Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Holding Back the Emotion

By Jonathan Lowe

Everyone can exhale. This past weekend, we all got what we wanted ... actual throwing and carrying of pigskins in stadiums across the nation. After a tumultuous offseason that saw a long-feared lockout come to fruition, the NFL management and players shook hands in time to only miss their annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton. The mood for football fanatics is at a fevered pitch as the season closes in.

And with everything back to normal between the sidelines, I've gone back to a relaxed state of mind. Really relaxed. Relaxed to the point of taking a snooze. I think I might take it through the rest of the month, actually. The reason? No matter how long I ache for tackles, tirades, and touchdowns, it's still the preseason.

Now, I'm not saying that the preseason has its purpose. I'm not saying that I won't watch a highlight or two. I'm not saying that I won't catch a few plays if I slide past a broadcast with the clicker. However, I won't seek out games like I do once Labor Day weekend comes and goes.

The biggest example of this could be explained by my decision making. Last week, I saw FOX's promo for last Friday's Bucs/Chiefs broadcast. That made me nod my head for a second, pleased that the team I root for would get a pop on the national stage at a time where most games only serve their local markets. Living in the Twin Cities, it was a chance to see those players that might make an unexpected impact and make the final roster.

And I didn't watch a second of it.

Compare that to any of the weeks containing "for-real" contests, where I'd be lucky to find a Chiefs broadcast on my Dish Network package. In those cases, I make the effort to fire up the Internet and track the KC squad wherever they are. Granted, following dots, Xs, and arrows isn't ideal, but it is better than staying in the dark. The point is, for the regular season, I make the effort.

So, that could make me the bad guy.

'You're the guy that doesn't live and breathe with his team. How could you say you're a fan if you don't even want to know what assets your team could have? How do find those diamonds in the rough if you won't even scour the rough?'

If that's the case, then sure, I'll be the villain. I'll take the hit and not follow every snap that those that I cheer will take until early September. I'm fine with that. It's not my way of punishing the owners for closing the gates on their employees. I'm not protesting the players for drawing a line in the sand that couldn't be crossed for four-plus months. It's just my normal state of mind.

Now, my apathy might have waned a bit if one thing occurred. It's the same phenomenon that happened in 1994, 1998, and 2004.

The MLB strike of 1994 was especially irksome for me. As a young teen in Kansas City, the Royals were my summertime fascination. I wasn't a fixture at games, but I did head out to Royals Stadium (before it was renamed for late owner Ewing Kauffman) to see the likes of George Brett, Frank White, Bo Jackson, Danny Tartabull, Flash Gordon, Mark Gubicza, and Jeff Montgomery. That year, the unexpected Royals had actually fought their way into contention past the All-Star Break. Looking back, they probably would have shrunk under the pressure, but it would have been fun to see.

Nationwide, the Strike took the wind out of baseball's sails. Even though many were relieved to see the game's return in April of 1995, the sport didn't really get a boost for another three years.

Then there was the NBA lockout of 1998-1999. While the predecessor might not compare to its current generation, the previous stoppage basically cut the 1999 campaign in half. An 82-game cruise turned into a 50-game flyover. The breakup of the Michael Jordan-led Bulls dynasty only added to the dampening of many spirits in the stands.

Once the stalemate ended, some of the ticked off fan base came back to watch what actually became the launching pad of one of the next decade's best franchises. Unfortunately, the San Antonio Spurs were not the eye candy that drew in the casual fan (or some "more than casual" observers like myself, sadly). I still maintain that the Association got a bump from the Shaq/Kobe era the following year, but interest might not have really rose until the King James, D-Wade, and 'Melo class got their feet wet in the league.

The biggest example of what could be stripped from the paying customers has to be the NHL Lockout of 2004-2005. The chasm between employer and employee lasted for an entire season. With a large portion of the outfit consisting of European players, several stars of the league went back to their home continent (if not home country) to play in the established pro organizations there.

After all was said and done, their main broadcast outlet (ESPN) had moved on, leaving them to scramble for coverage. While hockey may have scoured out the casual fan, it still held its core base of fans. The money model the NHL is using seems to be taking hold, which might lead to a slower, but stronger growth of attention. However, I still believe that they have yet to fully recover from their lost season.

Pieces are there to help regenerate interest. Original Six franchises have hoisted the Stanley Cup the last two years (Chicago and Boston). Sidney Crosby helped guide the Penguins to their own trophy three years back. But (in my opinion) the fan base will need a healthy Crosby, a title-holding Alexander Ovechkin, and a Canadian winner to boost the buzz even more.

In all three of these previous cases, there was actually something to miss. Whether it be half-season, a playoff push, or an entire campaign, time worked was literally forsaken. And that's what makes this NFL preseason like all others. Save a lack of OTAs and a shortened training camp, everything seems to have come off without a hitch.

So, in my existence of not really paying close attention to the appetizer of the fall, why change now? Don't get me wrong. I'm very happy that the upper brass and workforce got together in time to put a product on the plate. I'll be thrilled to follow the team I root for, whether it be online or on the tube. But calm down, folks. We've still got three weeks until the opening kickoff ... and we've still got football.

Now, if you don't mind, I think I'll take a little August hibernation.

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