Are you ready?
Week four of the NFL preseason is over, and next week the regular 16-game NFL season begins. We’ve had a few drinks. We’ve had dinner, and seemingly endless small talk. We’ve gone back to your place, and now we are getting in to some foreplay (a really bad euphemism for the final cuts that all NFL teams must make to get down to the 53-man roster limit). All of this is great fun, and the anticipation is delicious, but you can only do it for so long. Eventually, you just want to get busy! You want to get your freak on! I understand that the preseason is needed, just like MLB Spring Training, or the preseasons of the NBA, NHL, or high school scrimmages, or ‘friendlies’ in soccer. You just can’t expect athletes to start playing without a warm-up, and in team sports, teams need to practice before they play the real games, the ones that matter.
What I find hilarious are the people who think that the 4 NFL preseason games actually mean anything. There are those who believe that these games are a harbinger of things to come. Let’s say that the team that you live-and-die for goes 1-3 in the preseason. We’ve all heard it… OH NO!!! This season is going to be a DISASTER! This coach can’t coach! What the flock is wrong with our offensive line? Our defensive backfield is just daydreaming out there! Why can’t our cheerleaders (dance team?) stay in step??? I am not going to even pay attention to football this season. I’m going antiquing with my wife instead…
C’mon…really? Let’s take a look at this from a realistic stand point. Preseason games are not won-loss affairs. Yeah, tickets are sold. Beer and bratwursts are quaffed. Tailgating, and all the fun, frolic, and the culinary creativity of ‘the parking lot party’ happens. The owners are happy, because they are not paying rent on a concrete monolith that is sitting empty. The newspapers are happy because they have something to write about besides baseball. Ok, got it. But the NFL preseason is about getting players ready for the rigors of the long season. It is about evaluating talent. It is about coaching staffs fine-tuning their offensive and defensive schemes. It is about finding that magic 53-man combination that will come together and hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy on February 2nd, 2014.
If the preseason was truly important, as far as wins-losses go, why do the established starters only play one series (at the most) in the first preseason game? Does it not stand to reason that if these games meant anything, the starters would play the entire game? In the second game, the starters go a little longer, and perhaps play the entire first quarter. And in that third all-important game, the starters may play an entire half! The final preseason game is really just for evaluating the talent that hasn’t been guaranteed a roster spot. I don’t know about anyone else, but isn’t that one of life’s little contradictions? If you are of the opinion that the preseason matters, then you believe that your best players should play and ‘play to win the game!’ (Thank you, Herm Edwards…). If you are using the preseason to evaluate talent and work on things, then why is everyone acting like it is a playoff game? Like I said, it’s a contradiction.
But there is more. The established starters are in camp to shake off the rust off and get ready for the season. Everyone else is playing for a job. This is, in some ways, a recipe for disaster. If you are in camp just going through the motions, then you are probably not at your sharpest. It has been proven that if you are in a competitive contact sport such as football, the injuries tend to happen when you are not playing at 100%. Let’s add to that the no one is in ‘game shape’ yet. And about the guys playing for their jobs/careers? They are playing at 100%, because if they aren’t, they may not have a job/career. Do you see this train wreck coming? The issue should be fairly obvious. Some players not playing 100%, some players playing shall we say, a bit more inspired? You can fill in the blanks from here…
No team in the history of the NFL, or any other sport, won the Championship of their sport in meaningless exhibition games, but it can be argued that teams can lose it there. Let’s go back to the player playing at 100%, and the player who is not. What happens if the 100%’er makes a bone-crushing tackle on the player who is fat and happy and secure in knowing that he has a job? What if a horrific season ending or, heaven forbid, a career ending injury befalls the secure player? What if the now-out-for-the-season player is your superstar quarterback or tailback? This is the nightmare doomsday scenario that all teams, players, and fans dread. And it has happened…Jason Sehorn, Osi Umenyiora, Michael Vick, Chris Speilman, and in 1972 Bubba Smith….THE Bubba Smith, had his career ended in preseason…
But back to whether or not a team’s W-L record means anything as it relates to the ultimate success, winning the Super Bowl. Consider this. Here are the preseason records of the Super Bowl champions from 2002-2010
2010: Green Bay Packers 2-2
2009: New Orleans Saints 3-1
2008: Pittsburgh Steelers 3-1
2007: New York Giants 1-3
2006: Indianapolis Colts 1-3
2005: Pittsburgh Steelers 3-1
2004: New England Patriots 2-2
2003: New England Patriots 4-0
2002: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3-1
Last year’s Super Bowl winner, the Baltimore Ravens, went 2-2 in the preseason.
Here are a few more interesting preseason tidbits…
The 1982 Redskins are the only team to have won a Super Bowl after going winless in the preseason.
Both the 1990 Buffalo Bills and the 2000 New York Giants made the super bowl after going winless in the preseason, although both lost. In 2008 the Lions won all their preseason games but proceeded to go 0-16 in the regular season. Yes, even the much-storied ‘perfect’ 1972 Miami Dolphins, the 14-0 in-the- regular-season, Super Bowl winning Dolphins, went 3-3 in the preseason. Draw your own conclusions from the importance of preseason records, but there is much to consider.
So, to all the pigskin junkies (myself included) who put such a high value on the preseason as a whole…maybe it needs a rethink? I don’t know… I don’t argue the need for it. Obviously, there is. But, I would say this…I understand how much we miss football when it is not around. From February to the opening of training camps in July, for the real hardcore football fan, it feels like there is this huge void, like you ordered the steak dinner, and when the plate came out from the kitchen, it had all of the broccoli and the baked potato, but the star of the show, THE STEAK, was missing! We all are so happy when the talk starts to be of football season. There is a promise of excitement, of drama, of great plays on offense and on defense. There is football on Sunday, both day and night. There’s the venerable Monday Night Football. Now, there is Thursday Night Football on NFL Network. And we haven’t even touched on the college game… There is a kind of electricity in the air. We know that soon, the blistering 100-degree days of summer will give way to refreshing, crisp autumn weather. For many, including myself, it is my favorite time of year. Let’s face it…WE….LOVE….FOOTBALL!!!! But the question still remains. Do we really need to treat the relatively meaningless preseason like it is the regular season? I leave it to you, my fellow football fans, to ponder. Until then….ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!?!