Why is the NFL not as enjoyable to watch, as it was 25 years ago? (or is it?)

I guess you can’t argue that the NFL isn’t as popular as it’s ever been (what with the mega-stadium sellouts, fantasy football, etc), but do you feel that it’s really as enjoyable as it used to be?

Maybe I’m just getting old (late 30’s), but I long for the days when the players were like heroes - they played “for the love of the game”, they didn’t jump teams every 4 - 5 years for the bigger contract, the owners weren’t parading them out in various multi-colored jerseys every week, etc.

I recently stumbled across some youtube videos of the old “NFL Today” show (Musberger, Jimmy The Greek, Irv Cross, and smoking-hot Phyllis George), and it really made me miss the good-old days. Noticeably missing was the stupid FOX animatronic robot. Oh, and Chris Berman was nowhere to be found either.

I miss the “ALCOA Fantastic Finishes” commercials, the voices of John Facenda and Harry Kalas, Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier announcing the biggest game of the week, single-bar facemasks on the kickers, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, the old-school football with the white rings around each end of the ball, the USFL as a legitimate league / “competitor”, Kellen Winslow needing to be helped off the field after that epic playoff game against the Dolphins… etc., etc., etc.

So, with the understanding that “those days” are behind us, is this just a case of me getting old (I guess some of you might have young boys who look at today’s NFL the same way I did back in the late 70’s and early 80’s), or is the league a totally different (and less-enjoyable) animal than it was back then?

I think it’s probably as exciting as it’s even been, maybe even moreso. The game is far more dynamic and the coverage/video is light years better. The vast majority of the TV gimmicks have worked really well, notably instant and slo-mo replay and the 1st and 10 lines.

The big difference in my view is the nationalization of the sport. This is probably a very good thing for the league as a whole and the total TV numbers, but the combination of more primetime games, widespread cable TV adoption and 24/7 sports channels has made it en vogue to follow the league as whole. TV and Fantasy have made NFL fans far less passionate about their teams relative to their interest in the game as a whole. They still love the home team, but it’s not the monogamous co-dependent insanity it once was. When the home team sucks, fans pretty quickly accept that and shift focus to the other teams around the league and the stars on their fantasy team.

The game is more fun and more popular, but it’s probably a bit less provincial and rabid.

I will admit that age plays a part in it and I don’t think it is as exciting as it used to be. But other factors are

  1. play is too often interrupted by commercials. The games are still about 3 hours but the “flow” is choppy"
  2. going to a 16 game season and 12 playoff teams instead of 8 makes games less important. If you finsihed 9-5, you might not make the playoffs. But 9-7 nowadays still gives you a chance.
  3. I am for players having the right to move to another team but at the same time it limits the ability to get to know players that are on one team for their career.
  4. let’s face it, some of these players are slime. I know that Michael Vick paid his debt and deserves to play again. But it still appalls me what he and his posse did. And some of these owners (well, most of them) are the greediest people imaginable. PSLs, franchise shifts, flexing games for the dollar, Thursday games (does the body heal that quickly?).

I think it’s simply nostalgia, and viewing the game through the eyes of an innocent. It’s so much easier to think they were playing “for the love of the game” when you’re 10 and you buy into the PR, but nowadays you know every thought on every issue of the CBA. There were anti-trust suits, CBA’s, legal challenges to the draft, strikes, and animosity back then too. If you were 60 or 70 and looking at the olden days, when the owners held all the cards and could extort players, I could see the “love of the game”, but even when we were young, it was still about the money. Players changed teams (Montana to the Chiefs?), owners had marketing ideas. Hell, entire teams changed cities. It’s easy to not pay attention or forget those things from our innocent childhood. But I think any changes in your level of enjoyment is from you, not the NFL. And there were bad men playing then too.

I hated Howard Cosell, and the “analysis” offered by the color guys and analysts is so much more informative now than it was back then. If you want to truly understand football, it’s much better now than anytime in the past. I hate the robot too and the loudness, but I’d take them over the Super Bowl Shuffle anyday.

The differences are in the type of game being played now (huge emphasis on the passing games), but not, from my point of view, any worse. If you don’t have a problem with the way the game is played now vs. then, I think everything else is just nostalgia and seeing the game through the eyes of a kid.

The other big difference between then and now is the proliferation of arcane rules that have turned the NFL into the most legalistic sport in the world. The game is constantly being stopped so some bizarro foul can be analyzed over and over with the kind of attention that people used to reserve for the Talmud. If you like that sort of thing, great. But it definitely interferes with the flow of the game, and increases the overall length of the game. After all, every challenge, every review – and there are more this year than ever – gives the the broadcasters the chance to show even more commercials.

I find it harder to enjoy than in the past because I am more aware of the physical damage these guys are doing to themselves. Especially brain damage.

I think the difference is in the free-agency changes since I was a kid (1970s-1980s).

Back then, your team was essentially the same team from year to year, with some turnover from each year’s draft and whatever free agents/trades the front office could swing.

The upshot of this is that the teams used to be more static than they are now; 4 years after a given season, the team was mostly the same, which doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

This made it easier to follow- you didn’t have to figure out who played where; you knew that the Oilers had Earl Campbell, and that Pittsburgh had the Steel Curtain, and that Danny White would be under center for the Cowboys, with Tony Dorsett right behind him. Or that Walter Payton would be running the ball for the Bears.

I don’t enjoy it as much, but I think that’s more on me than the league. I find the commercials to be excessive, but they’ve probably always been that way. However, I do think the hype is much bigger than it used to be. For cryin’ out loud, ESPN Sunday Countdown is now 3 hours. Then there’s constant NFL talk on ESPNews during the games on Sunday. Then there are hours more coverage every day of the week in between the games. It’s good if you want to know about everything possible with every team, but I don’t, so I tune out and don’t really care anymore. Go Vikings, but I’m not planning my day around their games (or any others except the Super Bowl) anymore.

The price for that was heavily on the players. While it is nice to have the same guys locked into one team for years, it was completely unfair to the players. While the lack of free agency or the Rozelle rule, etc., kept the players with the same team for awhile, the players got royally screwed. I think the price for that continuity of rosters was waaaayyyy to high.

The franchise guys, Manning, Brady, Peterson, etc. will still usually stay with their team for most of their careers, but it’s the second tier guys, guys who usually don’t have huge fan bases, that tend to move more.

Because it takes so long. Maybe 30-40 minutes of actual game play spread over 3 - 4 hours. One play takes maybe 10-15 seconds with another 10-15 seconds of clock running, then a break for some talking heads, a replay and a commercial.

I used to be able to watch a football game. These days I’ll sit down and start watching and then wander off during a break. Every time I look in, nothing is happening so I don’t come back. They have streached the game beyond to the breaking point for me.

I wasn’t passing judgment on it, just saying that roster continuity was something that made it a lot more fun to follow your own team, than today’s teams where half the team may not come back year to year.

There’s also something I can’t put my finger on or articulate about today’s NFL that makes it harder to watch; it’s all the same. The players seem interchangeable and the play styles are all the same- you could put one team in another team’s uniform, and they’d be pretty much identical.

Going strictly from my somewhat tenuous memory, I remember teams having identities too, but I think that’s true now also. Back then it was Air Coryell, now it’s Greatest Show on Turf or the Chargers’ Turner offense. Back then, the Steelers identity was the Steel Curtain, now teams like the Ravens and, yes the Steelers again, rely on the same kind of game. The Oilers and Earl Campbell were a pound the ball running team, something the Browns and Vikings are doing now. We had the 'Aints, now it used to be the Lions, could be the Chiefs this year. We had Mean Joe Greene, now it’s Ndamukong Suh.

I would say that the playing styles amongst NFL teams are actually more different now, what with the multitude of defenses used (3-4, 4-3, blitz heavy Saints, Cover 2, the “hey, somebody tackle that guy” of the Chiefs) and offensive styles (Vertical Passing game, Power running, some spread stuff, the Wildcat, Martz’s let’s try to get the QB killed, Running Backs by committee). The one thing I would say is that teams are quicker to try and change identities (see the Lions, the Rams) than before, but I really don’t think NFL teams now a days are interchangeable.

I enjoy it as much now as I ever did. And this may be a big duh (!) but is the game now much faster than it was 25 years ago? Seems that players have gotten bigger AND faster and it shows in the play.

When I was in High School in the late 70’s, I watched NFL religiously, and seldom watched college. I can truly say that I have not watched an entire NFL game in about 15 yrs and watch College games all the time.

Commercials actually started in 1961. They were very careful about interrupting play.
I had season tickets for the Lions in the early 60s and there was a lot of grumbling in the seats about the commercial time outs. They had a guy with a bright orange cap on the sidelines. He took the cap off when it was commercial time and put it back on when the refs were to put the ball in play. It slowed the game down. Instead of planning on 1 and a half hours at a game, it became two. Then it kept growing. Now going to a football game takes a whole Sunday.
Those who watched football before commercials ,were pissed at the interruptions. Nowadays, they are accepted as part of the game.

At least it ain’t baseball.

When I try to filter out the rose-colored view of great heroes past, here’s some of what I think…

–Too much team rosters constantly churning. Player-team identities are diluted when franchise players and lineups disappear. I also don’t shed any tears for being locked into a team–IMO you’re a pro and that’s the sacrifice of pro football, 6 or 7 figures in Detroit still is a great life. The team coaches/managers should have full authority over the roster and trades.

–Training has closed the gap between average joe and superstar. The premier players stand out less and are less capable of consistently heroic play because the average bar is so high. It’s turning games into a statistical exercise instead of a memorable highlight reel.

–Modern viewers are tired of having their action padded with interruptions and commercials. I can no longer sit through a game unless I can DVR it and skip forward.

–Too much rules-lawyering and subjective penalties.

Now it is commercials + time stoppages for reviews, for the life of me I can’t figure out why they can’t get two microphones, so that the head referee can be actually reviewing the play while some other ref announces it.

The biggest reason I enjoy college ball more is that on any given weekend they are showing 5 games at the same time. One game slows down you just flip to the next.

I think Rams in St. Louis in gold is utterly wrong and we need to see more laterals.

People say this, but it’s just not true. The pacing of games hasn’t changed much at all. The play clock has been around since 1976, it’s actually been shortened from 45 seconds to 40 seconds since. Football has always been a slow moving game interrupted by intense action.