By David Mullen
The term “too big for one’s boots” can be traced back to the mid-1800s. It may be more applicable to the National Football League in 2022 than when attributed to frontiersman Davy Crockett.
For the NFL, the week before the Super Bowl is supposed to be full of celebration and anticipation. Instead, it was full of consternation and anguish. Consider what happened during the NFL’s “dead week,” usually reserved for lavish cocktail parties and boasts about the Super Bowl ad inventory selling out at a record $7 million per 30-second spot.
The greatest player in NFL history, quarterback Tom Brady, is no longer a meal ticket or a model representing all things good about NFL football. ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news that Brady, 44, was retiring. Immediately, Brady’s people and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers denied the report. A few days later, Brady officially retired via a statement on Twitter.
No chance for the NFL to exploit the winningest quarterback in Super Bowl history with a year of “Tom Brady Days” featuring gifts of custom motorcycles and artisan-made rocking chairs.
Formerly known as the Redskins and most recently the Washington Football Team (WFT), the team announced that they were becoming the Washington Commanders. Fans immediately nicknamed them the “Commies.” Oops. How could the NFL brain trust not see that one coming?
The next day, the WFT went before the U.S. Congress for a hearing examining the team’s legendarily toxic workplace culture that has been in question by everyone except NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, which deemed an earlier internal investigation closed.
Ex Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores sued the NFL and three teams — the Dolphins, Denver Broncos and New York Giants — for alleged discrimination regarding his interview processes. Flores, who finished his tenure with Miami by winning eight of nine games, was surprisingly fired on January 10.
After the Flores lawsuit and prior to Super Bowl LVI, six other teams hired white head coaches before Miami hired Mike McDaniel (who identifies as multiracial) and African American Lovie Smith was hired by the Houston Texans.
Flores had been rumored to be the Texans’ leading candidate before the lawsuit. Owner collusion is not foreign in NFL circles. Ask Colin Kaepernick. There are now two black head coaches (Smith and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin) and five total coaches of color (Smith, Tomlin, McDaniel, Washington’s Ron Rivera and the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh) among the 32 NFL teams. Seven teams have never had a head coach or GM of color, including the Dallas Cowboys.
Potentially the most damning allegation of the week was Flores alleging that he was offered cash incentives by Miami owner Stephen Ross to purposely lose games for a better NFL Draft position. Allegations of losing games on purpose, known as “tanking,” would cause irreparable harm to the NFL’s thinning reputation, especially now that the league has embraced gambling partners like Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings and FanDuel.
The dead week was capped off on February 7 by the Pro Bowl or what should be rebranded as the “GINO” (Game in Name Only). The best players in football gathered in Las Vegas and played with the aggression of ballet students in a high school production of “Swan Lake.”
The Thanksgiving morning football games on the front lawn with the cousins are more intense than the superstar showcase held off The Strip.
One of the few game highlights was rookie quarterback Mac Jones of the New England Patriots avoiding a tackle and running 71 yards untouched for what he thought was a touchdown. He rejoiced with an endzone “Griddy” dance, brought to the NFL by Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson. No one told Jones that the Pro Bowl was a game of disinterested millionaires playing modified touch football and that his “MacGriddy” was off the menu.
After the Pro Bowl, running back Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints was arrested for battery when a video surfaced of an alleged 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning attack in a casino that left a man seriously injured. Two days later, the Saints announced Dennis Allen with a career 8-28 record as their new head coach.
The NFL has become “too big for one’s boots.” While lighting cigars with $100 bills, the NFL owner’s house is on fire. Or at least smoldering. The disregard for hiring capable black head coaches in a league where African American players make up 70 percent of rosters can no longer be accepted practice.
The NBA is rapidly becoming the professional sport of choice with Generation Z. It’s a faster game full of tweetable highlights, has more personable athletes, greater worldwide exposure, a superior commissioner, more socially relevant issues than the NFL (despite blindly protecting financial interests in China), more racial balance off the court and, potentially, more marketability in the future.
Facebook lost one third of its value during the NFL’s “dead week.” The NFL should take heed and realize that bad practices can lead to financial deficits. Money talks in the NFL. For now, they need to buy a pair of boots that fit.
There is an NFL football game slated for Sunday, Feb. 13. The surprising Cincinnati Bengals squares off against the Los Angeles Rams in LA’s SoFi Stadium. For the second consecutive year, the Super Bowl has a home team advantage, although ticket prices, availability and a fan base that would rather go to the beach dampen any real Rams benefit.
In my NFL preview in August, I predicted the Buffalo Bills would face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVI. Close, but not to be. The Bills were 13 seconds away from the AFC Championship before Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs found magic in a playoff game for the ages.
The Rams, 0-2 to San Francisco in the regular season, found the third time was a charm by overcoming a 10-point fourth quarter deficit for a 20-17 victory in the NFC Championship at SoFi Stadium. There seemed to be as many 49ers fans as Rams rooters at the game. That wasn’t the roar of a pro-LA crowd — that was the sound of planes landing at nearby LAX.
Cincinnati came together late in the season as quarterback Joe Burrow became fearless despite knee surgery the season before. In his second season, Burrow has won as many NFL playoff games (three) as Tony Romo and Dak Prescott combined. Burrow also won a College Football Championship.
Highland Park’s Matthew Stafford, acquired from Detroit before the season to take the Rams to the Super Bowl, took the Rams to the Super Bowl. Rams tackle Aaron Donald anchors a defense that is among the best in the league. Cincinnati is young, and Los Angeles has veteran stars — like DeSoto High’s Von Miller — with previous Super Bowl experience. The Rams are favored by 4 points, and the over/under is 48 1/2.
Still, I will take Cincinnati +4 under 48 1/2. I think Bengals running back Joe Mixon will be the difference maker and game MVP. He will carry the ball 25 times, which will open opportunities for Burrow to throw and neutralize Donald. Bengals fans will be dancing at the City View Tavern on Mt. Adams, washing down a Big Ted’s with Christian Moerlein lager, when Cincy beats LA 23-14 in Super Bowl LVI.