Football has tough act to follow

By The Columbia Chronicle

Rob Steva

Sports Editor

I must have missed something. Now I remember what it was — the first five weeks of the NFL season. Somewhere lost in the shuffle of Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and the Cubs, football started, but who would have known it and who really cares?

Sports fans, we have been spoiled. Baseball has dug itself out of the hole it fell into in 1994. It created a bandwagon claiming the attention of people who would normally think that Babe Ruth is a candy bar. It rekindled the relationship with society, bringing truth back to the phrase “America’s National Pastime.” Most importantly it made us all realize that certain baseballs are worth broken bones, black eyes and lawsuits. In the end, this summer brought an unforgettable sequence of memories that are sure to be passed down from generation to generation.

This could be a problem. At least for the NFL it could be. As anybody knows, the end of baseball only means one thing — the beginning of football. After coming off such an emotional roller-coaster, brace yourself for what could be a very disapointing football season. For one reason or another, football seems to be as exciting as listening to Dave Wannstedt fumble over excuses as to why his team lost again.

Before denial sets in, be realistic. Outside of a handful of players, there really isn’t anyone else worth the price of admission. In contrast, baseball has Mark McGwire, hockey still has Wayne Gretzky, and basketball has that Jordan guy, or so we hope. For some of us gridiron gurus this may be a tough one to swallow. To say that the NFL season will be a disappointment might just be a preconceived notion, but early indications lead to channel surfing your Sunday’s away.

It’s this simple — the NFL has a very tough act to follow. Its reputation of having a league of alcoholics and drug users who probably couldn’t spell role model, let alone be one, is increasing. Players like Dick Butkus, Joe Montana, and Walter Payton are few and far between. Those “throwback” players went out and did their job because that is what they were paid to do. Today there’s a game within a game: Who has the best end zone celebration. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out if Deion Sanders is playing football or auditioning for “Riverdance.” Enough already with the Lambeau leaps and the mile-salutes. Just play the game the way it was meant to be played.

What makes this all the more difficult is that this city’s ties to the game are starting to unravel. On a sunny, 60-degree day last week, there were more than 11,000 empty seats at Soldier Field. If you listen carefully you can hear owner Michael McCaskey’s annual threat to move the team out of Chicago. Despite the no-shows last Sunday, Bears marketing director Ken Valdiserri was bold enough to say, “The interest level has been there at least from a ticket standpoint.”

During the mid 80s, the Bears popularity far exceeded that of the Bulls. One Michael Jordan, one Scottie Pippen and six NBA titles later, Valdiserri still feels that the Bears win the popularity contest over the Bulls. Comments like these make us realize why the Bears are the way they are.

Something good, something unbelievable and something like never before needs to happen to keep football fans interested — especially Bears fans. If that something doesn’t happen, the letters NFL could soon stand for Not For Long.