Positively Gruden: Giants vs. Cowboys? Bah Humbug
Like many kids, Christmas used to be my favorite day of the year. Growing up in a small rural town in Illinois, with two government employees as parents, Christmas was the one day of the year that I knew I’d get the stuff that I really wanted. Whether it was “Mike Tyson’s Punchout,”“Zelda 2, The Adventures of Link,” or “Super Mario World,” my parents never disappointed. (I played a lot of Nintendo.) It seemed like every year my anticipation for this special day grew exponentially, to the point that I was even holding “drafts” for my presents months in advance, watching packaged documentaries chronicling the pre-Christmas season, and selecting multiple rosters of “fantasy” gift. Yep, I was hooked.
But one year, it all went wrong. Believing that all those hours sitting in front of the old cathode ray tube was frying my brain, my parents decided to get me something “outdoorsy.” So on that fateful morning, I scurried down the stairs, ripped open my present and discovered….a fishing pole! I’ll never forget the fake grins of my parents who, knowing that they did me wrong, tried to justify their treachery by explaining how all the other kids in town (rednecks) loved going fishing. Worse yet, my parents were cheap, so they wouldn’t spring for a new fishing pole; they got me a used one with a bunch of replacement parts.
The Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants match-up is my Christmas Day fishing pole. Now that I’m an adult and have kids of my own, let’s face it, actual Christmas pretty much sucks. Sure, I get a decent gift from my wife and maybe some crappy tie from my kids (it’s not the thought that counts!), but by and large, I’m the one buying all the presents. Screw that. No, Daddy’s real Christmas occurs on that special night of the year when, after the kids go to bed, the NFL springs back to life with a game that actually counts. In my anticipation for that day, I’m like a 10 year-old again, counting the days down to Kickoff, when I’ll crack open my first (ok, fifth) beer, crank up the surround sound, and gorge myself on the most unhealthy food imaginable.
Which makes it all the more sad that I’m in such a humbug mood this year because I know that, unlike previous seasons, Roger Goodell and company is leaving me with a lump of coal under the tree. In prior seasons, the NFL has given us compelling match-ups between two powerhouses from the previous year: Packers-Saints (2011), Saints-Vikings (2010), Titans-Steelers (2009), to name a few. But this year, the NFL has decided to pit the defending Super Bowl champs (who are always assured a spot) against the Dallas Cowboys, a team that hasn’t had a winning record since 2009! Given that the Giants play the 49ers, Packers, Saints, Falcons, Steelers, and Ravens (all 2011 playoff teams) this year, the NFL had a multitude of scheduling options for this kickoff game. Heck, I’d even take the Eagles, who at least made the playoffs in 2010 and, after a rough start in 2011, finished the season on a tear.
But no, we get the Cowboys because they’re “America’s team” and a huge ratings draw. Never mind the actual football, that’s secondary. And I’m sure the game will pull in huge ratings because there’s a ton of Giants and Cowboys fans out there. But given that there’s 30 other teams in the league, I’m guessing the vast majority of viewers are not Giants or Cowboys fans and, like me, want both teams and their center-of-the-universe attitude to go to hell. Sure, I’ll hate-watch this game because it’s a special day and I have no choice but, like my parents with that fishing pole, the NFL is shoving an inferior product down my throat.
Not only that, but chances are that the fishing pole is going to break around the second quarter, when the replacement refs crack under the pressure of 100 million people analyzing their every move. There’s piranhas under that instant replay hood. And don’t think for a second Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and the millions of armchair referees on Twitter are going to let the mistakes slide. But hey, you get what you pay for.