ALSO THIS MONTH
Soft-spoken Canadian CART driver lived and died in the fast lane.
MARC CIAMPA, a native of St. Albert, Alberta, Canada is the staff sports writer for Renaissance Online Magazine. A student at the University of Alberta, Ciampa is the public relations coordinator for the St. Albert Saints and writes a weekly article in the Edmonton Sun on junior hockey during the winter. During the summer he runs the official Calgary Cannons website.
Is Parity Ruining the NFL?
A quick look at the current National Football League standings may make one decide to flip the newspaper upside down to try and make some sense of things.
Denver is in last place in the AFC West while Seattle is among the league leaders? Last year's AFC East Winner the New York Jets are floundering at the bottom this season while the NFL's worst team in 1998, the Indianapolis Colts, lead the AFC East and have the second-best record in the league.
Did the Atlanta Falcons make the Super Bowl last year? You wouldn't know it by their 2-9 record. Arizona and Green Bay are tied in the standings. The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost to both the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals. At home.
Parity is running rampant in the NFL. There is no other way to explain a season series sweep of the San Francisco 49ers by the St. Louis Rams. Going into this year the Rams had lost 17 straight times to San Francisco dating back to 1990.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, an expansion team only a few years ago, are 10-1 but they might be the least-feared 10-1 team in NFL history with a weak schedule that has seen them only play one team with a record above .500 (Tennessee, their only loss). They also struggled recently to beat the 4-7 Baltimore Ravens by a score of 6-3.
So this is what the NFL wanted. Any team can beat any other team in any given week. They allow teams finishing lower in the standings to draft first, give more difficult schedules to the so-called elite teams and institute salary caps.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of parity is the spectacular meltdown of the once-mighty San Francisco 49ers. The 'Niners have been dominant for almost two full decades but a trio of key injuries - a possible career-threatening concussion to QB Steve Young, as well as injuries to top receiver Terrell Owens and running back Garrison Hearst - has led to a seven-game losing streak heading into December.
A dynasty that has come to an even more abrupt end is that of the Denver Broncos. A force since the mid-80s, Denver was coming off a pair of Super Bowl victories. However, even they were not immune to equalization in the National Football League. The Broncos started off the season 0-4 and have struggled ever since.
After week 10, Boomer Esiason, ABC's Monday Night Football commentator and former NFL quarterback, analyzed the play of the Broncos, "The defense does not have the luxury this year of having big leads going into the fourth quarter, and what has happened is that they have given up the big play in selected games right at the end of games, which is what is killing them right now and has led them to the 3-7 record."
Jim Kelly, the quarterback during the Bills' recent dynasty, agrees: "That's what's making all the parity the league. Usually, all the teams that held on in the third and fourth quarter are not doing that, and Denver is a very good example."
The only two constants this NFL season have been, as mentioned, the parity running rampant around the league and second, the bad football to which the fans have been subjected week in and week out. This begs the question: are the two related?
New York Giants running back Tiki Barber seems to think so. "A far as football being tough to watch," he said, "it is due to the parity in the league."
It is highly likely, then, that more importantly than causing a collapse of the Denver and San Francisco super powers, parity has led to a season of horrible football games. 8-2 Miami visits 5-5 Dallas and proceeds to lose 20-0? The game was worse than it looks, too. The score was 0-0 at the half.
When ABC scheduled Green Bay vs. San Francisco for a Monday night game at the end of November, they were expecting to see a classic, but they got was a mess instead. Green Bay won a mistake-filled catastrophe, 23-3. In fact, despite attempting to optimize the schedule to gain the best matchups, ABC's Monday Night Football has been a horrible exhibition of ineptitude and lopsidedness all season long.
Whether or not parity is good for football may be ultimately answered when nobody tunes in to watch a Seattle vs. St. Louis Super Bowl on January 30.
* * * *
PICTURE of Kurt Warner copyright ©1999 St. Louis Rams