They call baseball America's past time, but I beg to differ. America's past time is past it's prime and people barely even tune in for the World Series anymore. America's new past time has risen, from the time of leather helmets and 60 minute men to finely tuned athletes that can jump out of 3 feet of water and land on the pool deck, backwards. Other sports are still popular, people tune in for the NBA playoffs and catch random baseball games, and never count out hockey. Nonetheless, the NFL is one of the only sports that manages to keep their fans (or addicts, for a more appropriate term) sucked in and glued to the tube during the entire offseason. There are no games being played now, haven't been played in months, and won't be played in months, yet this blog is as active as ever and there is just as much NFL news on ESPN.
Warning, this is your chance to stop reading this nonsense, to continue along with your lives, because this might run a little long, and odds are it will not be worth reading (I mean... I probably won't read it.) So I'm going to add a jump, for those of you who want to ditch and need a stopping place, and for our resident pretty boy, Johnny_S and his droid. The more droid gets, the more droid does, but long paragraphs can stop it in its tracks.
The NFL is a marketing giant. Whether it is Adrian Peterson asking if you are ready for the NFL season while showing off his chiseled physique or analysts agonizing over whether McNabb will finally be traded by the impossible to please Philly crowd (spoiler alert: he does get traded.) The NFL and it's past commissioners (Goodell is no exception, turning the draft into a primetime circus and stretching it to span over the course of 3 days) have effectively turned NFL quality football into a drug.
The fact that football has become a drug for many of us is fine for 6 months out of the year. The 6 months where we can gather around TV sets once a week with family and friends to get our weekly dosage of the drug. We share it with our family, talk about it. Roll up the essence of the NFL, inject the analysts and the fantasy football rankings. Smell how bad some of the commentary is. We enjoy every bit of it, whether it's bashing Brett Favre for taking so long to making a decision or jumping up and down as Ike Taylor makes one of his rare picks.
Yeah, Goodell helping the NFL turn that pigskin into a drug is great, it makes Sundays better, and if even if our team doesn't win, we look forward to next sunday as soon as the final scores begin scrolling across the bottom of the screen. The NFL has us sitting there throughout the entire week, on our couch shivering from withdrawals, watching NFL Network just waiting for something interesting to happen. Something to give us a little buzz to carry us into the weekend. No rock is unturned, checking PFT, yahoo sports, even bleacher report for any kind of news that will help us make the shakes stop. Despite this, we make it through the week, week after week, until Super Bowl Sunday, and then it abruptly comes to an end. Our reliable dealer just got busted and the supply of illegal substances has screeched to a halt. The bartender just yelled last call and everyone has the same reaction. Stopped, stunned, surprised that the night has ended so soon, that the season flew by so quickly. Then of course, you have the fans of the team that actually won, too drunk to care that the bartender is shutting down. But they will care, when they get home later and they are sobering up, only to realize all they've got left in their fridge to maintain their drunk is... ew, Miller Lite that is 5 years old from their highschool graduation party.
Then the stone-cold sobriety of the offseason sets in. For some reason, we still sit there watching NFL network, knowing we're not going to hear anything interesting. We just sit and watch the same old annoying NFL Replays of the Patriots Superbowl wins and wonder why they always choose to show games the Steelers lose in... but we cope for a day or two. We tell ourselves that we don't need it that much. We can make it until September, I mean, we have our blog friends right? But then we show up and see what really happens Behind the Steel Curtain when the confetti finishes falling in February.
We show up to see Blitz is curing his offseason withdrawals by editing a Steelers Publication and writing front page articles. Cold_Old_Steelers_Fan is sitting in the corner, rocking back and forth talking about the Blue Bombers and searching youtube for catchy music. Arn is carefully listening for what she said, and letting us all know, and momma is tapping furiously at her keyboard, just typing typing typing. Then you have the people who move on after their reliable dealer gets busted and attempts to find other dealers, to no avail. You have big jay and EnglishSteelergotBanned scribbling on their huge chalkboards about the top 50 players available in 2015 and debating whether the Steelers will need a CB or OL and whether they should trade up for a blue chip WR.
But most, the average person, simply becomes exceedingly optimistic about the upcoming season in order to carry themselves through the offseason. They listen to Mike Mayock talk about every 6th round pick like he's already been to several pro bowlers in an attempt to make you forget that it's mainly a crapshoot after the 4th round. They let the NFL Network turn every Will Allen signing turn into the biggest, most important, most debate worthy signing that's every happened. As the saying goes, every team is poised to win the Super Bowl before the season begins, and nobody is immune to that form of optimism.
I think that this optimism comes from the fact that the attention we give the NFL never wavers, never varies, whether its the middle of the summer, the springtime, or gameday in the fall. In the fall, we have real information to focus on and process. Stats, game tape, etc etc. But in the offseason, we're giving the same amount of focus and emphasis things that in reality, really just don't matter. The signing of Will Allen, the draft of Crezdon Butler, where all the "hot" UDFA's end up, usually don't matter. They went undrafted for a reason, and if the rounds past 5 are a lottery, then what does that say about these long shots? Yes, I'm well aware that gems are found undrafted, our own Harrison and Parker among them, but I don't recall either of these guys getting the attention that some of this year's UDFAs received.
I'm never one to shut down a party or tell people who are scraping the little bit of NFL out of the hot summer months they are wrong, but we have our share of reasons to not be optimistic this upcoming season, one likely the last to happen before a lockout:
Ben Roethlisberger is at least gone for 4 games. We may win games without him, but to assume he's going to come back at full strength is not wise. Minus 2006, after his injury, he has normally come out in the first month or so of the season roaring, but that he could come onto a team that has been playing for possibly 6 weeks without him and to try and shake the rust off instantly is a lot to ask.
Our wide receiving corps, despite having an excellent mix of youth and wily veterans, is going to need some development and luck to turn out great this year. I've seen people arguing that the combination of ARE, Wallace, Ward > Boldin, Mason, Stallworth. I simply do not agree. I'd trade in a heartbeat. Yes, Boldin has benefited from the famous fitzy in the desert, but Ward has benefited from Wallace and Bluntonio as of late. As far as I'm concerned, ARE's return is wonderful, but you cannot bank on anything he will provide. He may come in and post career numbers, or he may come in and bust. Battle is a career 600 yard receiver, even when he was a number one for the 49ers. Wallace may hit a sophomore slump or may not be able to deal with the extra attention that comes with being a number 2 receiver. If Sanders, Brown, or Logan can contribute in the passing game from the WR position, it will greatly help us out, and even then we are young and inexperienced at the position (insert Ben Roethlisberger joke at your leisure), without a true number one.
I think that one thing to be optimistic about, is that the doubts and problems shifted back to the offense, which is what Pittsburgh is used to. The defense looks to be better than it was in 09, with Troy, Smith, and McFadden coming back with young players developing more. Steel City did not deal well with not being able to trust their D in 09.