Football is Wrestling

If you’ve spent any time observing NFL games over the past several decades, you have observed the Zebra Uncertainty Principle: the total inability of an observer to tell how the black-and-white stripers are going to make a call. Everyone has stared dumbfounded at their television while obvious things had been determined not to occur, either by explicit commandment, or by omission. Holding in the NFL is called about as regularly as travelling in the NBA. It’s like one of those 19th century laws against taking a bath: still on the books, but mainly an illusion of law.

The takeaway from the last Super Bowl is that the Chiefs were “gifted” the game by the refs, who actually called a penalty that was, as examination of the film shows, indeed committed. When you don’t enforce the rules, suddenly enforcing them feels like a violation.

What everyone’s ignoring is that the Eagles were the beneficiaries of two terrible calls in the third quarter. Within a few minutes, the refs had wildly divergent decisions on what constituted “possession of a catch”. The Eagles won both calls, in an absolute 180-reversal of logic. It was so blatant that I started laughing. It was impossible to take the rest of the game seriously.

Folks, the refs determine who wins. They always have. They determine what is a “catch”, what is a “fumble”, what is a “touchdown”, and they do so according to rules that are simple or arcane, as needed. They do not do so in order to favor one team specifically. They do so in order to keep the game interesting for televised audiences. They do so in order to spare us 55-10 Super Bowl blowouts. Because Football is a television game, relying on TV revenues more than ticket sales. This is the consequence of having 16 regular season games a year, 3 weeks of playoffs, and one championship. Every game must be milked for every last advertising dollar. If the game is boring, people at home tune out, and that cannot happen.

Baseball doesn’t have this problem, because baseball relies more on ticket sales, because baseball has 162 games a year, plus a pennant race involve 5 or 7-game championship series that go on for the length of a Bible. Even the World Series is 7 games, so if one game is boring or a blowout, the next one can still be exciting. So major league umpires are allowed to actually call balls and strikes. Since Ball vs. Strike and Out vs. Safe are 90% of what umpires do, there’s little opportunity for umpire to put their thumb on the scales (never in baseball has the question of “what is a catch?” been raised).

Baseball is orderly and can be reduced to a single statistic, a single battle of wills between someone throwing a ball and someone trying to hit it. Everyone else on the field is there to support the pitcher. Moneyball-style numbers-crunching can work in baseball for this reason. Football, on the other hand, is chaos, 22 men in motion at once. There’s every opportunity to spin what happened into whatever you want, by observing minutely, or by failing to observe at all.

Football is fake. It’s Wrestling. It’s a goofy theatrical drama with a Greek chorus of simpletons, has-beens, and also-rans. It’s the three-dollar-bill version of ancient gladiator games, with puny Neros giving thumbs-down to please an audience they can’t even see. It’s a pile of sizzle with a mouthful of steak. It doesn’t deserve your identity.


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