Why We Foolishly Care About the NFL Preseason

| August 26th, 2012

Ask yourself a single question: Is there any sport in the vast world of athletics wherein preseason games/matches are dissected with the rigorous attention paid to the NFL’s August exhibitions?

Spring training baseball games are glorified picnics. There is more drama between corrupt AAU “handlers” and assistant college coaches in a Bronx high school gymnasium than in a Knicks v. Heat game in late October at the Garden. The NHL has a meaningless regular season so there’s an almost sub-meaninglessness quality to that which happens prior.

Then there’s the English Premier League – soccer’s preeminent collection of clubs. They handle their preseason a bit differently. These clubs (top to bottom) spread out across the globe to play friendly matches with sides in America, Mexico, Brazil, Malaysia…etc. Why do they do this? Sure, you could argue it’s to find their form for the season to come. But that’s a difficult stance to take when a third of the roster doesn’t make the trip and the big stars are substituted out of the match as soon as the manager can do so without drawing the wrath of the paying public.

The truth? Money! They play these matches for money. That paper shit that allows you to buy things like milk and Playstation games and prostitutes. (Well you normally wouldn’t buy a prostitute. You sorta rent.) Manchester United knows they can sell-out massive buildings around the globe and stock their coffers with money. So they do. The supporters treat these matches as nothing more than exhibitions of talent. The media, even that harshest of harsh British sport press, barely rate the events for coverage. The matches in their entirety – results AND individual performances – carry zero meaning.

But not so with the NFL. NFL preseason games are aired on national television. They are top stories on sports’ pages in New York, Chicago, DC…etc. Even though 95% of what happens in the summer months does NOT correlate to the fall and winter, fans still respond to the exhibition action with emotional bursts as irrational as they are illogical. (When I asked on Twitter who might be a surprise cut for the Bears Saturday, someone actually wrote they hoped Charles Tillman would be shown the door. Because he had a poor road game against a two-time Super Bowl winning QB…in August.)

And it’s our fault! All of us. We love the NFL and nobody knows that better than the NFL. They charge us regular season prices for preseason contests because they know we’ll pay. The networks charge advertisers healthily for preseason ad space because we’ve proven we’ll watch. There were at least forty or fifty thousand people at MetLife Stadium Friday night. Why would Giants owner John Mara ever want to lose that essentially bonus revenue?

Preseason football is about one thing and one thing only: money. If you asked coaches and general managers across the league, they’d tell you they could learn exactly what they learn from preseason games in padded scrimmages against the same opponent. We, the fans, don’t need to be part of the process. But we are because we’re the checkbook. If the NFL thinks it can get an extra dollar out of us you better believe it will.

And I’m to blame as much as anyone. For all my “meaningless game” rants and raves, I spent Friday night at MetLife  and spent a fortune on $10 Bud Light drafts. I’ve also written a preview, posted a game thread and provided a recap for all three of these meaningless games and seen traffic skyrocket during those times. I am not going to turn down an opportunity to grow my readership by ignoring games I’d like to ignore. (Even I don’t have that much integrity.)

But neither are Brad Biggs or Sean Jensen or David Haugh. The newspapers know the NFL sells and not one of them has ever enlisted a writer to call this whole preseason into question. Neither are ESPN or NBC. They want your eyes on the TV screens. We’re all making money and we’re going to treat every moment of the NFL preseason like its important because we know fans would rather hear about fake football than real baseball.

The fans are being scammed. And we don’t seem to care. It’s the American way. And nothing is more American these days than the National Football League.