In Part I of my “Fixing the NFL” column, I tackled heavy issues like an anthem solution and a revision to the “lowering the helmet” rule. It was an analysis that had more arcane movie references than a Quentin Tarantino film.
Now, let’s drive into Part II, which explores some fun, less-serious ideas on how the NFL can make a few tweaks to NFL Films, the “Madden” video game franchise and more to help make football fun again.
Do away with ‘Madden’s’ exclusive license
While some of you are probably wondering what the hell video games have to do with fixing the NFL, trust me when I say that for millennials and younger folks, the NFL and “Madden” go together like career-worst seasons and the Kardashians.
And while “Madden” has certainly gotten better on PS4 — it was borderline unplayable in 2014 — there are some things the NFL can do to inspire more enthusiasm for its sport through the gaming medium, starting with allowing other companies other than EA Sports to license the game.
Again, the “Madden” team has made tremendous strides over the past several years, but many people my age (mid-30s) still miss the “NFL 2K” series, which was far beyond its time and brought out the best in the “Madden” team. The “2K” team hasn’t lost it either; its NBA game is annually among the best reviewed video games of the year, and there’s no doubt a “2K” presence would put some serious heat on “Madden” to continue to innovate, thus creating better games (and more excitement) about the NFL from young people.
And secondly, please put concussions back in the game. The gig is up as we all know concussions are part of football. You can’t stick your head in the sand about them and make believe like they aren’t real. Bullying EA Sports, the makers of “Madden,” into excluding them is ludicrous. Gamers want a realistic experience.
Finally, bring back variable attendance: There’s no reason FirstEnergy Stadium should be full in December for a showdown between the 3-11 Cleveland Browns and 2-12 New York Jets. It’s a feature that’s already in “NBA 2K” (along with tattoos), and neither seems to be hurting that league’s popularity.
Crank up the NFL Films productions
Let me introduce you to some grade-A, chill-inducing NFL propaganda, folks:
Faster than a speeding bullet.
(Bah dum, bah DUM)
More powerful than a locomotive.
(Bah dum, BAH DUM)
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
(Bah DUM, BAH DUM)
The pro game in the pop age had a NUMBER of supastahs. But only ONE Superman.
(BAH DUM, BAH DUM)
And he … was JIM BROWN.
If that doesn’t make you want to do a Jim Brown deep dive on YouTube, then start juking imaginary defenders, this isn’t the column for you.
NFL Films is a weapon that even the NBA and MLB doesn’t have, a ready-made hype machine complete with an unlimited reservoir of killer instrumentals and highlights that make you want to throw the football around on sight. Even though the NBA and MLB have access to some of the instrumental tracks, it’s just not the same. Something just looks cooler about football players gliding in motion, bracing for contact with determined looks on their faces, all with the distinct, eloquent voice of John Facenda saying things like:
“Professional football in America is a special game. A unique game. The men who play it, make it so.”
Don’t believe me? OK. I challenge you to play the following NFL Films track — composed by the great David Robidoux (who I’d love to chop it up with one day) — and read the ridiculous paragraph below it in your best Facenda voice and tell me it doesn’t work:
Terez Paylor woke up in the morning. He was staaaaarving of hunger and thirst. He went to the fridge for a sandwich, but could not find one worth eating. Keeping his composure, his taste buds tingling, he knelt halfway to the floor and scanned the refrigerator for something worth consuming. Deep in the back, he spotted some peanut butter and jelly. Maneuvering past the milk, and the strawberries, and finally the apples, he reached in, grabbed the peanut butter and consumed it, snatching an early morning victory from the jaws of defeat.
See what I mean?
NFL Films hasn’t lost its luster. For instance, how could you not get goosebumps at the “We Got Tom Brady” moment in “America’s Game” episode on the 2016 New England Patriots?
Here’s my point, NFL: You want people to forget about all your issues? Start producing more shows like the excellent “NFL Films Presents,” “America’s Game” and “Top 100” series, and bring back the one-hour specials celebrating the game’s best players. When I was 8, my parents bought me two NFL videos for Christmas: “Master Blasters” and “NFL Rocks.” I must have watched them dozens of times over the years. Both stoked my passion for football at a crucial age.
Produce more shows like this.
The league could even expand on “NFL Rocks,” which was basically a one-hour highlights package of the 1991 season set to the hits of Bon Jovi and Robert Palmer, and do separate rock and hip-hop videos. Stream them on NFL Network, Netflix and Hulu and help nurture the next generation of football fans.
Loosen up restrictions on highlights, GIFs
The NFL already gives us NFL Game Pass, which is both a blessing (for its exclusive all-22, which is awesome) and a curse (for its lack of functionality, but that’s a story for another day).
However, NBA fans get to enjoy in-depth breakdowns about the X’s and O’s because that league, unlike the NFL, doesn’t aggressively target traditional news organizations (i.e. newspapers and major web sites) that use gifs and highlights to explain what’s happening on the field. You can’t even embed the NFL’s videos from its YouTube channel on Web sites because the league won’t get a direct click. It’s absurd.
It’s clear that everything is a money grab for the NFL, and its massive rights package is one of the reasons every team in the NFL makes money every season, no matter what. But you’ll never convince me that loosening these restrictions will affect the bottom line enough to offset the benefits of helping media companies create smarter fans, and making it easier for fans to watch these amazing athletes do amazing things.
Televise starting lineups, NBA-on-NBC style
Here’s one area where the NFL can actually get ahead of the NBA, because the fact the NBA no longer televises the starting lineups during the Finals is a minor tragedy.
If you watched the Finals this year, you know you were sitting on your couch at the beginning of the game, hoping they’d show the Cleveland Cavaliers or Golden State Warriors’ home introductions, only to be let down so ESPN could broadcast another “NBA Finals presented by YouTube” commercial. It was infuriating, mainly because the networks tricked us for years by showing us Finals intros every once in a while, rewarding us with the rush of hearing Ray Clay scream “Frrrrrrrom North Carolina, 6-6 — Michaaaaael Jordaaaaan!” or John Mason yell “Chauncey … BBBBBBBBBBBILLUPS!” It was worth the wait. Now it seems we can’t get a taste.
As someone who has been to 80 percent of the NFL’s stadiums, I can tell you that while starting lineup introductions aren’t as good as the NBA’s, they’re good enough. And for the viewer at home, it would be cool to see some of the packages teams around the league have put together for their starting offenses and defenses.
It’s more fun to watch than you think, and would help engender pregame excitement upon viewers.
What’s more, this also hearkens back to Part I of my plan, which is giving players more individuality and freedom to express themselves. As a bonus, you wouldn’t even lose CBS’s killer lineup music, which would still play for the visiting team and whichever side of the ball was not announced for the home side.
At the end of the day, I’m sure none of these suggestions will be heeded. They’re micro-issues surrounding a league whose money-hungry focus is decidedly macro.
But sometimes, when you’re in the midst of fight for the hearts and dollars of a younger generation that has more distractions than ever before, it’s the little things — like memories of awesome Jim Brown clips, “Madden” moments and iconic starting lineup introductions — that can stick with you for a lifetime and engender brand loyalty for decades.
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