No escape from NFL's all-year media blitz

April 15, 2007|By RICK MAESE

Everyone loves a parade, right? You sit in anticipation, straining your neck to see the first float coming around the bend. Is it here yet? Is it starting? And you enjoy the balloons and the clowns and the marching bands. But what if they never stopped coming around the corner? What if the parade never - ever - ended?

This is a roundabout way for me to take you to a very important spring question: How have you been enjoying the NFL season thus far?

But the season doesn't start for another five months, you say. And you couldn't be more wrong. The NFL calendar has morphed into one of those Mobius strips, with no beginning and no end. For seven months out of the year, they're not even playing games, but the NFL still manages to steal headlines and put our collective attention into a year-round unrelenting headlock.

Last week, we saw the full scope of the NFL calendar continuum. Never mind that pro baseball, basketball and hockey are all in full swing, the NFL announced a revised personal conduct policy for its players and our heads all perked up like anxious birds. But just as analysts prepared to dig into the details and roll up their sleeves for a thorough critique, the NFL distracted us by releasing its 2007 schedule the very next day.

You have to give credit to the NFL brain trust. They've methodically and systematically woven their sport into the everyday fabric of our lives. Most other sports are like seasonal clothes that we tuck away until the weather changes. The NFL has made itself fit for all seasons.

It didn't used to be this way. The NFL used to thrive off its showcase event, its competition and its players. But nowadays, the biggest thing the NFL has going for it is this unrelenting calendar. It's perfectly calculated so that not only can NFL fans never catch their breath, but restroom breaks are planned so we won't miss a single nugget of news between the combine and the owners meetings, the owners meetings and the draft, the draft and the start of minicamps.

Last week it hit me that the NFL has evolved into the sporting world's Hallmark, just making up holidays as it sees fit. I don't really remember when the release of the season schedule became such a huge event, but ESPN broadcasted a special two-hour show devoted solely to this new holiday. And sure enough, it was the top topic around the water cooler the next couple of days.

In fact, if you visited on Wednesday afternoon, you'd think a Colts-Saints matchup five months away was more important than charges being dropped against three former Duke lacrosse players.

Of course, with ESPN financially tied to the NFL and setting the sports world's agenda, we shouldn't be surprised that pro football is a year-round topic. With each news item, it only gets worse. If Peyton Manning grabs a different brand of bottled water out of the convenience store cooler, it takes a dozen experts to analyze, laud and second-guess the move. The NFL's talk-to-action ratio dwarfs not only those of other sports, but also what we see and hear about politics, religion and celebrity couples.

Some years, it could take you several weeks to realize that the NBA or NHL seasons have begun. With the NFL, we now understand that its season never ends. The repeated message seems to be: Why wait for the season to start to start the season?

At right now, there's a clock counting down the seconds until this year's draft (13 days! Have you picked out an outfit yet?). Somehow, the draft is inspiring the type of coverage that we used to reserve for things such as the Super Bowl or military invasions. ESPN is promising 18 hours of television coverage with more than 20 different hosts and analysts walking fans through two boring days. While I'm not sure whether Mel Kiper and his hair qualify as just one analyst or two, we do know that Keyshawn Johnson will be on hand. So, no matter who your team picks with the 207th pick, there's at least one person worth booing.

The NFL wouldn't have evolved into an endless conversation, of course, if there weren't fans who wanted to take part in the dialogue. But the league has grown so big that part of what was charming about the sports fans' calendar is now completely lost in football's giant shadow.

When we were younger, we played baseball until we played basketball. And we played basketball until we played football. And so on. The weather dictated our after-school pastimes. I like the changing of seasons; I like the changing of sports seasons, as well.

And yes, I like a parade. But not every single day.

The over-saturation of the NFL has become somewhat numbing. It's much easier to appreciate the football season when you have a chance to actually miss it.

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Rick Maese -- Points After

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