THEY'RE FACELESS, NAMELESS AND FUN-LESS. MEET THE STARS OF THE NFL
In the end, the general though uneasy consensus was that the NFL is bereft of superstars, which is kind of weird, given that it is the most popular league in the country. And there's not much the NFL can do about it, even if it wanted to, which it probably doesn't. After all, O.J. was a superstar, and the 2001 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots had no superstar. So there you go.
An army of one | From Patrick Hruby:
In his wildly overstated, metaphorically mismatched manner, this may have been what Warren Sapp was getting at the other week.
Does this limit the individual earning/endorsement potential of fellows like Sapp? Probably. Is it better for the overall financial health of the league? Absolutely. The NFL is a lot of things — controlling, rigid, ultra-corporate — but stupid is not one of them. Not if ratings, ticket sales and Miami's neon-orange alternate jerseys mean anything.
Besides, an NFL shift to the NBA model of hyping names over jerseys likely wouldn't work. Among the major sports, football is the most team-oriented (hockey runs a close second, with the superstar goalie/scorer occupying the same plane as the star quarterback).
You've got outsized rosters. Guys playing on one side of the ball. A television viewing angle that leaves half the field a mystery at any given time. Simply put, it's a lot harder for a star player to have an obvious impact on the game, all by their lonesome, play in and play out. Even if they're Ray Lewis.
Clinton Portis doesn't make fantasy football owners happy unless someone — make that a bunch of someones — paves the way with a block. Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison are very good, Montana-to-Rice-good. But like the 49ers duo, they're better together. (Hey Ya!) Randy Moss might be the league's most-feared game-changer. But how many times does he actually touch the ball, with or without the Randy Ratio?
A singular, befuddle-11-other-guys talent such as Mike Vick or Barry Sanders comes along once a decade. And half the time, he blows out his knee. The NFL would be foolish to pretend otherwise.
Blame it on the Bossa Nova | From Dan Shanoff:
Blame the "fun police": Fans identify with displays of
Blame the game: Encourages subjugating the identity
of the "one" to the identity of the "team."
And yet: The NFL is the strongest sports league -- by
far. The other leagues with more "stars" would trade
them all en masse for the NFL's singular popularity.
You want the truth? | From Ralph Wiley:
Having said that, Vick, Lewis, Favre, et al, do rate with Bonds and A-Rod and Shaq and Kobe. It's just that when you put on a helmet, you gain ominous mystery, and lose a certain human accessibility. That's why the league wants everybody to keep their pots on their heads, wear certain numbers at certain positions, like rank, and uniforms by a strict code.
Football is not war. And: That didn't hurt.
Faceless in the crowd | From Robert Lipsyte:
But, so, where do we go from here?
Both sides now | From Patrick Hruby:
Marketing aside, would an NFL that was more like the NBA vis-a-vis individual superstars be a better or worse league to watch?
I vote worse. And better.
Worse for the fans, since the quality of play would suffer. But better for us, since the Pro Bowl would be a big deal, like the NBA All-Star game ... and as such, those of us in the sports media would stand a much better chance of getting a free yearly trip to Hawaii.
Aloha means goodbye, right?
Re-shape the ball | From Robert Lipsyte:
Citius, altius, fortius
Donovan McNabb, the guy peddling soup on my television right now, he plays football, doesn't he?
So what are we talking about?
Too much of nothing | From Alan Grant:
That said, superstardom is achieved once there is a consensus. It's not achieved in regard to actual talent or charisma, but simply because we have decreed it so.
Read: Britney Spears.
Talk the talk | From Luke Cyphers:
I think this applies to the superstar issue, which I'm glad the WB has decided to take on after formulating strategies for Iraq. The game's just too fast and too complex for anybody watching on TV, or on the sidelines for that matter, to really have any clue as to what they're witnessing. That includes having a clue about who's good.
Come on, quick, name the top three cornerbacks in the league right now. (Please recuse yourself, Mr. Grant.) For all we know, the best player in the league is probably Will Shields. (He's a guard for the Chiefs; I looked it up on NFL.com). But nobody can watch him play and follow the ball at the same time, so nobody really appreciates how good he is or isn't.
To follow up on Alan's point, we concentrate on, and make superstars of, the things we see: QBs, receivers, backs and defensive linemen with funny sack shtick.
In Rummy-speak, those are the known knowns. But it's the unknown unknowns who probably make the biggest difference. Although I don't have any first-hand knowledge of that.
So if you can't think of an NFL superstar, just pick one off a roster and make him up!
I'm starting the Shields for Superstar campaign forthwith.
An idea's time has come | From Patrick Hruby:
Love 'em and leave 'em | From Robert Lipsyte:
We're approaching this as a problem to be solved rather than a blessing to be enjoyed.
A game with no superstars would mean never having to say we're sorry. The ultimate league would be monster trucks without human drivers. We're stuck with superstar memories that turn cold (Teddy Ballgame), that get corked, juiced, picked over by Court TV. The first great cross-over NFL superstar was ... O.J.
If we don't really know who they are, we can use 'em and lose 'em.
Who's who? | From David Schoenfield:
Steve McNair? This is the first year he's even made the Pro Bowl.
Donovan McNabb? Since when does 12 TD passes make you a superstar?
Peyton Manning? Geez, maybe he should win a playoff game first.
Brad Johnson, Tom Brady, Trent Dilfer: These, fellow 'Cats, are your last three Super Bowl winners.
Trent Green? How hard is it to hand the ball off to Priest Holmes?
Daunte Culpepper, Matt Hasselbeck, Jon Kitna, Chad Pennington? Doesn't remind me of the QB crop of '83.
Now, we do have the greatest linebacker ever to play the game going right now, but, you know, the media doesn't like him too much ...
Mea culpa | From Shaun Assael:
And you are . . . ??? | From Patrick Hruby:
Who is this Joe Horn you speak of?
All-points bulletin | From Eric Adelson:
Know where I'm from? Michigan.
Know how many playoff games the Lions have won since 1957? One.
Our superstar is Barry Sanders. And he's been gone for years. Our next-best thing is Joey Harrington, who can't even win on Monday Night at the Mic. (Though props to you, Dre Bly, on making the Pro Bowl. Sweet.)
The shining moment of the '03 Lions season was the ESPN "SportsCentury" on Barry last month. That was the only place to find a highlight in which the camera actually follows the guy in the Honolulu blue jersey. (Even the Bengals have highlights now!) The only way the Lions make news is when the GM says something moronic. Otherwise our oracle is Mel Kiper, Jr., who will tell us who the Lions will pick in the spring. (Welcome to our nightmare, Sean Taylor.)
You people shrugging at NFL superstars? Send them to Detroit. Please.
Night of the iguana | From Chuck Hirshberg:
My friend Josh is a New York artist, a little fireplug of a guy with spiky hair, a collection of novelty watches and a pet iguana named Buster. He pays his rent by creating wonderful, though odd, illustrations for magazine articles; not long ago, Rolling Stone hired him to draw a detailed schematic diagram of Christina Aguilera, showing the precise location of all of her known tattoos. As you might expect, Josh knows very little about sports. And yet, he probably knows more than his Japanese wife, Miyuki.
Nonetheless, two years ago, despite their football ignorance, Josh, Miyuki and Buster sat down to watch the Super Bowl. Isn't that a hot one? Of course, they had no idea who to root for; they just wanted to participate in a national ritual. They watched as the St. Louis Rams' players were introduced, one-by-one. The names "Kurt Warner" and "Marshall Faulk" meant no more to Josh and Miyuki than they did to Buster. But then the New England Patriots were introduced: "At their own request," the announcer bawled, "as a TEAM!" At which point, all three members of that charmingly diverse little family — one Jew, one Asian and one reptile — had precisely the same thought: "THAT'S the team I'm rooting for!"
Imagine my surprise the next time I saw Josh and he told me that he'd enjoyed the Super Bowl because "the good guys won." I told him I couldn't agree more.