As we steamroll to the start of the NFL regular season tonight, this author is particularly excited by the opportunity to watch “real” football once again. As I live on the East coast, I was only able to catch the one Vikings preseason game, against San Francisco, which was nationally televised.
Unfortunately, I was running a half hour late. So by the time I found my groove in the couch, I had already missed Adrian Peterson’s two play cameo and several drives of Christian Ponder bumbling around.
A similar situation occurred last season when I went to a Redskins preseason. I paid a regular season rate for my ticket, along with the typical exorbitant concession stand prices, but by the time I fought through the crowds to my seat, the Redskins’ first team had already finished for the game.
For the next three quarters, I had the privilege of watching a battle-royale between margin players who are now either playing in the Canadian Football League or have since resurfaced as Enterprise Rent-a-Car representatives or Edward Jones financial advisors.
The taste in my mouth has soured to the point that I must voice my displeasure, and take the stance that probably every other NFL fan arrived at long ago: that the preseason needs an extreme makeover.
I’m not calling for an all out abolition of the preseason like it’s the BCS system or worse. The need for players and teams to work out offseason kinks is quite valid, and all other major sports have similar exhibition schedules. But NFL players and teams have long since realized that there is little to be gained from exerting effort in the preseason.
Indeed, a successful preseason game for an NFL team is simply one in which key players avoid injury. The easiest way to ensure this is to not play them at all. By default, the only activity of significance is the vetting process in which 40 guys fight for five roster spots and the opportunity to be human shields on kickoff returns.
If the teams are so clearly aversive to the preseason, then the fans must surely be the primary driver behind its continued existence, right? Not quite. The chance to pay regular season prices to watching a meaningless brand of football that falls somewhere in the purgatory between the Oakland Raiders and the Alabama Crimson Tide can hardly be considered value added.
Even the fun of prognostication, such as with the draft, eludes the preseason, as teams’ performances are rarely indicative of regular season results. While the 1998 Vikings went 4-0 in the preseason on their way to a 15-1 regular season record, the 2008 Detroit Lions also went 4-0 before becoming the first team ever to go 0-16.
If the NFL is truly a fan-focused league as it claims to be, it needs to ask itself what type of value it is providing the fans by perpetuating the preseason charade.