Sports

The NFL is poised to be the victory cigar

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NFL commish Roger Goodell has league positioned to be country’s COVID victory party.

NFL commish Roger Goodell has league positioned to be country’s COVID victory party.
Image: Getty Images

It was a triumphant day for the NFL, at least the business of the NFL and for its owners. Somehow it always is, even when they’re not playing games. The league announced adding a 17th game officially, even though it doesn’t make sense on any logical level other than owners looking at a pile of money and screaming, “Gimme!”

The NFL also got to get fans salivating about a Presidents’ Day weekend Super Bowl with the Monday after off of work, even though that will happen rarely. Or it will happen rarely until the league gets its 18th game, which we know is coming at some point.

The other news was Roger Goodell announcing that the league expects full stadiums when the league kicks off in September. That could happen, but because the NFL wills it, it certainly will. It’s just over five months until Week 1, and with the rate of vaccinations in the country, it’s certainly possible. It’s not a lock, though.

But that’s not what the NFL is eyeing. We know how closely connected the NFL is to the country’s psyche, its mood, its direction. Goodell is putting this out there because he wants the NFL to be the symbol of the country’s “victory” over the pandemic. Of course, it’s not a victory. Hundreds of thousands are dead, so it can’t possibly be. It’s barely an “emerging” from it.

But Goodell and the league want to be there when the gates are finally fully open, to be the marker that it’s all over, the leader of the celebration. The center of the new day. You can see it now. Full stadiums, the scripted moment of silence before every game for all those we’ve lost, and then quickly moving on to announcer after announcer commenting how great it is to see full stadiums again, how we all persevered, ads thanking fans for their patience and diligence (even if a lot of them were the anti-maskers who threw tantrum after tantrum). The works.

And I don’t mean to be totally cynical (I just always sound that way). It will be good to see full NFL stadiums again. It will feel like the real thing again, which no sport really has since everything stopped in March of 2020. It feels like we’ve been reaching for what we know and love since sports returned without grabbing it. Hell, it’ll even feel good to see a full Soldier Field on my TV, as 60,000 fracture their collective larynx booing the product on the field. Maybe it’ll feel that way before that, if baseball can get back to full houses by the end of the season or playoffs. Whenever, I look forward to that.

But the NFL will intertwine itself with it in such a way to make it gross. They’re already setting it up.


Speaking of not being the real thing, this NBA season has lacked some of its usual buzz. There’s no league that’s better at recognizing the “statement game” for the farce that it is. Most teams competing for a championship know that games in February don’t mean much. At least they don’t until actual seedings and spots are on the line.

Still, it used to be that there would be a little buzz when two of the heavyweights got together. Sure, during tournament time the NBA always settles into the background a bit, but everything is mashed together.

It’s partly the injuries, which is partly due to the cramped season and short offseason. It’s partly the slog of teams being on the road, which is much harder now given the restrictions. And it’s partly those teams even more focused on the playoffs, given these obstacles in the regular season that just isn’t that important.

The Sixers and Nuggets played last night, and the Nuggets basically blew Philly out of the building 104-95. It wasn’t that close. The Sixers didn’t have Joel Embiid, of course. This follows Milwaukee never really being near the Clippers the night before. Both those teams playing the Lakers recently has lost some edge thanks to LeBron and Anthony Davis being out. And on it goes.

The NBA regular season has felt more and more like a waiting room, and this one has fast forwarded that. No one’s putting too much weight on it, everyone’s just getting their chair and sitting. In a time like this it makes the most sense for teams, as going hard in this season would leave a team gassed for what matters. Doesn’t make it easy to watch, though.

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