The NFL Is Back and So Are the 15 Reasons It Is a Complete Disaster
Original Author: Bill Simmons
“It starts with “Goodell.” It ends with him, too. ”
Back when I was running Grantland and believed that everyone loved the National Football League, I emailed Robert Mays and demanded a daily countdown to the 2013 NFL season. At the time, LeBron’s Heat were coming off a 27-game win streak and gunning for a title repeat. Websites and television channels were flooded with Fast & Furious 6 ads. TV junkies found themselves overwhelmed by the greatest run of prestige TV ever — Season 3 of Game of Thrones(in progress), Season 6 of Mad Men (in progress) and the final Breaking Bad season (looming in August). I mean, it’s not like we lacked quality content choices in the spring of 2013. But I wanted more football.
“It’s time,” I emailed Mays. “I want the countdown to the NFL season. EVERY DAY.”
“Like, every day?” a confused Mays asked.
And so that’s what we did. Mays wrote a 114-day warning for the 2013 season (a now-hilariously-dated “Percy Harvin Is a Seahawk, Everybody”) and we were off. Every. Day.
Why not? In 2013, we weren’t spending our spring hosing off the NFL’s stink. Aaron Hernandez hadn’t been charged with murder. Ray Rice’s elevator video hadn’t happened. Adrian Peterson hadn’t whipped his son. Greg Hardy hadn’t been accused of throwing his girlfriend into a sofa filled with guns. Ezekiel Elliott hadn’t done whatever the hell he did or didn’t do (but it definitely wasn’t good).
The insane Deflategate scandal and Tom Brady’s equally insane suspension that violated any reasonable sniff test hadn’t happened.
People weren’t arguing about players kneeling during the national anthem, or whether or not 31 wealthy white owners (along with Shad Khan) were blackballing Colin Kaepernick for his activism.
Few were writing off youth football. People certainly weren’t writing pieces about America’s middle class abandoning football.
Retired NFL players hadn’t begrudgingly accepted their “sorry we didn’t tell you about concussion damage but we’ll never admit we actually knew but here’s almost a billion dollars anyway now drop the lawsuit you guys could use this money and we’ll hold you up in court for years and years and you’ll be dead by the time you see anything” hush-money settlement yet.
People didn’t fully understand CTE yet. When that finally changed over the next two to three years, it wasn’t because Will Smith uttered “Tell the truth!” in a comically heavy accent. That happened from the stories everyone told — on television, in magazines, in newspapers, online — about damaged former players who had either killed themselves or couldn’t stop thinking about it. That happened because Junior Seau shot himself in the heart, a choice that made it easier for doctors to study his fucked-up-from-football brain. That happened because Chris Nowinski and others kept obtaining the brains of dead football players, studying them, and finding patterns that proved, undeniably, that something unbearable was happening.
And everyone reconciles this stuff differently. I know people who love football just as much as they ever did. I know people who love the football season just as much. I know people who don’t care nearly as much. I am somehow all three of those people at the same time. My happiest moment of 2017 was probably watching Super Bowl LI with my father, my wife, my two kids and my nephew — not just the comeback (and what it meant for Patriots fans), but enjoying that roller coaster ride with my family. How can you ever forget something like that? Last Monday, my father was visiting and NFL Network happened to be showing the replay.
Wait, it’s 21–3? How can we not keep watching?
Everyone else wanted to go out for a Labor Day lunch. They had to wait. 28–3. 28–9. 28–12. Fumble. 28–18. Two-point. Crazy Jones catch. Sack. Penalty. Punt. Drive. Edelman WTF catch. Touchdown. Two-point. Coin toss. Drive. Pass interference. Floater that Beasley could have picked off. (It still makes me stop breathing for a second.) Touchdown. Celebration. Let’s go to lunch.
I’ve watched that comeback 10 or 11 times in its entirety. I don’t love football as much. I still love football just as much. I don’t understand it either.
But I know this …
I would never assign that “Countdown to the NFL Season” gimmick now. We always called the NFL a 12-month-a-year sport, when really, that’s now the NBA, whose offseason mushroomed into a content beast thanks to good-natured dramas (Kyrie doesn’t like LeBron!), stars jumping teams, a slew of marketable personalities, and a powerful social media connection between stars and their fans that never slows down.
We used to love the NFL’s offseason for many of the same reasons; by July, with anticipation building, you could feel the next season rumbling from a distance. And you wanted it.
Did anyone feel that way this year? The league’s two biggest preseason stories revolved around Kaepernick and Elliott. Nobody argued about NFL stars the same way that, say, we just argued about Kyrie’s ceiling as a superstar for eight solid weeks. When’s the last David Johnson argument you had? Do you know what David Johnson even looks like? Do you care that Aaron Donald, maybe the NFL’s best defensive player, is still holding out? Can you imagine if we approached an NBA season with, say, Kawhi Leonard holding out?
The “No Fun League” really DID become the No Fun League. Too often, NFL “news” veered closer to being a nonstop police blotter crossed with a six-episode CSI arc crossed with something that, at times, almost felt sinister. For instance, I don’t know whether 32 NFL owners conspired to keep Kaepernick out of their league, or whether 32 coaching staffs believed that Kaepernick wasn’t talented enough (or engaged enough) to warrant the daily distraction, or whether both things are true, or whether pieces of both things are true. But I know he’s better than Blake Bortles, Tom Savage, Scott Tolzien, and Josh McCown — four of our 30 starting quarterbacks this weekend. And I think the worst of those owners and their commissioner now. I know that, too.
That’s the key point. Whether or not you believe those 33 people (I’m including Goodell because why not?) blackballed Kaepernick, at the very least, many of us would concede that it’s conceivable. That’s the National Football League in 2017.
Once upon a time, it used to be a 12-month-a-year sport — but the word “sport” implies fun, and for six months a year, the NFL doesn’t qualify. Then Week 1 rolls around and suddenly there’s fantasy and gambling and RedZone and NFL Twitter and touchdowns and pick-sixes and a whirlwind of dramatic 4 p.m. endings and the Monday Night Football music and your favorite team and everything feels fine. Last night, the Chiefs walloped the Patriots and everyone loved it. Great theater, right?
Well … how will we feel in 2027 after 10 more of these sobering offseasons? It’s a great question.
I first started writing a Friday NFL picks column in 1997, three websites and about 230 years ago (approximately). I wanted to bring it back for a lot of reasons (some personal, some professional), but mainly because I could feel football slipping away from me. Just a little. Now, I’ve spent the past two weeks catching up on six months of offseason changes and have come to realize that I had been following football less than ever before (for all the reasons mentioned above). I knew this column would keep me engaged.
We’ll be posting it every Friday morning on The Ringer through the Super Bowl. Most of the time, it’s going to be a football mailbag that finishes with three or four picks. (If you want to send me mailbag questions, shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.) It’s going to be a lighter column — much lighter than everything you just read. But before we launch this year’s edition, I want to officially retire 15 topics that have been covered in detail in this space over the years. Let’s shed the dead weight and start fresh.
1. Roger Goodell absolutely sucks at his job and makes everything about football worse.
Once upon a time, I believed in a world where a group of insatiable, intelligent, educated columnists, writers, reporters, radio hosts, TV personalities and bloggers could combine their audiences to bring down an incompetent leader — by hanging him with the facts, by sifting through the never-ending bullshit and clumsy PR spin and pointing out in painstaking detail all the ways his administration was lying and twisting the truth, and by educating our skeptical audiences about all the ways this person was making everything worse in the short term and the long term. I believed in a world where, eventually, this person would be disposed of for a more competent replacement, and only because it was the right thing to do. I no longer believe in this world.
(By the way, I was talking about Roger Goodell.)
(Whom the NFL reportedly recently signed to an extension through 2024.)
(I give up.)
2. The preseason is a dangerous, insane waste of time that exists only to injure players and steal money from season-ticket holders.
We only blew out 33 ACLs this preseason. I give up.
3. Tom Brady is better than Peyton Manning.
My original joke for this spot was “(Hold on, I’m just finishing my victory lap.)” Then, he looked like a 40-year-old man in Week 1. I give up.
4. Deflategate was really about the commissioner’s inexplicably omnipotent powers, which were inexplicably agreed to in the collective bargaining agreement by the NFLPA, and inexplicably allow him to dole out punishment to whomever he wants, in whatever manner he wants, with whatever evidence he may or may not have (which doesn’t have to be proved), with no due process and no checks and balances … and everyone is inexplicably fine with this unless he screws over your favorite team.
Two years ago, I gave up.
5. We don’t need nearly this many TV timeouts, we should burn off some of those timeouts when there’s a long injury delay, we shouldn’t have a TV timeout after a score and then ANOTHER TV timeout after the kickoff, games shouldn’t last for three and a half hours, and for God’s sake let’s do something about this.
Wait, they actually got rid of TV timeouts after kickoffs! Signs of hope!
6. We won’t think your league cares about the welfare of women just because you threw pink jerseys and socks on your players for a couple of weeks. Sorry. THIS IS NOT WORKING. You need a better plan.
Dammit. Just lost major momentum. I give up.
7. No NFL team should make the playoffs unless it finishes over .500.
I give up.
8. Hey, CBS, bring back Gus Johnson for March Madness and NFL already. Just bring him back. Start a GoFundMe — we’ll all chip in. Like, millions and millions of dollars. Bring him back.
I give up.
9. None of us understand what makes a completed catch vs. what doesn’t make a completed catch. I have been watching football for 42 years and I never know when it’s actually a catch. None of us do. We have no idea. Help us.
I give up.
10. Don’t put two teams in Los Angeles. Please. You have to listen to me. I live here. Nobody will care. You might as well put them in Qatar.
I give up.
11. I don’t want to be mean … but we can do better than Phil Simms. We just can.
Good God, that’s Tony Romo’s music!!! Feeling some momentum again.
12. Add an extra bye week to the NFL schedule and rig those 15 Thursday-night games so that those 30 Thursday teams always have 10 days rest before and after the game. That way, maybe their bodies will recover faster and they might have a better chance of walking without a limp when they’re 60.
Fuck it — run them into the ground. I give up.
13. [Fill in the NFL scandal] just happened and [fill in one of Goodell’s ESPN mouthpieces] is on TV defending the NFL with info that was clearly just leaked to them by [fill in one of Goodell’s cronies] even though we all know that ESPN paid [fill in the amount of money ESPN paid for NFL rights this season].
I can’t tell you how emphatically I have given up. I just don’t care.
14. The Rooney Rule is now basically an inside joke between Goodell and the owners, as well as a possible plot for the sequel to Get Out.
I give up.
15. Concussions are way worse than everyone realizes, and for all we know the NFL might be repeating the cigarette industry in the 1960s only with helmets and pads.
Hold on, I’m going to watch the entire video of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush singing “Don’t Give Up,” one of the five weirdest videos of the 1980s. Give me six and a half minutes, I’ll be right back.
Screw it, I’m not giving up on that one. TELL THE TRUTH! But the other 14? I’m giving up.