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Too Much of a Good Thing

Since the apocalypse is probably only a few hours away, I figured I’d better crank out a column. You know, something to remind me of the good ole days once the world ends.

Why the impending doom? Well, simple: the three events that the prophets foretold have just occurred in the span of a week.

Number 1 – the Wake Forest football team has moved ahead of Florida State, Miami, and Virginia Tech in both polls. You might want to read that again to let it sink in. Number 2 – the city of Winston-Salem experienced three earthquakes in one day. Combined, they only added up to a 5.5, but we’re damn proud of them. Number 3 – I got a full-time job. Yeah, now you really believe me about the apocalypse thing.

That’s right, there are people who out there who are willing to pay me to write stuff for them on a regular basis, and conceivably there will even be people to read my writing on a regular basis. It should be fantastic, and in all seriousness I’m really excited. I don’t think I’ll get to write any more articles titled “Things That Suck,” though. But anyway, since we only have precious few hours before Terrell Owens flies down on his dragon for the final battle, I should get to the column. Shall we…

Last year, when ABC ended its run with Monday Night Football, I assumed that the game moving to a cable network (ESPN) meant it wouldn’t garner the same sort of attention it had in the past. Well, not only has Monday Night Football not lost any of the hype, it’s being portrayed as a sort of religious ritual by ESPN.

Tuesdays are no longer Tuesdays, they’re "just six days until Monday Night Football." Fridays are no longer for going out – instead, the time off must be used exclusively for Monday Night Football preparations. And Monday is now everyone’s favorite day of the week.

Or so ESPN would have you believe. In fact, if you watch ESPN enough (and I watch it way more than enough), you may start to forget that any other sports actually exist. You might start to think that Sean Salisbury has something insightful to say. You might even think that Michael Irvin is really qualified to be speaking on television. It’s simply too much. And I love football, but I’m worried. I’m worried that the NFL, undoubtedly the most popular professional sports league in the country, could be beaten to death so brutally by ESPN that it experiences a collective backlash from the entire country in the near future.

The hype started in late summer with the slogan that “each Monday is one day closer to Monday Night Football,” which was relatively harmless. But now each day of the week has its own commercial with various regular guys counting down the days until Monday, apparently the only day when their lives have meaning. These are probably the same “regular guys” who own more than one fantasy magazine and actually pay money for the live updated points on Yahoo!

In the past, Monday Night Football had a relaxing quality to it – you sat down at night, flipped on the TV, and got that nice “Hey, I forgot there’s a football game on” feeling. Nowadays, there’s so much pre-game coverage that I already have my football fix by the time the game starts. Honestly, I’m pretty excited to switch over to NBC for Studio 60 at 10:00 regardless of how the game is going. This past Monday’s game is the only one where I found myself remotely interested by the end, and only because it was one of the most improbable collapses in recent history (and yet it seemed inevitable at the same time, didn’t it?).

ESPN starts their coverage starts at 3:30 in the afternoon, and since I was a math major, I can tell you that that’s an entire five hours before the game starts. And this is every week, even if the Raiders are involved. Granted, two and a half hours are taken up by Around the Horn, PTI, and Sportscenter, but to make sure no one forgets that there is indeed a game later, ESPN started this contrived “Teams at 20” report. Let’s get serious for a moment: are there really any people out there who would prefer to have those three shows (including the best show on the network, PTI) interrupted at 20 and 40 past the hour for another puff-piece by Rachel “I must be a robot because I am incapable of putting the emphasis on the right words in a sentence” Nichols? There are people who would not watch PTI but for the thirty-second spot by Sal Paolantonio? Really?

The big problem with the Monday coverage is the fact that by Monday, everything has already been said in the past six days. Keep in mind that since only the baseball playoffs and the NHL are in season (as far as major US sports go), roughly half of Sportscenter is devoted to the NFL on Tuesday through Saturday. Then you add in the fact that NFL Live airs every friggin’ day but Saturday and the fact that the Sunday night Sportscenter is about 85-90% related the NFL, and there’s really nothing new by Monday. Sure, there’s some new Terrell Owens quote that has been overanalyzed and spun to further the media's theory that he is indeed the anti-Christ, but basically anyone who has watched more than 10 minutes of ESPN in the past week already knows everything that’s presented on Monday’s pre-game coverage.

But here is perhaps the most startling development this season is the astounding amount of time that Michael Irvin is allowed to speak on national television. I was at one time an Irvin apologist (as an announcer), but this year the man has taken it to a new level of absurdity. He is no longer an analyst; he is no more than a spokesperson for his friends in the league (Terrell Owens, Ray Lewis, and Steve Smith, among others). A few weeks ago, Irvin based his entire analysis of the Baltimore-Denver game on the fact that Ray Lewis told him he was excited about the game. As if that meant Al Wilson and Champ Bailey weren’t pumped up. The Terrell Owens soap opera has made Irvin's favoritism patently obvious, as he has defended Owens every week even though no one else on the set remotely agreed with him, even to the point that he said it was a good thing that Owens blew up at receivers coach Todd Haley. On the bright side, we are inching closer to the night when Irvin claims that Owens is going to light up the Bears, followed by Mike Ditka snapping and starting a fight with Irvin, which provokes Tom Jackson to jump in (on Ditka’s side, of course), all while Ron Jaworski breaks down the fight on the telestrator from afar and Chris Berman makes the “puh, puh, puh” noise that he uses when Mike Allstott runs the ball. Seriously, when that happens, remember you read it here first.

But unfortunately, that’s the only positive I see coming out of all of this. Like any network, ESPN is just doing all it can to get ratings, but the NFL is so popular already that there’s no need for any more hype. Fantasy football is already booming; devoting an entire thirty-minute show to it just makes everyone realize how silly it looks when you take it too seriously. Owens’ antics were entertaining at first this summer, but by now I just want to throw back some pain pills whenever I hear the words, “Let’s send it to Ed Werder in Dallas.” It's just too much.

The bottom line is ESPN can't really make anyone else catch the NFL fever, but it might make people like me get sick of it.

Anders Larson Archive