I’ve long argued that it takes far more commitment to be a fan of Major League Baseball than it does the NFL.
In the NFL, there’s only one game a week. Trades are rare and because of the popularity of college football, you know many of the players when they enter the league.
In baseball, there’s a game most every day. Trades are common, though not as frequent as they used to be, and since players come from all over the world, there’s a much bigger talent pool to follow if you want to be a baseball insider.
People who attend baseball games regularly tend to know the entire 25-man roster, along with players from both leagues. Many use a scorecard, which requires watching every pitch. If they play fantasy baseball, they know every player in the game, along with many in the minors.
People who attend NFL games regularly usually know only a handful of the players on their team – stars and skill position players. Even avid fantasy players couldn’t name more than a few non-skill players on any given club.
Heck, I know longtime NFL season ticket-holders who couldn’t name more than six or eight players on their team’s roster. That’s because they spend games drinking (or drunk) and pay little attention to the game. They wouldn’t last five minutes with a scorecard, if such a thing existed for football.
There’s drinking at baseball games, too much for my taste, but generally there’s a lower level of drunken behavior at baseball games, at least when Yankees and Red Sox fans aren’t involved.
To follow the NFL, it’s not necessary to even watch the games, what with the oversaturation of coverage on talk radio, television, and print. There’s also the "water cooler" factor. I don’t even work in an office, but I’m familar with the TV shows "24," "Lost" and "Grey’s Anatomy" even though I’ve never watched them. They’re impossible to avoid.
The same is true with the NFL. This year, I decided to put my theory to the test. Because of the remarkable run of the Tampa Bay Rays here, I realized in mid-October that I had not watched a minute of the NFL.
Since the season was half over, I made a conscious effort not to watch the league the rest of the year. That also meant no pre-game shows, no ESPN football coverage or SportsCenter, no football-centered talk radio (as if there’s any other kind these days) – nothing. (The NFL Network isn’t carried on my cable system and that helped.)
I gave up listening to ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the morning since football dominates their program. I restricted my NFL exposure to the local newspaper and a glance of the headlines on ESPN.com several times a week. None of my Thanksgiving guests cared that the TV was off.
Remarkably, I didn’t feel any less informed. It helps that many NFL storylines never change. The obsession with Brett Favre, Terrell Owens, and Pacman Jones never goes away. The Lions and Raiders still stink. The Eagles, Steelers, Colts, and Giants remain consistently good. The Browns, 49ers, and Redskins continue to underachieve. Here in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers subplots and drama never change. Jon Gruden can’t decide on a quarterback or win consistently. Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber continue to anchor the defense. There’s no semblance of an offense.
Aside from the unlikely turnarounds of the Dolphins, Cardinals, and Falcons, there weren’t any extraordinary developments in the NFL this season – despite the non-stop, breathless coverage of every NFL non-story across all media platforms.
As a sports journalist who covers the NFL to some degree, especially the NFL Draft in recent years, I worried that my NFL blackout might hurt me professionally. If anything, I feel refreshed and more informed heading into the NFL Draft. I probably paid more attention to the college game. By focusing on print coverage, casually at that, I actually felt better prepared when I appeared regularly on one of our "Sports Reporters" type shows here in Tampa Bay.
Here’s the funny thing: I didn’t miss the NFL at all. I’ll watch the Super Bowl – it’s in my backyard after all – but it won’t be necessary. After all, I’ll be just as informed whether I watch the game or not.