Monday, September 22, 2008

Pro Football and Fan Disconnect

So, I'm a huge football fan. I've been watching it as far back as I can remember (no, not just three weeks ago). I started off my football days a San Francisco 49ers fan, probably because that was my dad's team (and most of his family for that matter, except his rogue sister Janet, who has relentless hung onto her Oakland teams), and remain so to this day. From the hayday of the 80s to the lower echelons of hell that my team likes to perform in now.

My view of football has changed in little ways over the years, but fundamentally the game remains my favorite overall. When I was young, for the most part your team remained the same, minus the retiring players, plus the incoming rookies. Free Agency was a newer concept. Now instead of playing for your team and your teammates, it seems that many play for the amount of dollar bills they can get. Sure, some want to, and will remain with their team regardless of other offers, and will retire from the game with the same team that drafted them, wihtout ever being traded off. I have even heard of some players voluntarily taking pay cuts to remain with their team, and/or to allow another player to come into the organization, all to satisfy this salary cap imposed on teams (which I have no problem with). But many these days will haggle over the difference of a couple million dollars over a couple years. Player A wants a contract that gives him $11million over 4 years. The Owner says "we'll give you $8million over 5 years." And somehow, this can be a bone of contention that causes the player to stay away from training camp, preseason practices and all that is involved.

Maybe I'm missing some bigger picture here, but it's $3million dollars difference. Personally, once I've hit the $5million dollar mark in life, I'd be pretty friggin happy for life. Yeah, I know what some of you are saying..."The contracts aren't guaranteed, if he gets hurt he loses out on the rest", or "$3million is a LOT of money."
And you'd be right on both counts. But while your career may be shorter, and you may take a lot of abuse over that time, any player that plays 5 years in general has made way more than your average person will in 40 years. I even understand that Player A saw that Player B for some other team, who isn't even as good as him, got a LOT more money, and he thinks he deserves as much. Whatever happened to the love of the game? I think the league minimum for a drafted rookie is in the $300,000+ range. Hell, I'd play an entire career on that salary if I were blessed with enough size and talent to play at such a level, but that's just me. I just like to play, compete and win. Because in the end, to me, winning is the whole point. Getting to gloat afterwards is of course part of the prize, which I am guilty of to many faults. (ask my wife, sister, pretty much anyone who has ever competed against me in anything)

These days, however, your team looks different, save a few key players, every single year. Your guy switches teams, now what do you do? Root for your favorite player or your favorite team?
And it comes from all sides, to be honest, when it comes to being a loyal fan to your team. The owners jack up ticket prices, vending prices, and everything else, making it harder to go see your team play, if your in or near one of the market cities. You have whiny millionaires who demand being traded, or made their bonuses and quit putting forth an absolute 100% effort every play of every game. And now, the next thing that has hit the big time, that puts fans themselves at fault:

You have people now who participate in these leagues (sometimes multiple simultaneously) religiously. I played last year, and it created some disconnect from following my team specifically. Yes, it gave me a sense of control when it comes to managing a team, but I found myself hoping this guy or that guy had a great game, even if they were playing against my team that week. I was no longer following my team, but rather a bunch of individual players that I had at my disposal. (on a personal note: out of 5 guys, I placed guys underperformed when I had them starting, when I switched things up, they suddenly did well...good thing I didnt havemoney riding on it!)

SO this year, I decided to opt out of any fantasy league. Given the poor performance of my team over the last few years (more like 9 years), and the fact that they are on the west coast and I am located in the midwest, I don't see them on tv as much, so I have to follow the team through the box scores in the paper, or highlights on tv. But I have found myself following them a little better this year, despite all that, and the fact that with my current job, it intereferes with my sleep time on the weekends. GRRRRR.
I can only hope that they will again become a cohesive team that can rise out of the proverbial ashes and ascend to greatness once again. Then maybe they'll get more tv play, and then I can justify losing a little sleep to see them play.

Anyways, I'm all over the place with this post, so I'll continue with this directionless rant with a couple more things. Given the differences in the two levels, I have come to prefer the more pure sport of football at the college level over the money grubbers in the pros. A certain local state favorite in college play, the Iowa Hawkeyes, however are threatening to ruin that as well. The advent of the new BigTen Network which now shows there games, and has caused me to not see them on NETWORK TV has pissed me off as well. Why should I pay $40 or whatever it is to get cable, just to watch one channel during football season?

Football used to be a sport, but as with everything else, it is becoming more business than anything. And to me, that is the biggest ruination of the game. But, I shall forever remain a football fan, and shall continue to love my 49ers, even if they suck for the rest of eternity.

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