The NFL is the most successful sports corporation in America. All the major sports, baseball, basketball, hockey run along similar business models, but football more than any other is run and acts like a corporate entity. The bottom line is money and power and with the money the NFL makes it is the unquestioned king of the hill Every knee bends and every head bows when the mighty NFL speaks.
This week though, the NFL heard the voice of the commoners as all hell broke loose following a spectacularly bad blown call by the scab referees the league hired to stand in for their real referees. You don’t need me to tell you how awful the replacement refs were in the Packers/Seahawks debacle on Monday Night Football. Everyone within earshot of a television heard all about it the next day as the worst case scenario for the NFL came to horrifying life. The refs screwed up in a way that not even the NFL could cover up for their rank incompetence. When the Today Show, Morning Joe, and other non-sports programs began to drop names that should only be familiar to Sportscenter viewers that’s not good. When politicians from union busting Governor Scott Walker to President Obama agree its time to get the real referees back on the field, Commissioner Roger Goodell had to drop his hardball negotiation position from “take it or leave it” to “what’s it gonna take to get you guys back?”
The NFL is very sensitive to what its image is with the public and these poor saps in stripes were putting the brand in jeopardy with their blown calls, extra time outs and deer-in-the-headlights reaction to large, smelly, 300 lb men screaming and spitting obscenities in their face. The NFL was getting killed in the press with even ESPN jumping on the pile to pummel the league as greedy bastards who would rather sink the entire season than make 32 teams cough up an extra $100,000 each to cover the locked out refs pay raise. You won’t find a gathering of more smugly arrogant men than a NFL owner’s meeting, but they aren’t deaf either. When your bad refs are getting more publicity than your good players, things have gone too far. That was the breaking point where enough owners must have pulled Goodell’s coat sleeve and said, “Make the deal and get this done NOW.”
The real deal refs returned Thursday night to a standing ovation from the Baltimore Ravens crowd prior to the game against the hapless Cleveland Browns. Their return will be scrutinized more than the game itself which was typical of everything that’s bad about the Browns since their former owner Art Modell ditched Cleveland to move the team to–wait for it–Baltimore.
I feel sorry for Browns fans. They have to be going straight to heaven when they die because they’ve already been through hell. Between bad owners, bad coaches, bad players, bad teams, it’s been a bad 13 years since the Browns returned. Every few years it seems like there’s a new owner or another coach and a new face of the franchise, but nothing changes and the sucking never stops. The NFL is a league where doormats can challenge for Super Bowls if they are run by smart people, get lucky, guess right and follow a plan to be competitive.
None of that seems to work for Cleveland. There’s really no reason for the Browns to suck for 13 years since their return. Everyone has had their share of busted draft picks, incompetent GM’s, absentee owners, lousy coaches, free agents you wish had been free and just plain bad luck. The Browns have all this and they keep having it.
It’s hard to believe the Browns will suck forever, but until they don’t they have the misfortune of being bad and boring. Their defense is short of stars while their best player, cornerback Joe Haden sits out a four game suspension, but they try hard and hit harder. But bless their little hearts, they’re out there all day because the offense is simply offensive. The Browns are starting rookies at wide receiver, right tackle, running back and quarterback which is a trial by fire. One day they may be good, but now they’re simply learning to play together which means this is a work in progress instead of a finished product.
The NFL Network is the league’s in-house television network and it puts out a pretty ragged product. I don’t think much of it’s “personalities” such as Rich Eisen or “experts” like Deion Sanders and Michael “Mush Mouth” Irvin who anchor the network’s game highlights show. What’s worse is the package of Thursday games suck hard because the match-ups usually are games the broadcast networks don’t find all that attractive. Pro football dominates our collective consciousness on Sunday and Monday. I love football too and between NBC, CBS and Fox as well as the NFL Sunday Ticket on Direct TV in addition to the NFL Network, I can see every game, but the Thursday games run the risk of overexposure.
This made the Ravens/Browns game perfect for the NFL Network. A divisional tilt between the up and coming Ravens and the gritty Browns is the difference between a team that knows it can win and the other that hopes they can keep the score respectable. The defense did their part, but the Browns inept offense couldn’t finish and the Ravens beat their rival for a ninth consecutive time as the Browns finished the first month of the season with four losses. That’s all, folks! The leaves haven’t turned brown yet and the season is already over for the Brownies.
Welcome back refs. Bye-bye Browns. Better luck next year. Again. Your new owner spent a billion dollars to buy the team. Next year he can start putting together his own instead of these leftovers that came with the purchase price. The NFL realized they couldn’t get away with lousy officiating but charging an exorbitant price to watch lousy football for over a decade? That, they have no problem with at all.