By Sam Fisher
With the constant grind of the college football season, I rarely have time to watch many NFL games. But now that Stanford’s football season is over, I’ve gone back to the ways of my youth, and I have been rewarded greatly.
I’ve never been a believer in sports conspiracy theories – besides ones involving NBA Commissioner David Stern, of course – but the way these playoffs have set up epic matchup after epic matchup has been magical.
This week, we had the power read-option bout between Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton and the franchise quarterback battle between Andrew Luck ’12 and Tom Brady. While the games were certainly not instant classics, each had great story lines and at least some very fun action.
But those story lines don’t even come close to matching what we get next week. Just look at the NFC championship game, which features the hippest NFL rivalry right now with San Francisco heading to Seattle.
The current edition of this rivalry has been in the making since 2007, when 49ers’ head coach Jim Harbaugh, then the recently hired Stanford head coach, famously called out Seahawks’ head coach Pete Carroll, then the head coach at USC, in a series of press conferences. The “Biggest Upset Ever” and “What’s Your Deal?” games only added to this deeply personal feud, and with Carroll and Harbaugh now commanding the two dominant powers of the NFC West, any matchup between Seattle and San Francisco has been must-see television.
That game still lags behind what will surely be the biggest sports storyline of the week: Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady. With Manning’s Denver Broncos taking down the pesky San Diego Chargers and Brady’s Patriots easily disposing of Luck’s Colts, the two best quarterbacks of this generation will meet in what could be one of the most epic championship games in recent memory.
Based on last season’s precedent, each of these two games will probably draw more than 40 million television viewers. Perhaps one of them will live up to expectations throughout the game and be an even bigger event. Either way, it’s clear that in the month of January, the NFL playoff games are sports fans’ best bets for a great viewing experience.
Believe it or not, even with constant rhetoric around the future of football with its concussion problem, football’s ratings are trending upward. According to Paulsen’s data at Sports Media Watch, 46 of America’s top 50 most watched sporting events in 2013 were NFL games. Even more impressive, every single one of the top 26 events was an NFL game.
Let’s start doing some math. There are only 11 playoff games in the NFL, and, unsurprisingly, 10 of them finished in the top 11 in ratings. The NFL also saw regular-season dominance, with 16 games in the top 26. Clearly, the NFL is at an entirely different level than its competition.
That gap is even more astounding when you look at the four non-NFL games that actually cracked the top 50. Coming in at No. 27 was the BCS Championship Game between Alabama and Notre Dame, Nos. 46 and 29 were Game 6 and Game 7 of the NBA Finals, respectively, and No. 39 was the NCAA men’s basketball final.
With the NBA requiring a tightly played final that included its most marquis team in the Miami Heat just to place two games on the list and the MLB and NHL missing out entirely, it might be time to get rid of the phrase “Big Four” to describe this country’s professional sports scene. A fairer description might be the “Giant One,” “Distant Second” and “People Watch These Leagues?”
It will be interesting to see how the NFL fares against stiffer competition with the World Cup and Sochi Winter Olympics coming up in 2014, but at least for now, this reign of terror seems safe.
And for those looking to change football or eliminate it entirely, good luck coming up with a strategy that can take down this behemoth. I’m stumped.
Sam Fisher prematurely assumed that the Broncos would beat the Chargers when he wrote this column. To tell him why he nearly jinxed the Broncos and propelled the Chargers to a comeback victory, contact him at safisher ‘at’ stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @SamFisher908.