Wednesday, January 3, 2018
The Lost Year
Somehow the NFL managed to survive Trump and the millions of Americans who vowed to boycott the league this past year. It was around week 12 that Trump lost interest in the national anthem protests, posting a rather lame tweet on November 28 that drew little attention. X-fans were no longer bombarding the message boards with their faux outrage over the protests, and overall attendance at games remained pretty much the same as in 2016. The Los Angeles teams had been suffering for lack of fan base, but as the Rams and Chargers playoff prospects improved, so did attendance. The only place the NFL seemed to suffer was on television, where ratings had dipped, but by December things were pretty much back to normal as the playoff race heated up.
Still, there seemed to be something missing this year. There wasn't as much excitement even as new teams like Jacksonville and Tennessee emerged as playoff contenders in the AFC, while Philadelphia and Minnesota made surprisingly strong showings in the NFC.
Injuries played a big part in this. Indianapolis was Luck-less again this year. Green Bay lost Aaron Rodgers in Week 6. DeShaun Watson was turning in an amazing rookie season until he went down in a practice session after his huge game against Seattle. Houston had already lost J.J. Watt for the season. The "All-Injured Team" was loaded with potential Pro Bowl players.
Surprisingly, no team picked up Colin Kaepernick despite so many being shorthanded at QB. Green Bay insisted on Brett Hundley, who posted a miserable passer rating of 70.6. Kaepernick had a passer rating of 90.7 on the woeful 49ers last year. Houston only had one win after Watson went down. It was to Arizona, which also had lost its star quarterback for the season, and finished 8-8 on the year.
Colin seemed to take it all in stride, continuing his civic outreach. He only received $39 million of his "record" $126 million contract, yet he donated substantially to numerous causes, which earned him GQ Citizen of the Year, Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award and a slough of other honors including finalist for Time's Person of the Year. This would have been quite a poke in the eye of Trump. Of course, this only further outraged many Americans who held Kaepernick personally responsible for the national anthem protests.
One of the most amusing moments this year was seeing Papa John CEO, John Schnatter, try to sue the NFL for lost revenue due to the protests, only to find himself shaded by Pizza Hut, which noted no fall off in revenue this year. Just the same, Dallas Cowboy owner, Jerry Jones, came to Schnatter's defense, leading some to speculate that Jones might have actually prodded Schnatter to file the lawsuit. In the end, Papa John's apologized for Schnatter's pathetic publicity stunt, and forced him to step down as CEO in December.
Jones saw his Cowboys crumble down the home stretch after Ezekiel Elliott was finally made to serve his 6-game suspension for domestic violence. The Cowboys had filed numerous appeals, hoping to put off the suspension as long as possible, similar to New England's unsuccessful attempt two years back to overcome Tom Brady's suspension. If the Cowboys had taken the suspension at the beginning of the year, they may have more easily overcome the loss of the star running back. As it was, Jones paid dearly for the late season suspension, with the Cowboys missing the playoffs.
However, I do think the protests impacted teams, particularly my home team Seattle that seemed visibly torn over the proper response. Michael Bennett even got into a tussle with Las Vegas police, claiming they unduly roughed him up. Videos showed otherwise, but Michael held his ground. These wayward emotions impacted their vaunted team unity, often looking disoriented in games, particularly their 42-7 loss to the Rams at home in Week 15, which pretty much ended their playoff hopes. This after beating the high-flying Eagles two weeks before.
Fans want to see this matter cleared up over the off season and a return to normalcy next season. It is doubtful that Colin Kaepernick will return to the NFL, but the owners will have to address the issues that emerged this season, namely the collusion that obviously took place to keep Colin off the playing field. No player will ever feel comfortable again if they know they can get blackballed like this.
In the meantime, we have the playoffs to draw our interest. The AFC looks pretty similar with New England and Pittsburgh at the top, but who would have figured Philadelphia and Minnesota would own first week byes in the NFC, or that New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams would win their divisions? Let the games begin!