The National Football League preseason is almost complete, the regular season is so close you can almost taste it. All 32 teams across the league are just a few steps away from being ready to start their run at the Vince Lombardi Trophy and a Super Bowl championship. We are on the cusp of football season, so why are stadiums empty and excitement so slow to build throughout this preseason?
The first missing factor is the easiest to see, most common argument those frustrated with the four game preseason format, and perhaps the most valid.
Wins and losses are irrelevant.
Going as far as to say the games mean nothing is ludicrous, they mean the world to every player busting their tail to make the team. But whether or not you go undefeated or winless, you have the same chance at a Super Bowl title once the real games begin. Proof of that lies in the Detroit Lions perfect preseason before their infamous 0-16 season.
The stars don’t care about winning the game. Proof of this lies in Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best quarterback in the game today, not even suiting up for his team’s matchup against the Chiefs in week four of the preseason. He was not alone in not taking the field in his team’s final preseason game, it is a popular way to ensure that key players are healthy for the opening weekend. He was probably the only NFL player strumming his air guitar in the fourth quarter with his team down 12 points however. That behavior would not happen in a game that meant something.
A second thing lacking in the NFL preseason is a distinct lack of star power and name recognition. Fans come to see their favorite players at the ball park. Plain and simple, especially for the casual fan. If Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, as well as the rest of the offense, is on the sideline in sweats rather than driving down the field for a go-ahead touchdown something is missing from the experience.
This is not to say the backups don’t play at a high level themselves. The opposite is true, they are among the elite athletes of the world. The very best at what they do. Very few men ever have the opportunity to play football at the NFL level, give credit where it is due. However these developmental players are only showcased against one another in situations where it does not matter who wins.
The result is at least a half of football from players the average fan has not heard of playing for a game that means nothing, unless you’re Rex Ryan playing for a Snoopy Trophy and risking the health of his potential starting quarterback.
This leads to a key flaw in the preseason format as it currently stands.
Individual accomplishments mean more than overall team performance. Especially for young players.
Those hoping to earn a starting position or even a roster spot aren’t hoping that their entire unit performs well. That would not help them stand out. A running back hoping to make a roster would not be wrong in hoping that he is the only one who bursts free for a long touchdown run. Plays like that make him look better than his real competition, fellow running backs on the roster.
Football is a team game, and taking away the key accomplishment a team can earn, a victory, negates much of the experience of cheering for said team. Putting individual accomplishments ahead of anything else also leaves something missing from the football experience. Throw in the lack of name recognition and it is easy to see how many fans are bored and frustrated with the NFL’s preseason format. In a fan driven league, perhaps it is time to change and make the warm up for the regular season more entertaining for those paying to see it.
Senior Sports Editor
The Guardian Express