On top of that, I've been following the ever-fluid, ludonarratively rich, worldly realm of football-- soccer, that is-- for at least the past fifteen years, but hardcore for the past ten in particular. In football, every country in the world has its own "NFL", with its own playing style, "hall of fame", superstars, sets of tactics, and history. And the teams from various "NFLs" play each other in prestigious tournaments to boot! And that's not even getting to international play-- the Euros, the World Cup, etc.
This versus American Football, where there is basically just the NFL. That has given me some "outsider" perspective on American Football that I didn't have last I followed it.
Via that newfound perspective, here are some notable trend changes and observations that I have regarding American Football:
- Salary cap: When I stopped following the league the salary cap was about $80 million. The day I decided to start following the league again, I looked at Wikipedia and found that the cap is now $133 million! That's an eye-popping 66% increase in only 10 years! No inflation, huh Yellen?
- Shotgun: Shotgun was used, if ever, on third downs only, and only when a long pass was required. Now, I see teams using it sometimes eight out of ten snaps.
- Special teams marginalized: Either the kickers and punters are stronger now, or the ball is lighter, because the whole concept of kick returns is pretty much gone completely; nearly every kick is out the back of the end zone, and every punt sent out of play. In video game parlance, special teams are now "broken."
- Zombie apocalypse: It's crazy what ten years can do to people. I was wondering how a member of the undead managed to get onto the Fox Half-Time Show. Then I realized it was just Terry Bradshaw.
- League is insular: It's amazing to me how low the standard of play is in the NFL. There are huge amounts of unforced mistakes practically every play in totally routine situations; because of the salary cap, there are basically no good teams. But, the punditry and coaches don't seem to see this.
- League's fans are insular: For all of the bluster from Americans about how "wimpy" other sports are, such as football, it's amazing that they don't see their own game of choice for what it is. It's basically a non-contact sport; the players just bounce off of each others' body armor, and practically any contact other than that is a foul. "Illegal touching", "hands to the face", "roughing the passer", "block in the back", "pass interference", and the list goes on and on.
- Strange culture: American Football consists of heinously obese men in pants so tight you can see their underwear, doing embarrassing Britney Spears dance moves after plays-- in between the oxygen mask trips that is. And deluge of beer and cell phone commercials during the constant stoppages just adds to the twilight zone nature of the sport. Yet, Americans don't see any of this! The rest of the world is laughing at them, and they don't get it. That's the very definition of "insular."
- Race and athleticism: During the last season that I followed Vikings-- 2004-- they had, by my count, 7.5 (out of 22) "white" players at the top of their offensive and defensive depth charts. In 2014, Vikings have 6.5 (again, out of 22) "white" starting players. The NFL was a very African heritage-leaning league when I followed it, and I suspect it's become even moreso in my absence. I wonder why American Statists aren't saying we need affirmative action to get more "white" guys into the league? Clearly "white" athletes are being discriminated against in this racist country! Of course, it has nothing to do with the fact that African genetics tends to produce superior athletes...
Now, you would think that after this laundry list of sometimes critical observations I would be running the other way. But I have to say, the sport itself is fascinating; it's like someone was watching a football match and said, "you know what? Let's try making an entire game out of set pieces!" And as it turns out, that's a pretty compelling formula. Not nearly as compelling as football, but it's a fun side-diversion when there are no good matches on.
Now, if only some other countries would pick up the game and give the NFL some competition...