And once again, just like that, America’s dusty antique has been pushed to the back of the shelf, nudged into the shadows for much of the next six months, replaced by America’s hottest gem.
Hello NFL, goodbye baseball.
Thursday was opening day for what has become this country’s new national pastime, the magic of a chilly April afternoon on a baseball diamond replaced by the drama of a delicious night on a Lambeau tundra.
It was the Green Bay Packers hosting the New Orleans Saints, a howling hullabaloo of a game captivating a country that suddenly didn’t care so much about the Boston Red Sox chasing the New York Yankees, or is it the other way around?
There was no bunting, but an entire stadium dressed up like the American flag. There was no first pitch, but the sight of a former great quarterback throwing out the first tear. There was no walk-off homer, but there was a stagger-off goal line stand that ended the Packers’ 42-34 victory and all doubt about what the rest of autumn will bring.
Sorry, baseball, but your face has just been decorated with a shaving cream pie.
From this moment forward, most of America will care about baseball only in moments. The final moments of the regular season. The final moments of a playoff comeback. The final cold, soggy, midnight moment when somebody wins a World Series.
Baseball is my first and true and forever love, but even I find it increasingly difficult to maintain my embrace when the NFL starts tugging me with more drama, more parity, and better TV. Millions apparently agree as last season, for the first time, a regular-season NFL game attracted more viewers than a World Series game, and the gap is only widening. Compare this year’s NFL opener to a premier baseball contest, and there’s little comparison.
Thursday’s football game was filled with scoring, yet continued at a good pace, starting and ending at a decent time. That’s not baseball.
Thursday’s game was filled with folks wearing helmets, yet the NFL marketing machine has turned them into stars, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees being among America’s most recognized athletes. That’s not marketing-bereft baseball.
Thursday’s game was also the start of a season which will count until the final snap, and in which any team can end up as a champion, and that’s not baseball. There are nearly three weeks still remaining in this year’s baseball season, and the Angels' chase of the Texas Rangers is the only drama left.
Worse yet, the teams that are dominating are the same old teams, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, giving little hope for a compelling World Series.
Baseball needs to allow Commissioner Bud Selig to reconfigure the divisions and add a wild-card playoff team. Baseball needs to figure out a way to put a clock on the pitcher to shorten the games. Baseball needs, as always, to start the season earlier so its best games aren’t played in Northeastern snow storms.
Meanwhile, buoyed by the sort of gambling interest and fantasy leagues that baseball cannot match, the NFL need only to keep being the NFL.
I must confess, on Sunday, the first full day of the NFL season, I plan to be at a baseball game, as I will be covering what could be an important swing match between the Angels the New York Yankees. However, sitting in the press box, I will frequently check my computer for NFL scores and highlights. You never know, this year’s Fall Classic could be a football game.
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Photo: Aaron Rodgers. Credit: Tannen Maury / European Press Agency.