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Has the NFL Peaked?

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Peak NFL?

It is commonplace in today’s market conversations for the term peak to be referenced in relation a commodity or product, (peak oil, peak gas, peak gold, peak copper, peak American Idol -thank god) and while it’s always easier to see the peak well beyond the actual peak recent events and trends beg the question: Is football past peak or peaking? Or is it merely the beginning of a new trend?

Following the Super Bowl between Green Bay and Pittsburgh there was a strange sense of finality unusual for a season ender. Uncertainty ruled the air. Questions about the CBA with the lockout looming, rule changes applied mid season that nobody could figure out, and a Super Bowl itself that pitted two storied flagship franchises in a battle of good vs. evil where the villain is slain. The week after it sunk in- football is over and it might not come back for a long time. Players and fans alike were faced with the prospect of no football at all for an unknown period of time, and those of who followed along into the lockout were dealt a heavy dose of the not so enjoyable business end of the NFL.

A year later and another Super Bowl in the books a clear demarcation line between eras/trends can be established on that very off-season. The game we got back post lock out had changed. The new era of player safety and NFL liability had begun. The 2011 season was a test run of what is to come, while the old clashed with the new. Defensive players struggled with what exactly was a legal hit, some changed the way they played, some continued to rack up fines. The rule changes also resulted in statistical changes that can hardly be considered anomalies: Drew Brees and Tom Brady both beat Marino’s passing record from 1984. In fact, 4 out of the top 6 seasons for passing yards hit the record books. The destruction of Marino’s record was akin to McGwire, Bonds, and Sosa chasing the single season home run record-something was different.

Concussion safety and defenseless players began the season as a focal point for the league officiating crews and teams visible in rule changes, enforcement on the field and more fines doled out by the commissioner’s office every week. An effort that appeared geared more towards public relations than an actual culture change until James Harrison (who else?) shellacked Colt McCoy with a direct knockout hit to the head. Minutes later McCoy re-enters the game after the team doctors thoroughly examine his wrist for concussion symptoms. It’s here where we see the clash between old school and new school (a re-occurring theme) come to a head where old school won the battle and lost the war.

The hit on Colt McCoy was a big deal. The Browns handling of McCoy was negligent. Footage of that hit and his return into the game are likely to be exhibit A in the current lawsuit brought by a group of former players. How this lawsuit is eventually decided should play a defining role in how football is played going forward (McCoy will probably never throw for 5,000 yards-but somebody else might throw for 7,000 because of him). A helmet redesign should be the first order of business; because weaponizing player safety equipment was counterproductive.

All of which brings us to the current mess, which is sure to become exhibit B in the player suit vs. the NFL: The Greg Williams and the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program. Much has been written about it in the past couple days, and I won’t bother repeating most of it-I’ll just add a few nuggets of my own. What Goodell ultimately decides as adequate punishment towards the Saints and Williams will have little impact upon the overall effect of the scandal, the damage has already been done. The fact that an NFL coach admittedly (and many others allegedly) ran a bounty system to intentionally injure opposing players not only opens up the NFL to additional legal actions but also has the potential to drive a stake through any defense of current brain trauma litigation. The consequences Goodell can hand out (draft picks, fines, suspensions, or life time bans) are absolutely meaningless to the big picture. The real question is how will this play out in the courts? Goodell can only play the court of public opinion (which is a losing hand as well).

Stepping back from it all for a moment and looking in from the outside, the whole saga that is the NFL has hit a level of surrealness (add that to your dictionary-It’ll be a word soon enough) that is testing peak absurdity. From fantasy football freaks, to 100 million dollar contracts to ridiculous NFL merchandising like Commemorative draft position tie breaker flip coins and selling tickets to the combine the NFL has hit the wall where they are selling Franklin Memorial Princess Di car crash anniversary plates bullshit on the back page of the Sunday paper inserts. If there were such a thing as peak absurdity, I’d be long. And I mean real long; all in without a net. But there isn’t-that’s a bull market to the heavens paved with personal seat licenses, 200 foot long hi-def televisions and bad fucking intentions. Absurdity knows no bounds and springs eternal (abiotic absurdity?).

An interesting article from Grantland recently didn’t just ponder post peak NFL but the end of football itself, "What Would the End of Football Look Like?"

They loosely chart out a sequence of events that are not only possible, but somewhat probable.

If I had to make a decision today with real money (that’s you Minnesota) if this was Peak NFL, I’d call a top. But I don’t, so I’ll enjoy the ride from absurdity to obscurity if that’s where the winds take us.

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