On this site every week during the NFL season we do a story about how “The Browns Will Win If…” where we discuss what the Browns need to do (or how many opposing team members need to be on the injury report) in order for the Browns to win the week’s game. In some cases we make predictions about how a quarterback, running back, or team unit like the offensive line will play against a given opponent in a given week. And as Scott linked this morning in the WWW there are about a million places to look and find predictions for the season. Even in picking fantasy teams or joining Survivor Pools it seems that the NFL has become more about predicting things than ever before. Even the analysts on the pre-game shows are constantly asked to predict winners and sometimes even final scores. It makes me wonder if we’ve lost a bit of the joy that made us all football fans at the beginning.
I am sure a lot of people want me to stop right here. The NFL is at an all-time high in popularity. It is the number one sport in the nation, easily eclipsing baseball and basketball not to mention hockey, Nascar, soccer and pro bowling. Fantasy football, survivor pools, and gambling (legal and otherwise) are major contributors to the popularity of the sport. Obviously all three of those things lead to constant predictions by analysts, bloggers and pretty much every other fan out there.
Have we lost something in the translation though? I know that we at WFNY are completely guilty of predicting things too. So consider this a momentary glance in the mirror in addition to the 50,000 foot scan of the world. I am starting to get the feeling that predictions are the new lists. VH1 loves lists whether they are talking about celebrity breakups or 80′s movies. Rolling Stone loves lists whether they are talking about the greatest albums of all time or the greatest guitarists of all time. Even in our personal lives, how many of us have used that application on facebook to rank the five people we would most like on our side in a fight or brawl? Or worse yet, the biggest guilty pleasure TV shows that we watched growing up? (Come on people, I know I wasn’t the only one who watched Perfect Strangers and Urkel.)
The point is this. I predict things so much now that it is sometimes hard for me to put all that stuff away and just be a fan on Sundays when the Browns play whomever. Instead of rooting for the Browns to upset the Steelers, I am too busy talking myself into the notion that it could never happen because that is what my analysis and predictions led me to write a few days earlier. And instead of rooting as hard as I can for whichever players are wearing the orange and brown uniforms, I am sitting critically looking at draft picks knowing that the Browns could have picked different people.
I think all the constant predictions has changed us as sports fans. Instead of being passive consumers of the product that just roots their hearts out for a team, we all now feel empowered to say we know better than everyone. We know better than all the owners. We know better than the GMs. We know better than the head coaches. We know better than the scouts and coordinators. Or at least we think we do on a lot of occasions. While that increases the interest level in the sport as we all obsess over stats, game films, and the fake fantasy waiver wires, it changes the relationship we have with the sport. I am not so sure that the new rules that dictate the nature of our relationship with football have created the best possible realtionship.
I am starting to get the feeling that for a lot of us it is almost joyless now. Then again, maybe this is just the perspective of a Cleveland fan. Maybe the new relationship that we, as Clevelanders, have with the game of football is filled with predictions almost like a giant defense mechanism from allowing ourselves to get crushed as hard as the team seems to want to crush us since 1999. I don’t know for sure. I am just starting to work through this idea in my head so I don’t have a hard conclusion. But as I go through this season talking about the Browns before the game and with my Bullet Point articles after the fact, will be sure to keep it in mind. I will keep it in mind if for no other reason than so I can somehow install a switch in my brain so that I can maybe get back to the place where I enjoy the contest for what it is. I want to enjoy my team for being able to potentially win every game as opposed to not being able to win a certain number even before the first official snap of the season.