Are you really ready for some football?


November 12, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

As we sit around palpitating about the undue process of NFL expansion, it's time for a confession. There is a bothersome aspect to the possibility, however remote, that we might get a franchise.

It means we would actually have to watch NFL games.

Who would want to do that?

C'mon, admit it: It's one thing to lie around and watch, but you haven't come across more than a couple of truly interesting games, have you? Didn't think so. It's all Jets and Colts, or so it seems.

OK, yes, it's different when you have your own team, when you're grabbed by the lure of the home team, the personalities, the politics, the fraternity of rooting. That's why we want a team so badly.

But let's not miss the point: Pro football is a bore these days.

On the long list of things that aren't the same as they used to be -- vice-president jokes, the Redskins, "Saturday Night Live" -- NFL football is right up there.

There are 28 teams, but you can throw out one-fourth before the first snap. The Bucs, Cardinals, Colts, Bengals, Falcons, Patriots and Rams are faithfully undermined by penny-pinching or clue-less management. Goodbye, and please write, from wherever you are.

There is one good NFL team right now. Period. That's all, folks. The Cowboys are star-driven, deep, fun to watch. But their true measure as a power can't be gauged. They have no competition.

The league's second-best team, the Bills, was five touchdowns shy of Dallas in last January's Ultimate Game. If they make it back for a fourth straight Super loss, the country may throw up pickets. The 49ers, a shell of their championship selves, probably are the third-best team. The other 25 range from decent to hopeless.

What this results in, of course, is a sea of uninteresting games. And don't talk to me about the TV ratings not falling. Ratings reflect habits, not quality. The Super Bowl, interesting about once a decade, gets great ratings. But not because it is worth watching.

No, ratings notwithstanding, the NFL is in a terrible slump. There are reasons.

First and foremost is conservatism. The average offensive series of 1993 consists of two handoffs and a swing pass. The politically-incorrectly-named "bomb," football's most exciting play, is extinct. Other than the Redskins two years ago, teams don't even throw long anymore.

Bill Walsh started the trend some 15 years ago with his offense built around short, safe passes. It was brilliant coaching, and the 49ers went out and won four Supes, but now everyone is doing it, and not nearly as well. There's only one Joe Montana.

Actually, mentioning Joe's name brings us to the NFL's fundamental problem: a lack of quarterbacks. That is perhaps the main reason that coaches are forced into snore-inducing football.

The level of NFL quarterbacking is so poor that Mike Pagel still has a job. Actually, a slew of old quarterbacks -- Warren Moon, Phil Simms, Jim McMahon and more -- is still employed. Why? For whatever reason, an entire generation has gone bust.

Incredibly, the league has only one star quarterback under 30. Not coincidentally, he belongs to the one good team, the Cowboys. He's Troy Aikman, of course.

But look at the list of failed quarterbacks approximately Aikman's age: Vinny Testaverde, Jeff George, Jim Everett, Steve Walsh, Andre Ware, Jim Harbaugh.

They were supposed to be the stars of the '90s, driving their teams to championships. Their collective failing has forced the league into recycled stars and inferior offenses. Yuck.

What else is wrong? Notice that the best athletes play defense now. They used to be ends, backs. Now they're linebackers, after coaches saw what Lawrence Taylor could do. Tough defense is fine, but with big geeks in the offensive lines and sleek studs on defense, it's almost a mismatch. Not enough action.

The bye weeks the league started a few years back, to pad the TV dollars, also are a problem. They destroy continuity. And when the NFC East and AFC West sit out, the schedule is shockingly weak.

Dump the byes, get the coaches to loosen up, develop some better QBs -- those are steps in the right direction. Not everything can be fixed. It's just the league's bad luck that such marquee teams as the Redskins, Giants and 49ers slid simultaneously.

But, according to the cyclical nature of sports, other teams should be picking up the slack. Instead, they're just passing around old quarterbacks. Hopefully things will change, but the league is hardly experiencing a shining hour right now.

Meanwhile, we pine for a team.

We do, don't we?

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