by Ryan Meehan
It’s Friday, and it’s been five days since the firestorm surrounding the pass interference call in the Detroit Lions / Dallas Cowboys game was magnified due to the increasingly disturbing presence of American social media. I know a lot of Lions fans because there are a lot of comedians from Michigan that I am connected to on Facebook. So as you can imagine, my feed has been clogged with some pretty strong opinions regarding this call and the way the NFL handled it.
I realize that I may be a little bit late to the party here, seeing as how there have been thousands of articles written about this unfortunate circumstance already. But I waited to put this piece together to illustrate a very important point that a lot of people seem to be missing: The NFL doesn’t care about your opinion, simply put.
Before I go any further, let me just say that the call was blown. If they did not believe a foul had been committed, they should have never thrown the flag in the first place. I’ve been watching the NFL for almost thirty years now, and I can honestly say for the first decade of that time period I may have seen one or two flags picked up because a head official overruled a side judge or a line judge. We know it was pass interference because the defender had his back to the ball and was putting his hands on the receiver with no prior knowledge of where that ball was headed. It was a bad no-call, and the NFL should recognize the severity of the mistake that was made to some degree.
That being said, there were other lingering questions about what transpired in Dallas. Like for example, how in the world did the Lions not do a better job of clock management when they were up 14-0 in the first quarter, and 17-7 at halftime? Why could they not get one yard on the following fourth down play, and why did Lions coach Jim Caldwell not trust Matthew Stafford to convert that 4th and 1 after a 11-5 season? How in the world did the Lions lose control of that game? And who’s to say that they would have won had they converted and/or been granted the automatic first down in the first place?
None of that matters now. The Cowboys will most likely get smacked around Green Bay on Sunday afternoon if Aaron Rodgers is healthy, and then this mishap in NFL history will be a minuscule afterthought in the grand scheme of things. There are a few fans in Detroit who will continue to complain about how they were screwed out of a game they should have been able to found other ways to win, but those complaints will likely be drowned out by all of the car alarms going off all across Southeastern Michigan as a result of countless cinder blocks being thrown through the front windows of those vehicles.
However, these instances do create a long-term problem for the league. Well, sort of. They plant a seed of doubt in the hearts and minds of the casual fan who may have suspicions that the whole thing is rigged. They also cause a certain other type of NFL fan to come out of the woodwork and remind us how he knows everything about what it means to be a football fan. You know him, you love him, but you can’t stand him when he speaks up about matters such as this one. Of course I’m talking about “I’m done with the NFL” guy.
For those who are familiar with this dude, you know all of his characteristics. He’s more than a casual fan, but not quite a total die-hard. He gets the gist of what’s going on, but doesn’t quite know the offensive and defensive schemes that makes the league go around. Whenever something like this happens, he immediately switches from being a guy who “can tell you everything about what’s going on in pro ball nowadays” to the one who all of a sudden “doesn’t want anything to do with the NFL ever again”. Besides the fact that you can picture this individual in your brain and associate them with any of these phrases, they are particularly annoying for two reasons:
1. He’s usually a pretentious ass clown who honestly believe that his opinion towards the league matters on some sort of macroeconomic level, and…
2. He’s always watching the games the very next week.
Let’s take a look at this first one for a second. The people who are outraged about this situation may very well have a point, but always have the tendency to come off as whiners when discussing a league that is supposed to have no tolerance for being one. The mere thought that one individual’s opinion (no matter how much it is echoed by the voice of others like it) would affect how the NFL chooses to do business is nothing short of ludicrous. This league is a monster of epic proportions and no matter much you can sit here and give me the details about how soccer is the world sport and slowly creeping up on the big four, the NFL will always be king in the United States of America and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. Roger Goddell could smoke an ounce of bath salts, stop traffic in the middle of Times Square, and defecate in front of a school bus full of disabled children and ratings the next week would be through the roof. (He probably wouldn’t even get fired, and he’d likely even give himself a raise…) If you don’t believe me, let me ask you this: How are all of those protests from women’s rights groups regarding the Ray Rice fiasco affecting the ratings for this year’s end of season and Wild Card round games? That’s what I thought…
The NFL is a sport that seems to survive in record numbers regardless of the many whirlwinds of controversies which surround the game and those who play it. The fans that watch this game – and I am guilty of this myself – are the most forgiving and forgetful followers of any form of entertainment on the face of the earth. Hence the second point I made about the “I’m done with the NFL guy” and his tendency to crawl back to the broadcast. The league itself is more than aware of this, as well as the control they have over influencing the purchasing power of its devoted fan base. How much control? Let me give you a recent example from my life that involves a product sold well over a decade back, a time when the NFL had even less of an influence than they do now but still one that was miles ahead of that possessed by other professional sports leagues.
My brother in law bought me a Lawrence Taylor jersey a couple of weeks ago. It had obviously been sitting in a warehouse for some time (It was a Mitchell & Ness) and he got a steal of a deal on it. I love the jersey, and although suffice to say Taylor’s had a few legal problems in the last couple of years it reminds me of the kind of football players that caused me to fall in love with the game in the first place. On Monday night, I realized that there was something that had been sitting on my fridge which looked like a shoebox. When I saw the address bearing my brother in law’s name, I realized that it must have been the box the jersey came in. Before I tossed it out, I looked inside to see if there was anything in there that I needed to pull out before I filled it with oatmeal creme pie wrappers and cat litter. At luck would have it, there was. There were not one but two cards, and here is a picture of one of them:
This reaffirmed my belief that the jersey was old: It features the old NFL logo. I was thrilled. But upon turning over the cards – and remember there were two of them – I discovered something a little bit odd, and I want to see if you can point it out:
Did you catch it? Since instant replay seems to be one of the main reasons that this debate has raged so fiercely, let’s see that again in super slo-mo:
Apparently the NFL was doing a little bit of market research along with their jersey licensing, and they want to know about you and the personal relationship you have with the game of football – With only one catch: They aren’t willing to pay for the postage necessary for you to relay that information to them.
I realize that these cards were likely printed before the time of total internet access and by “total internet access” I mean “something other than America Online via dial-up”. But putting “No postage required if mailed in the Continental United States” was not a concept that just randomly appeared out of thin air in 2007. Hell, even the rebates that Sears used to put in the boxes of their microwaves had prepaid postage. But not the NFL. Nope, they wanted you to actually put this in an envelope, write the address on the front of the envelope, and pay for the postage so they can collect data about how they will eventually market light beer to you when you reach legal drinking age. If that’s not the case, why would they have a spot solely reserved for you to tell them how old you are?
That’s because when it comes down to it, the NFL knows that they have you by the balls. One Lions/Cowboys playoff game with New Jersey governor and whale-in-a-red-sweater lookalike Chris Christie in Jerry Jones’ press box is not going to change your dedication to continue to tune in and watch games, and the league is well aware of this. They don’t care about your opinion at all, and although this is not a new take for me to be pointing out it cannot be stated enough.
The NFL doesn’t give a fuck about your individual opinion, because they know that there will always be enough people who love the game to render it virtually irrelevant.
Freedom of speech is one of the greatest gifts our founding fathers laid forth for us shortly after they slowly sequestered all of the Native Americans to a space of twenty-six acres in Southern New Mexico. It gives us the right to say whatever we want whenever we want, and social media has exponentially expanded that right to a degree that none of us could have fathomed just twenty short years ago. However one thing that always seems to be forgotten about the right to say whatever you want is the fact that it doesn’t mean others have to listen. Because of the structure of American Capitalism, the amount of money you have is indirectly proportionate to the amount of listening to the free speech of others that you have to do. If you run a professional sports league and a bad call like this floods the internet with criticism in an already highly criticized year of events, you might get tagged on Facebook but when it comes down to it you don’t have to listen to a word of it if you have the kind of money the NFL does. Money that is never going to stop coming in and filling the coffers of a league that is running out of deposit slips faster than the Detroit Lions are running out of excuses for losing that game with each passing day.
I’m not saying any of this is right, but it’s the way it is and it’s the way it’s always going to be. So think about that the next time you’re “outraged” about a particular call in an NFL game. Think about how little it matters, and hopefully that will put things into perspective so you can go back to having fun watching the game.
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