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NFL tops passion of sports fans

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Sep 11, 2005.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a href="http://www.pe.com/sports/football/stories/PE_Sports_Local_D_jacol11.390a9f9.html" target="_blank">The Press-Enterprise</a>

    The National Passion -- as opposed to the National Pastime -- returns in full force today.

    Officially, the NFL season opened Thursday night when the Raiders played the Patriots. But that was just a taste, a tease, an appetizer. Today it's full-throttle, the first of 17 regular-season Sundays in which professional football resumes its status as not only the preeminent sport in this country, but a quasi-religious experience for many.

    In San Diego, it again is larger than life. The Chargers are riding high, the Dallas Cowboys are in town, and shortly after the Qualcomm Stadium parking lots open at 6 a.m. this morning the aroma of grilled meat will be wafting through the air, a reminder of this country's other autumn passion, tailgating.

    In Los Angeles? Let's just say that gambling and fantasy football leagues -- and, of course, the southern chapter of Raider Nation -- have made actually having a team almost superfluous. The NFL will still pull better ratings than anything else on TV today, even in a market where one baseball team finds itself in a pennant struggle and the other holds onto the fringes of same.

    This is the ultimate Teflon League. It can get away with playing its season openers on what has become a solemn date in this country. It can get away with the legalized extortion of charging regular-season prices for practice games. And it can get away with the charade that passes for serious negotiation with the No. 2 market in the country.

    The operative mind-set: the NFL is doing you a favor by coming to your community. Most of the time, the municipalities who want into the lodge play along. Los Angeles hasn't, which is why today begins its 11th year without an NFL franchise.

    And let's not forget a labor relationship that Wal-Mart would envy. Billions roll into the till before the stadium gates even open, thanks to TV and marketing contracts that defy the shrinkage happening elsewhere in the sports industry. Yet a pliant (to now) Players Association has agreed to a system where teams have all of the power and just about any contract can be voided at any time. Teams deal with their players as the league operates with cities -- it's their way or the highway.

    But all of the above are minor, inconvenient details when game day rolls around and it's time to pull on that TOMLINSON 21 souvenir jersey. The NFL has a hold on the populace that no sport can match -- not even NASCAR, which has created its own incredibly passionate and loyal fan base.

    "People like to belong to a group that's larger than themselves," said Allyce Najimy of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern (Mass.) University. "You can see it all through society ... either a family or a gang or fandom.

    "You can't even understand how many people have been waiting (for the season to start), just to have something to look forward to, a routine -- watching the games, gathering, a reason to have something to do."

    As offputting as the NFL's institutional arrogance can be, you have to hand it to them. They're brilliant at tapping into the passion, at creating an event-driven sport that appeals to multiple demographic segments, at melding entertainment with athleticism and violence.

    They're just as brilliant when it comes to staying out of the way. America loves the visceral excitement of having a few bucks riding on the outcome, whether through betting on the game or fantasy teams. The league doesn't like it, and doesn't promote it, but it'll fine any coach who doesn't provide an accurate injury report.

    Here, then, is the bottom line: In 1985, when the Harris Poll first started asking the question, almost as many people called baseball their favorite sport as did football, 24 percent to 23 percent. When the same question was asked last fall, the margin was 30-15, NFL.

    Face it: It's Paul Tagliabue's world. The rest of us just want to be invited to his tailgate party.


    The Chargers' advantage: They have all 22 of their starters back, 25 if you count the punter, place-kicker and long snapper. They have familiarity with and confidence in each other.

    Their disadvantage: They face a first-place schedule in 2005, and they won't be sneaking up on anyone as they did a year ago.

    The prediction: They'll come back to earth with a thud -- 6-10 and out of the playoffs.

    While we're at it, we'll hop on the bandwagon. As long as the Patriots stay healthy, it's hard to envision anyone preventing them from a third straight title -- precisely because there's no way they won't stay focused. Bill Belichick won't allow it.

    This year's NFC sacrificial lamb? Don't ask why, but we like Minnesota.

    With great fanfare, the Chargers' public relations staff announced that Alex and Dean Spanos would match the first $150,000 in contributions for hurricane relief collected at today's game.

    I wouldn't brag about that. I'd be embarrassed.

    Especially considering that Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga donated $1 million to the relief effort, and Houston's Bob McNair pledged to match up to $1 million of his fans' donations, the Spanos effort is puny.

    Our buddy Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun pointed out that the Ravens franchise stepped up on this issue. The players -- following Deion Sanders' challenge for every pro athlete to donate at least $1,000 to hurricane relief -- raised $165,000 in their locker room.

    The team matched that total. Then owner Steve Bisciotti added another $165,000, through his charitable foundation. And former owner Art Modell tossed in another $165,000 from his foundation. That's $660,000, plus the Ravens will match not only every dollar contributed at their opener today but also will match checks sent in by their season-ticket holders.

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