on the national championship game, but may not even get a BCS invitation if TCU also continues to win games.
Or compare it to a sport like Major League Baseball, or the NBA, where championships can be bought and sold like commodities on the free agency market.
But as the countdown to the 2010 NFL season continued over the summer, who could have guessed that Michael Vick would be the most exciting quarterback in the league, that the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks would be leading divisions, or that the head coaches for two different pre-season Super Bowl contenders would be unemployed before Thanksgiving?
The NFL system provides a proving ground where all 32 teams enter the fray on truly equal ground. With each season comes the mystery of the unknown. As each season plays out we are treated to a rollercoaster of surprises, excitement, and drama that is unparalleled in the fan experience for any other sport. Every fan can enter a fresh season with legitimate hope that, “This will be the year.” There is no subjectivity, and wins are the only currency that can buy a team a shot at the championship.
So, from a jaded, beaten, and broken down Cleveland sports fan, I say “THANK YOU” to the NFL! With each new game and each new season you give every fan, regardless of the team they follow, a reason to tune in and watch. That is an accomplishment no other sport can duplicate.
Thank you, NFL, for giving me hope!