Several years ago, I wrote a few sports related articles for a reader-generated content website. It was essentially an open forum for people to write about anything they wanted. Blogging was still in its infancy I suppose, or at least I had no idea what a blog was, but I enjoyed putting my thoughts and opinions out there for others to comment on. After several weeks of stalking my posts to find I had received a total of 7 page views, I stopped writing and forgot about the website entirely.
The other day I tried Googling my name (which I do every so often to see how many pages of results it takes before I find myself) and to my surprise, one of the articles I had written those many years ago showed up. I clicked on it, single-handedly increasing its readership by like 14%, and read it for what felt like the first time. Several things jumped out at me. First, the writing was horrendous. Not that my current posts are racking up any “best writing ever” awards, but I think the quality has improved, albeit modestly, over the years. What really caught my attention however, was the subject of the article; a debate over whether baseball or football was truly America’s game.
Below is the article, exactly as it was written five years ago (despite my urge to correct some poorly composed sentences). With the NFL having officially entered into a lockout as of the end of last week, I think it’s as good a time as any to have this debate again. Perhaps public opinion will be swayed in the face of the current work stoppage. If you’re a sports fan, or simply a fan of poor writing, keep reading and let me know what you think of this debate.
My dad told me the story of the Colts late-night exodus from Baltimore and how many fans had completely turned their backs on them. Some found new teams to root for and others stopped following the NFL all together. I wasn’t old enough to know about the Colts before they left so football was not a part of my life when I was a boy. All that changed, however in 1996 when the owner of the Cleveland Browns decided to move his franchise to Baltimore and the Ravens were born.
The reason I bring up this brief history lesson, as well as my childhood in Baltimore, is not because there will be a quiz at the end of this article (although there will be). No, the reason is because as a young boy, I was oblivious to the sport that was quickly becoming the most popular in the country. When the Ravens came to town, Baltimore exploded with what I imagine most other cities around the country already had…football fever. My eyes had been opened to the spectacle that is “Game Day”. Over the past 10 years since Baltimore regained a football franchise, we have seen the highs (a Super Bowl win in 2000) and the lows (multiple losing seasons), but somehow we have remained a football town. Why did it take such a short time for fans in Baltimore to turn their attention from baseball to football? It may have had something to do with the Orioles 8 straight losing seasons, but also, simply put, football is the greatest game in America!
Instead of focusing on the numbers, though, I prefer to think about the intangibles that make football America’s choice. First of all, the baseball season lasts from the beginning of April (actually March if you follow spring training) all the way through the end of October. I mean it spans all four seasons for crying out loud! Baseball teams play 162 regular season games during this time span which means that in the course of a month, a team will likely play baseball around 26 or 27 days. The point I am trying to make is that there is no anticipation to build, no excitement to conjure up. If you miss a game, guess what…there’s another tomorrow. Hey, if you’re lucky, there might even be another one that same day.
This is not the case in football. While the season still spans a good 5 months, the games are only played once a week on Sundays or Mondays. (Author’s note: this was written before Thursday Night Football came into our lives) This gives fans all week to get hyped up about their team’s matchup. Once Sunday comes around, a football fan knows he can sit in front of his TV from 1:00pm until 11:30 that night and watch football the whole time. Not to mention the national spotlight on Monday Night!
One thing I always felt baseball had over other sports was the ability to create incredibly dramatic situations and matchups. What do I mean by this? Well, picture this: it’s the bottom of the ninth inning and the home team is down by 3 runs. The first three batters make it on base and force a pitching change. The pitcher coming in, a southpaw, has one job to do, close out this game. The first two batters he faces strike out swinging. The manager of the opposing team brings in a pinch hitter to get the matchup he wants. It’s a risk bringing in a cold hitter, but this guy has made a career of straight up raking! The at bat goes something like this; strike, ball, ball, strike, ball. The count stands at 3-2 and the crowd comes alive. This is the moment everyone’s been waiting for. You can feel the tension in the air. Here’s the pitch…and it’s a drive to deep center field. Back, back, back, and it’s…
This is the kind of situation baseball games can create. I didn’t think anything could be more exciting. But now, picture this. It’s the fourth quarter of a hard fought game between an explosive offense and a dominant defense. The score is 27-21 in favor of the visiting team. The home team has just scored to pull within 6 points with only 2 minutes remaining. In a desperate but anticipated move, they go for an onside kick and somehow, they recover it. The home crowd is louder than ever and the home team begins to drive down the field. They are out of timeouts now and have made it to the goal line. Three attempts to score have come and gone and it stands at 4th down. A field goal does them no good so it all comes down to one last play. The clock is winding down…5…4…3…2…the ball is snapped. The quarterback hands off to his workhorse running back who dives over his linemen. He is met in midair by a blitzing linebacker; they collide and fall to the ground right on the goal line. Did he score? Did the defense hold?
At this point, it almost doesn’t matter. This is the kind of moment any sports fan lives for. While baseball can provide it from time to time, football can give it to you almost every week. The games matter more in football because one week can mean the difference between going to the playoffs and going home early. One week in baseball doesn’t have that same effect. I’ve only touched on a few reasons why I believe that football is the greatest sport in America but I’d love to hear your opinion on it. I’ll leave you with this thought. While baseball may always be “America’s pastime”, football has become “America’s Sport.”