The Home Field Advantage (innings):
Baseball gives the home team an advantage. They get the last chance to bat. It is all fair though, because both teams are given the equal amount of outs and the equal chance to do something with those outs.
What home field advantage is given to the home team in football that can be equalized in the grand scheme of the game? None.
The kick off is determined by the coin flip. I suppose the home team has the advantage because they get to guess whether it will come up heads or tails but once the coin flips through the air it will be a 50-50 chance that they are right. And what home field advantage do they win if they guess right? They get to choose who gets the ball first.
The Home Field Advantage (stadium):
The Green Monster in Boston.
The Fountains at Kauffman Stadium.
The Palm Trees of Dodgers Stadium.
The Ivy at Wrigley.
The rock formations at Angels Stadium.
The Splash Zone in San Francisco.
The rings in the ceiling at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay.
Those wierd little angles on the fences in Citizen's Bank Ballpark (not to mention the clanging of the Liberty Bell after a Ryan Howard Home Run)
The Big Apple in Shea Stadium.
The Warehouse in Baltimore.
Every stadium has some identifying uniqueness to it. Some quirk that is immediately identifiable when you see it. It is something identifiable that gives the team their identity. A team builds their roster around the contours and features of their stadium.
What does a football field have? They paint the team logo on the field and they paint the team name in the end zones. Of course there are the fans who can make the noise level so loud the oppsoition can't hear but as the fan bases grow, the fans who are knowledgable about the nuances of the games decreases. There are those who don't know to be quiet when your team is at the line of scrimmage and get loud when the other team has the ball. In recent years I have heard the opposite happening as I watched games.
The Game's the Important Thing:
The NFL schedule is formulaic, Literally. The day that your team finishes the regular season this year you will know exactly what teams will be on the schedule next year. Of course you won't know what week they will play but you know who.
For those who have not figured it out here's how it goes. Each team plays 16 games. 8 home and 8 away. Each division has four teams and each team has a home and away game against each division opponent. There is six games. Next you will play four games against another division within your own conference on a rotating basis. Now we are at 10 games. Next you will play four games against the other Conference, all four against a single division and that division is also decided on a rotating basis. That puts you at 14 games. Now for the last 2. What place did your team finish in last year? Fourth, then you will play the last place teams from the remaining inter-conference divisions. Simple.
Don't believe me? Let's take a look at the schedule of, oh let's say, the Vikings for this year.
Based on the formula the Vikings will play two games each against the Packers (Weeks 5 & 12), Bears (Weeks 11 & 17) and Lions (Weeks 6 & 15). There are your divisional games. One each at home and one each on the road.
Now, they will play an AFC Division from top to bottom. This year will be the AFC East for the Vikes. They played New England (Week 2), Buffalo (Week 7), the Jets (Week 14) and Dolphins (Week 16). That puts us at 10 games.
Next there is an NFC Division from top to bottom. This year is the NFC South so it's the Saints (Week 3), Falcons (Week 4), Buccaneers (Week 8) and the Panthers (Week 13). That puts us at 14 games.
That leaves 2 games left. At 5-10-1 last year the Vikings finished last in the NFC North. That means this year they will play the last place team from the NFC East last year (Redskins, Week 9) and the NFC West (Rams, Week 1).
So it is all decided on the last day of the season. So tell me why the NFL Network had a three hour "special" on the schedule release? It turns the sport into a spectacle focusing on the events around the sport and not the sport itself.
The game itself is almost an afterthought to commercials, binge eating and binge drinking. In fact as I am writing this article and I sit here watching the NFL network on "Game Day Live" and the last five minutes have been a live demonstration of how great the new Papa John's Chilli and Frito's pizza is. So while the Dolphins have 4th and goal with a chance to tie the Lions after Detroit had jumped out to a 10-0 lead, instead I get to see Brian Billick eating pizza and staring at the computer in front of him saying nothing becuase his mouth is full.
Super Bowl Sunday has become almost a holiday.Think about the last time you watched the Super Bowl. Whether you watched at home with your family or went to a Super Bowl party with friends. While you watched the game more attention was probably paid to the commercials and the half time show. I admit that I enjoy the performances of Beyonce but do I really want a half hour concert that ends up causing a power failure during the third quarter and ultimately effects the game?
The NFL loves it. The pregame show gets attention because the fans of what ever performer is playing the pregame show tunes in to see them perform. They stay tuned in to watch the commercials. Of course the commercials come after every change of possession so there are plenty of them. (My wife loves the Clydesdales. That and possibly the half time performer are the only reasons the game is allowed on or TV). So that takes us up to the half time show where the "headliner" may be Aerosmith. Yet the Aerosmith half time show turns into the Aerosmith/N'Sync/Brittney Spears/Mary J. Blige/Nelly half time show that lasts :45 minutes. Then of course there are the second half commercials and then the post game "super bowl" episode of what ever hit show is on the network showing the game.
So the Super Bowl will be the most watched event of the year and the NFL gets to say that its because the game is America's Game. So millions of TV's are tuned into the event but how many of these fans actually watch the game. You know, the champhionship of the whole season. The reason the players are there. The whole point of the day.
I don't want this to sound like a bashing article because it is not intended that way at all. I love the game of football but I love the game not the spectacle. My point is that baseball focuses on the game itself. The World Series is about the championship of the sport. It is not about the commercials or the national anthem or the spectacle. It is about the actual performance of the teams on the field. It is about who can manage their bullpen. Who can get a clutch base hit. It is about who will come out on top after seven months (eight if you count Spring Training).
The Length of the Season:
I love hearing people say "I don't worry about baseball until July." It makes me laugh because it is so ridiculous. I always hear people say it doesn't matter what you do until the end of August anyways. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. The Tigers and Cardinals both won their divisions on the last weekend of the season. The teams following them, the Royals and Pirates, were red hot at the end of the season and came up short. Why? Because the Tigers got off to a very hot start and the Cardinals were able to make adjustments during their season to replace injured players. The Pirates and the Royals did not get off to hot starts so any game that they lost throughout the season could have changed the race.
Let's go back to 2001. By the end of May the Phillies had an 8 game lead in the division. The Phillies who had not reached the post season since 1993, were an improving young team. They had just split a four game series with Montreal. That was fine. A split series against a strong division rival is acceptable. They lost 2 of 3 to the Mets. Not great but the Mets had represented the NL in the World Series the year before. They followed that up by losing 2 of 3 to the Red Sox on the road. Again, not something to brag about but Fenway is a tough place to play. Next up was the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Coming into the game Tampa Bay was 19-44, 18 1/2 games out of first. They were easily the worst team in the league. Just the type of team that a playoff contender likes to see. So the young Phillies instead got swept by Tampa Bay. Once the Phillies left town the Rays went on to lose 8 straight and 10 of the next 11 games. The Braves, the eventual winners of the division, won two out of three in that same span. The final difference in the division? The Braves won on the final weekend by 2 games. That series being swept by the worst team in the league made the difference.
The best part of the baseball scheduele? The length of it. You absolutely must be good over a long stretch. It is not enough to win 6 in a row. You need to be good over the full season. The Blue Jays of 2014 are a perfect example. Near the end of May 2014 the Blue Jays won 9 straight games. They lost just one game then won 6 more. That would made 15 of 16. Where did they get? It got them a 6 game division lead. Where did they end up? Out of the playoff picture.
Now translate that into football. Dating back to 1988 (with only four exceptions) at least one team has made the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Once, a team won a division with an 8-8 record and another year a team won their division with a 7-9 record and one team won a division with an 8-7-1 record. So what does that mean? It means you really only need to win one more game than you lose to have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. That means a six game winning streak like the Blue Jays had (which did nothing more than mean they had to keep winning for another 4 months) would mean you only need to win three other games the rest of the year. If you get a 6 game win streak in the NFL you can go 3-7 the rest of the way and still reach the playoffs.
The "Maddenization" of Football:
John Madden coached 10 years in the NFL. His Raiders made the playoffs in all but one season (although that one season was still a winning season) and he even won a Super Bowl as a coach. Today's generation may not realize it but Madden was truly one of the great coaches in football history and had he continued to coach (possibly for an owner that allowed him to run his team without interference) who knows how many games he would have won.
Instead Madden moved into the broadcasting booth where he became famous for his unique brand of commentary. He used the telestrator to break down plays on the air and became famous for his on screen drawings. It became a bit of a joke. Madden drawing lines on the screen to show the viewer the development of the play. What came through on the Madden break downs was his passion for the game. Similar to Tommy Lasorda or Pete Rose or even currently Harold Reynolds, what always came through, regardless of how it came out, was the passion the man had for the game of football along with his knowledge of how things worked in the game.
Disliking Madden is almost impossible. He is a happy, upbeat, knowledgable passionate guy who worked extremely hard to become successful. So please do not take this section as a negative against John Madden. I loved listening to John Madden work with Pat Sumerall or Al Michaels call a game.
What I don't like hearing are the commentators who think they can be successful just by imitating John Madden without giving the knowledgable perspective of the game. Quite often Madden's passion led him to narrate a collision while illustrating on the replay along the lines of "he comes here and then he comes there and then bam!" Taken out of context it doesn't quite make sense but in the process of the game it helped to show how a runner broke loose or was stopped from breaking loose by the defense.
Because Madden used his knowledge and passion to help promote the game he loved and became popular, others have copied him. Unfortunately the copies do not have the knowledge that Madden had. What that has led to is a lot of commentators who simply watch a replay and simply say "watch this hit." That is usually followed by "boom" or "bam" or "pop" and then a laugh. What is not seen on those replays is how the defensive player came to be in that position. What type of defense were they playing? What route was the receiver running? Sure the Quarterback got "popped" but why? Which lineman missed his assignment?
Of course not all announcers are like this. In fact, Troy Aikman is probably one of the best announcers in football as far as his knowledge of the game and being fair and balanced (ironically he's on FOX) and not "rooting" for one team over another. Even when it comes to his Cowboys Aikman seems to have no bias.
The "tranquility" of the game:
Obviously football is a contact sport. You can't watch a single game without seeing two people colliding. There is a misperception that baseball is a tranquil game with long periods of inaction, waiting for something to happen and no contact.
The truth is, if you are watching things right, there is constant movement and constant action. There is a constant silent communication between the pitcher and catcher. Constant communication between the bench and the fielders. The same between the base coaches and the batters or runners.
The twitching of the fingers by the catcher. The constant hand gestures by the base coach. It is all a secret language that we get to be a part of.
There of course is the more obvious action. An inside pitch where the batter must hit the dirt to avoid being hit. The hard slide at second base to break up a double play. Even players on the same team can break the tranquility. Two fielders chasing the same ball nearly colliding. The unexpectedness of this type play that can happen at any moment makes it all the more exciting.
The All Star Game vs The All Pro Game
The All Star Game means something. I know that's the promotional aspect of the All Star Game since the game ended in a tie in 2002 but it really does and it always has. Being an All Star means something. Hank Greenberg was always upset when he did not make the team. Every year we have a debate when the teams are announced of who got snubbed and some player will express his displeasure at not being named to the team.
Why? What does it mean? What makes the All Star Game so special? First of all, it is a showcase of the sport as a whole. Each team is represented. Each team is honored. Even a last place team sends a representative that can help their league beat the other league. The hatred between the American and National League dates back to the birth of the American League. It was a bitter hatred that still lingers, although it is greatly lessened. The leagues came to an agreement in 1903 which led to the birth of the World Series but the hatred always simmered there. When Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio or even Hank Aaron or Willie Mays played in an All Star Game they wanted to destroy and embarrass the other league.
The NFL merged with the AFL in 1966 and formed the NFC and the AFC comprising one joint league. Within five years of their merger the league rivalries essentially disappeared. Long time NFL teams the Browns, Colts and Steelers had moved to the AFC essentially ending long time rivalries.
The All Pro game, the NFL's equivalent of the All Star Game has never had that intensity or rivalry that the MLB All Star Game has managed to maintain. While baseball's All Star Game has carried with it a feeling of honor at being chosen, the NFL pro bowl game carries with it a sense of burden.
While the MLB All Star Game sees players going all out like a regular game, the NFL Pro Bowl has turned into a flag football game.
The fun of the game:
Baseball has a reputation as a game for conservatives. Not quite as conservative as golf fans, but conservative none the less. It is often looked at as boring and slow. What people who believe this miss, is the fun that can be found in the most mundane or the most stressful of situations.
The fun in the game can come at any given moment. In Game 3 of the 2001 World Series with the Yankees tailing and in danger of falling behind 3 games to 0 the Yankees felt a Diamondback runner had missed the bag. Before the next pitch Derek Jeter appealed the play. He took the throw from the pitcher and stepped on the bag. The umpire asked him "which runner." Jeter smiled, "the first one" he said laughing. The umpire signaled safe. Jeter, thinking about the question while he prepared to throw the ball back to the pitcher, turned laughing and said "the second one". The umpire, now laughing in the middle of a World Series game that could end the Yankee dynasty threw out his arms again and said safe. It was one of those unexpected humorous moments that can happen at any time.
In 2013 when Juan Uribe was caught off second by the hidden ball trick his team mates gave him a special trophy of a baseball shoe duct taped to a base.
In the 1980s Lloyd Moseby of the Blue Jays stole second base. He thought, incorrectly, that the batter had popped the ball up. Not wanting to get doubled off, he headed back to first base. Seeing the runner heading backwards on the base paths was odd but the Catcher threw to first. Surprised by the throw coming down to first, the first baseman reacted slowly and the throw went down the first base line. Seeing the ball bouncing free, Moseby headed for second and then third. On one play Moseby stole second, then first, then second and third.
In the 1930s Lefty Gomez was known to have a quirky personality. The Yankees had Tony Lazzeri playing second, Frankie Crosetti playing Short Stop and Joe DiMaggio in Centerfield. With a runner on second Grove turned to attempt a pick off and when neither of the infielders reacted the ball went into Center Field where DiMaggio retrieved it while the runner advanced. When asked what happened Grove said "They told me to throw it to the dago but they didn't say which one,"
Lefty and Joe were famously good friends. Grove used to tell people "I'm the guy who made Joe DiMaggio famous." When his playing days were near an end he said "I'd like to thank my teammates who scored so many runs and Joe DiMaggio who ran down so many of my mistakes."
There are a million baseball stories over the years that defy the theory that it is a boring game. These are just a few. Stories like these are ones we don't often hear out of the NFL. Stay tuned to baseball eras blogs for more in the future.
Mentioned today was Hank Greenberg's frustration when he was not honored with an All Star Game appearance. How many times did Hank Greenberg make the All Star team in his career? (For imaginary bonus points, what first basemen were chosen over Greenberg in the years he was not selected?)
Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Since the Super Bowl started there have been only three occassions where the Super Bowl Winner and World Series winners came from the same city in the same calendar year.
On January 12, 1969 the New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in a big upset in Super Bowl III. In October of 1969 the New York Mets would shock the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles with a World Series victory.
On January 29, 1979 the Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowl XIII with a 35-31 win over the Dallas Cowboys. In October of that same year, the Pittsburgh Pirates, led by Willie Stargell, won the 1979 Wolrd Series after coming back from a 3 games to 1 deficit against the Baltimore Orioles?
On February 1, 2004 Patriots, the New England Patriots won a dramatic game over the Carolina Panthers on a last second field goal by Adam Vinatieri for Tom Brady's second Super Bowl victory and only the second in franchise history. In October of 2004 the Red Sox over came a 3 games to 0 deficit in the ALCS and went on to sweep the World Series over the Cardinals.