Pittsburgh sports personality John Steigerwald now of Just Watch the Game fame is fond of saying stuff like, "And the best thing about tonight's exciting playoff game is that we'll have another one to talk about in a couple of days." Steigy normally says this after a great hockey game (although, he used to say it about baseball before he became disillusioned with the sport). John, and many people like him, appreciate a great best of seven series. They like the emotional highs and lows that you experience throughout the duration. Fans of "best of" playoff formats often bemoan the fact that no matter how exciting an NFL playoff game is, we have to wait around for a week to watch the next game. And in the mean time, there will be over-analysis of the upcoming contest, and in most cases, over-hype.
As a huge football fan, I feel the opposite way. Don't get me wrong, there's something to be said for an exciting best of seven series, but for me, there's nothing quite like an NFL playoff game.
The one thing that the NFL playoffs will always have over the sports that employ a five or seven game series format is the sudden death component.
Baseball, hockey and basketball may be able to offer their fans a postseason match-up comprised of more than one game, but they can't offer a "winner takes all" scenario, at least not all the time. The only time that happens is if a series goes to a deciding game. When that situation presents itself, man, do the fans go crazy with excitement, especially if the game will decide the World Championship. The sports media spends the entire day building up the deciding game and reminiscing about game 7's from the past.
Well, the NFL has that all the time. It doesn't matter if it's the wild card round or the Super Bowl, there are no tomorrows if a team loses. Forget "best of seven," "best of today" is all that matters.
In a postseason series in baseball, a manager has time to set up his pitching rotation, and if he wants to save a key pitcher for later on in the series, he can do so. In an NFL playoff game, however, there is no tomorrow. The only thing that matters is now. If a coach has a certain strategy that he wants to employ, he better use it, because it could mean the difference between advancing to the next round or starting the off season.
Often-times, in an NHL playoff series, if a team is down big at the end of a game, someone will try to start a brawl in-order to build some momentum for their team and give their opponents something to think about for the next game.
Or maybe a player does or says something to try and send a message to his own teammates. In the 1984 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, Celtics star forward Larry Bird was so disgusted with his team's embarrassing loss in Game 3 that he challenged his teammates and said they were playing like a bunch of women. This united the Celtics as a group, and they played a much more physical and "in your face" Game 4, and went on to win that night, and ultimately, the Finals in seven games.
In an NFL playoff game, there's really no time to send messages, and if you need to build some momentum, you better start now. In the Steelers playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars a few years ago, Pittsburgh had all the momentum in the 4th quarter, but by then, it was too late, because Jacksonville jumped out to a 28-10 lead early-on, and it proved to be too much for the Steelers to overcome in four quarters. I'm sure if the two teams played another six games, the Steelers may have won 4 out of 7, but in the NFL, you get one crack at it so you better bring your A game.
As a fan, I cherish the week-long anticipation for the big game. Right now, for instance, we're still days away from the Steelers wild card game against the Broncos in Denver on Sunday, and I'm already nervous. I'm enjoying the hype and the analysis. I like how a playoff game galvanizes an entire region. I love how festive the City of Pittsburgh becomes during a long playoff run. When the Steelers go deep into the playoffs, it's like an extended holiday season. I love that there are creative minds at work, writing playoff fight songs that we can use as rallying cries (playoff football always harvests the best songs).
I get a kick out of people ordering Terrible Towel sheet cakes or black and gold rye bread for their Steelers playoff parties.
I love the pep rallies and the bets between the mayors of the opposing cities.
I love (kinda) the range of emotions that take place during the course of three hours. When you sit down to watch an NFL playoff game, you know you're going to be feeling one way or another when the game clock hits 0:00. There is no in-between. If you're truly a diehard fan, you're either going to be beside yourself with joy or inconsolable with grief.
Watching an NFL playoff game means, perhaps, witnessing history. You could see just an ordinary game, or a modern-day version of the "Immaculate Reception."
And, this time of year, style points really don't matter. Whether it's a sloppy, 7-6, victory over the New England Patriots in a divisional playoff game, or a pulsating, 36-33, come-from-behind win over the Cleveland Browns in the wild card round, the only thing that matters is surviving and advancing.
I love everything about the NFL playoffs, and if this week's game is as exciting as I hope it will be, we'll get to do it all over again next week.