Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! With NFL fans taking over Twickenham this weekend and Spurs making their new ground American football-ready, we ask writers Max Whittle and Matt Blake if America’s national sport has more pizzazz than the Premier League…
YES! The drama’s unbeatable
“Getting excited is easy when every single team has a chance every single season” – Max Whittle, US sports writer, The Guardian
It’s all on the line
On the manliness meter, you may think that only wearing shin pads beats the NFL’s glittering collection of helmets, pads and arm guards – but there’s no doubt America’s players are ahead in the boisterous bruiser department. As dangerous as this sport is, knowing that the men on the field are one tackle away from their season ending adds to the fan respect. It adds an urgency and spirit akin to the electric energy of an Olympic Games event.
Erratic tycoons buying up teams and then making bizarre proclamations that entertain the masses? It could only be the NFL. Recent nuggets from Jerry Jones, the 74-year-old owner of the Dallas Cowboys (otherwise known as “America’s Team”), have included comments on “bubble butts”, “circumcising the mosquito” and the fact that CAT scans show his brain to be that of a 40-year-old. But what isn’t in doubt is his passion for his team – and happily chatting about it in front of the cameras. The NFL’s 32 owners may be motivated by money, but Jones is part of a rich tradition of barmy businessmen who keep things interesting off the pitch. Roman Abramovich should take notes.
It says it all that every NFL team has players on its 53-man roster that only come on for specific plays (putting the Premier League’s 18 men in the shade). Terms like punt returns, kick-offs and audible plays might sound confusing, but they set the stage for athletic sequences and unpredictable events. Soccer and American Football might both pit 11 players versus 11, but that’s only on paper. Take a glance at the physical specimens in the NFL and you’ll want to invent a new word for them. Speed is a must, and long, heart-in-your-mouth, weaving runs are frequent. There might be commercials to deal with, but every play emphasises forward movement, not dull sideways passing or backward trotting. You know what that means? Points. Points, and lots of ’em.
Underdogs Leicester City winning the Premier League? That’s nothing. Try eight different winners of the Super Bowl over the last eight seasons. A sorry last-place finish leads to that team taking the number one pick in the following year’s Draft, enabling the worst team to pick up the player they deem to be the best from the college ranks. If you find that one rising star, you have a chance to attract better players and be relevant once again. Plus, the merchandise profits are actually shared around the league, unthinkable for a team like Manchester United. Getting excited is easy when every single team has a chance every single season.
Tickets to any live event can cost a pretty penny, but at least with the NFL you’ll be entertained for the three hours you are at the stadium. Look up at the big screen and you might have to peck the person next to you on the “kiss cam”, look down and cheerleaders are probably doing the splits. And don’t worry, you won’t go hungry, just ask the Green Bay Packers about their Green 19 burger, which comes on a football-shaped pretzel bun with beer cheese sauce. Pukka Pies seem a bit pathetic in comparison…
NO! The NFL is ruined by rules
“The lines are so blurred that no one knows what a legal tackle, catch or touchdown is” – Matt Blake, sports writer, Virgin Media
It’s so convoluted
It all starts with the Draft, the system designed to make the NFL more streamlined and competitive. But, actually, it does just the opposite. When a team fails at the end of season, rather than facing the consequences of losing, the worst performers actually get the first pick of the upcoming college prodigies. It's meant to be designed to make things fairer, but it can have a huge impact on a team's future prospects. And did mention it’s easy to cheat the system? There’s a term for this too – it’s called tanking, where a team loses on purpose for a better chance at scoring a superstar for the next season. As a sports fan, I baulk at the idea that my team might lose intentionally, especially when I've paid £50 to watch them. That is anti-sport and should never happen. Still, it does in the NFL.
So many rules
The NFL is drowning in rules. The lines have become so blurred that no one seems to know what a legal tackle, a legal catch, a legal block, or even a legal touchdown is anymore. It feels like every time a “big play” is made, fans have to muffle their excitement until it's confirmed by a video replay. In soccer, the rules are simple: get the ball in the opponent's goal without using your hands (handball) or standing too far up the pitch when it's passed (offside). That's basically it, and it allows for 90 minutes of (almost) non-stop action, adrenalin and intensity. What's not to like?
Action? What action?
An NFL game takes around three hours to play. That's a long time when you consider that there are on average just 11 minutes of actual play. According to data crunched by The Wall Street Journal, the rest of the game is spent watching players standing around (67 minutes), replays (17 minutes) and cheerleaders (three seconds). Plus, if you’re watching from home there are the adverts to contend with too. Compare that to 90 minutes of free-flowing soccer, with a 15-minute break at half time, and I think you have your answer. Obviously the Premier League is more exciting.
The worst thing about the NFL is that it has no relegation. Instead, 32 teams play it out across two divisions for a chance to play in the playoffs, then maybe the Super Bowl. But what's in it for the teams – and, more importantly, the fans – who don't get near the playoffs? With no fear of relegation, the only real punishment for being awful is shame. There's no jeopardy or potential heartbreak. The Premier League, on the other hand, is a system that ruthlessly punishes failure. Relegation dogfights keep teams from giving up on the season, maintaining the excitement to the bitter end.
Ultimately, there’s no comparison
The love, the hate, the hope, the heartbreak, the split-second flip-flopping of fortune, relegation scraps, down-to-the-wire season finales, transfer deadline day, the chants, the tears, the Cruyff turn, the Rabona, the gegenpress, tiki-taka, bad decisions, human referees, villains, heroes, Leicester City. Is there honestly any professional sporting league on earth so thrilling, so tactically diverse and unpredictable as the Premier League? Don't Google it. The answer is, of course, no.
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