Tunnel Vision

The unrighteousness of parity and its horrible aftertaste.

Years ago, the great television announcer Howard Cosell predicted that before his death, every team in the National Football League would finish the regular season with identical 8-8 records. He was wrong. Partly because he's dead, but mostly because he was exaggerating his case to make a point about the emergence of parity in the NFL. There's our dirty word for the day: parity. No person in their right mind realistically thinks that every NFL team could finish the season with the same record, but in this, the last season of the 1900s, the NFL seems poised to make Cosell into a would-be soothsayer, as parity has emerged as a striking force in the league. With three weeks left in this (very ir)regular season, the mathematical chances of some team getting unfairly beat out of the playoffs this year by an obscure tiebreaker like Points Allowed are astronomical, as 19 of 31 NFL teams stand at or between 8-5 and 5-8, all clinging to a chance at finishing a perfect 8-8.

As if this mass mediocrity isn't enough to lull fans into a stuporous holiday nap, none of the old-fashioned American favorites are on top of their divisions this year. In fact, the Indianapolis Colts, St. Louis Rams, and Jacksonville Jaguars are tops in the league. Zzzzzzzzz. The Colts and Rams finished last season with identical 3-13 records, and 15 years ago, none of these three teams even existed. Now that's tradition.

What's worse, the misled fans of these now-you-see-it-now-you-don't franchises will delude themselves with bloated expectations during some upcoming home playoff games, gobble up all the 2000-01 season tickets and luxury boxes, make their owners much richer, play a first-place schedule next year, and go tits up just like the Denver Broncos, New York Jets, and Atlanta Falcons did this year. (In case you haven't heard -- the "Dirty Bird" is out in Atlanta.)

The bottom line here is that parity can be a dirty word to some and a blessing to others. San Franciscans for instance, whose 49ers are, well, 4-9, are wishing Bill Walsh would pack his ratty ass up and go back to pretending to be a mentor in Palo Alto. Some in the Bay Area are even having fond memories of the original dirty bird -- O.J.

Let's face the facts: Everyone wants to see the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, and San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs every year. Right? Right. So here's a suggestion for the NFL scriptwriters: Make a hard-fast rule to let only one sub-.500 team from each conference into the playoffs the subsequent year. This will increase the number of good rivalries and keep annoying, upstart teams with fifth-place schedules from ruining football season for us, the spectators.

Let's take a minute to do some second-grade mathematics: If I'm going to spend five months (times four weeks, times six hours per week, equals 180 hours, or 71é2 days of my life per year) watching pro football, I don't want the climax to be a Rams/Jags Super Bowl. Period. The idea makes me as ill as the notion of watching the Chicago Bulls win the NBA Finals one more time. Let's talk Magic and Bird. Bradshaw and Staubach. Brunell* and Warner.

Who?!?

Kurt "Not Pop" Warner, that's who. The guy's practically an All-Pro and all anybody knows about him is that he played in the Arena Football League. Does anybody know where Kurt Warner played college football? Does anybody care? You shouldn't, because the Rams are going to get their candy asses beat in the playoffs (at which time Dick Vermeil will cry -- again), face a first-place schedule next year, and nose dive back to where they belong: the bottom of the NFC West or Los Angeles, whichever comes first.

So is parity good for the NFL? If you want to see the Arizona Cardinals and Tennessee Titans play in the Super Bowl then the answer is "yes." But who can honestly answer "yes" to that question? Not me or anyone I know. Except maybe my aunt in Music City who has a Professional Seat License to see the Nashville Oilers play to a country crowd of Volunteer fans who can't spell "hillbilly" without CBS reruns.

So, you ask, what's the point of all this ranting and raving about the unrighteousness of parity and its horrible aftertaste? Well, passionate readers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all alone in first place after Week 13 of the season for the first time since 1981.** Now that's what parity will do to a league.

*Note: Mark Brunell played college football for the University of Washington. He is a fine NFL quarterback, and was unfairly scapegoated in this article for dramatic effect.

** Note: In January, 1980, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC (Baseball) Championship game 9-7. Here's hoping they avenge that bitter loss on the 20th anniversary of the original slugfest and make it to their first-ever Super Bowl.

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