November 29, 2001
By Ric Sweeney
Why can’t Monday Night Football schedule as the season goes along? Isn’t that a better plan than trying to string together 17 compelling match-ups waaaaay back in March, based solely on last year’s results, which is what they currently do? This year, more than any other, demonstrates why it’d not only be a great idea, but a necessary one (witness October 15’s Washington-Dallas, “Hey, isn’t Suddenly Susan on instead?” train wreck earlier this year).
Back in the old days (the 80’s), finding compelling match-ups and showcasing the best the league had to offer (which was, and always has been the purpose of MNF) was simple to do because the NFL wasn’t drowning in its own mediocrity. There were dynasties and teams on the rise that actually got to keep its best players, without sacrificing any of its depth. So, picking out who was ready for prime time was an easy task.
But now, it’s virtually impossible. Last year, when the 2001 schedule was finalized , who knew Chicago or Cleveland were going to be any good? No one, and as a result, we get no Bears or Browns on MNF this year, and only one game featuring the 49ers and Jets (playing each other, no less), despite the four teams having 29 wins between them. On the flip side, the Colts, Giants, Titans and Vikings make a combined 9 appearances this year despite only 17 combined wins. I mean, the winless Lions make as many appearances as the 8-2 Steelers do. How is that showcasing the league’s best?
So now’s the time to institute a change. And honestly, this isn’t exactly re-inventing the wheel here: schedule the first eight weeks of the season in mid-August, after camps have started and we’ve had some injuries and roster fall-out (i.e. so we’ll know before we schedule them that Baltimore won’t have Jamal Lewis all year). From there, schedule each game three weeks out, meaning week 9’s game has to be scheduled no later than week 6.
And that’s it; done. Next issue, please.
This plan (name still pending, though it’ll likely include the words “Ric” and “genius”) ensures a) that people really will get to see the NFL’s best on a weekly basis; b) that surprise teams are not only rightly showcased, but also that they’re more of a known commodity come playoff time because they’ve had some national exposure; and c) that one-year wonders who take advantage of a last place schedule the previous year (cough, cough, Giants, cough, cough) won’t be treated like the second coming of the Messiah.
I know, I know — it’ll never happen; advertising is sold on the basis of a perceived strength of schedule well in advance of the season actually starting. But I really think the NFL, which does such a wonderful job of marketing its games (as opposed to the NBA or MLB, which only seems interested in promoting its stars), would have no trouble drumming up interest in a match-up that actually had legitimate playoff implications. I mean, as an average NFL fan with no affiliation to any team just yet, wouldn’t you rather watch New England-New York this weekend than Green Bay-Jacksonville?
I could go deeper into this, bring up the impact of the NFL Ticket on DirecTV, and how fans are now starting to get used to picking the game they want to see anyway, but I need to jump into the questions. But seriously, it’s time to revamp MNF‘s scheduling process. And to get Melissa Stark in various states of undress… oops, was that out loud? Here, now, are my 20 Burning Questions from week 11 of the NFL season…
1. Honestly, is there anything better than a holiday that celebrates eating and watching football? Find a way to somehow work strippers into the mix and it’d be like having two Christmas’ back-to-back.
2. Did anybody get Vietnam-style flashbacks watching the Broncos’ play in their throwback uniforms, circa the year Elway ripped out all of our hearts and beat the Oilers in Mile High? I mean, wasn’t having to watch Detroit and Dallas punishment enough?
3. I wonder if I’m the only one getting a distinct Gerardo vibe from the New York Giants? By the way, if VH-1 ever makes a Gerardo movie (and they will), how much do you wanna bet Slater from Saved by the Bell will be cast in the lead?
4. Who does Dick Enberg think he’s fooling with that red hair dye? The guy was gray in the 70’s, for frick’s sake! Speaking of, bonus question time: whatever happened to Merlin Olsen? I loved that guy.
5. For those still jonsing for the late 80’s/early 90’s Oilers, have you thought about jumping on the Buccaneers’ bandwagon? They’re beginning to take on a similar glow.
6. As the Texans get closer to the free agent singing period, and as we survey the wreckage of Trent Green, Elvis Grbac and Brad Johnson’s seasons, a question comes to mind: has a free agent QB singing ever worked? I mean ever?
7. Did you know the Saints are 5-5 overall; 2-2 at home, 3-3 on the road, 2-2 against the AFC, 3-3 against the NFC and 2-2 in their division? Somewhere, Pete Rozelle is a happy, happy man.
8. Is there anything better than a post-loss tirade from Jim Mora?
9. Funny or sad? Actual, word-for-word quote from Jerrah when asked whether Washington’s done a better job of rebuilding than Dallas has: “You can’t argue with the fact that they’ve (the Redskins) won 5 games and we’ve only won 2, uh, so they’ve won three more than we have.” Ahhhhhh, OK, alright… well, at least the “Why Quincy Carter in the second round?” mystery has been solved.
10. Since I still don’t have a team to watch, is it wrong to kind of like the fact that this year’s playoffs are going to include the Steelers, Raiders, Bears and 49ers, not to mention, the very likely possibility of a home game at Lambau? Downside? The long-past-his-prime Chris Berman breaking out his tired “frozen tundra” shtick. Berman sometimes makes me pine for Stuart Scott.
11. Chest thumping for the hell of it: There was, like, well, for these purposes, one guy who thought the AFC South was the best place possible for the Texans — anybody remember who that was?
12. Did you see that the Bengals are replacing back-up Scott Mitchell with Akili Smith? Can you find a better, easier way to explain the Bengals’ decade-long futility than that? Sam, we need a refill on the nutshells, please…
13. After watching Butch Davis bask in the glow of the Browns’ 6-4 start, I wonder if Chris Palmer feels like the guy who struggles to get the ketchup bottle open, only to have someone else swoop in and take advantage of his effort? “But I loosened it. Seriously….” Poor guy.
14. Did this stat make it in under the wire for the annual “Somebody has waaaaay too much time on their hands” award? On Monday Night, ABC told us that no team that’s lost to Tampa Bay in a season has ever gone on to win the Super Bowl that same year. Seriously, when did Rob Neyer start working for MNF?
15. How much does it suck to be a Lions’ fan right now? You’re on pace to lose all 16 games and won’t even get the first pick in the draft. Next up, Silverdome officials begin passing out unexpected swift kicks to the groin.
16. Does anyone else see the crack in the Rams’ foundation? I mean, Kurt Warner can look flustered, much the same way I looked the first time I saw his wife on TV. “That’s his wife….?”
17. If Kordell Stewart wins the league’s MVP, how long will we have before the world ends? I mean, does it happen, like, the minute the trophy presentation is made, or will we have time to say our “good-byes” first?
18. (And now for my Peter King-like tumble way off-topic) Non football question of the week: Had the pleasure of seeing U2 Sunday night, a band I had previously left for dead after their crass, vapid Pop Mart Tour a few years ago. But why is it, no mater what band you see, the following people seem to be at every concert? 1) The very old man in Dockers with the “so hot, she must be an escort” date; 2) the guy inexplicably dancing in a bizarre, bastardized version of Molly Ringwald’s “white person” dance at the end of The Breakfast Club, despite the band never, not once, playing anything even close to what might be considered a “dance song”; 3) the know-it-all fan of the band who feels they must prove their fanship with inexplicably obscure comments, such as this one, heard Sunday night: “U2 has enough songs to play for 24 straight hours.” Unfortunately, in my case, lame dancer and know-it-all guy were one-in-the-same and sitting right behind me; 4) the person who has to stand up for the entire interval between opening band and headliner in that “Hey, look at me, I’m at the concert” pose; 5) and lastly, the people who use their cell phones to call other people inside the arena. Unreal. I can’t even get started on this, it angers me so much. Cell phones and timed stoplights are, without question, the bane of my existence. Anyway, where was I…
19. I wonder if the Colts are starting to regret Manning-over-Leaf? (Burn!)
20. Why is ABC remaking Brian’s Song? Was there something wrong with the original? Why not just re-air it? Or does ABC have an aversion to classics? On a list of bad decisions, this remake would have to rank just below Michael Jordan thinking, “You know, the Wizards would be a good fit for me…” (By the way, do you realize NBC is planning to show Jordan’s return to Chicago on national TV? If that doesn’t perfectly encapsulate everything that’s wrong with the NBA, then I don’t know what will.)
Ric Sweeney would like the record to show that he had something in his contact as he was remembering Gayle Sayers’ speech at the end of the original Brian’s Song, and also that his wife was chopping an onion, and that he had a sinus infection…