Last night, I was part of the Seattle Times coverage team for the Seahawks’ game with the Philadelphia Eagles at Century Link Field. My job was to write an Eagles sidebar, in which I remembered at the last minute to use the word “locker room” instead of “clubhouse.” Old habits die hard.
Now, I enjoy pro football, and have since I was a kid. I covered a lot of football early in my career, including five Super Bowls. The Seattle Times actually hired me in 1996 to be the Seahawks beat writer, which I did for one season before moving back to baseball.
But it’s been quite awhile since I’ve covered an NFL game. Being at C-Link last night, I was struck by the dreadfully disjointed pace of the game, by the interminable delays, and by what I perceived to be a game long on standing around and short on meaningful action. Between commercial breaks, injury stoppage, replay reviews and just plain inactivity, I never felt the game achieved any sort of flow. In fact, I was moved in the fourth quarter to Tweet the following:
I was taken aback by the immediate and passionate response in the Twittersphere. I’m cognizant of the fact that the majority of people who follow me on Twitter do so because they are baseball fans, so they may well have a built-in bias. Yet many people — not everyone — agreed with me whole-heartedly. Several pointed me to a Wall Street Journal article from 2010 that studied four NFL broadcasts and determined that the average game features a grand total of 11 minutes of action. And, to be fair, the Wall Street Journal did a follow-up review of MLB broadcasts and found that the average baseball game features 14 minutes of action. Not much better, on the surface, though the article found that football had 67 minutes of standing around-time, about 21 minutes less than baseball. And in football, the ratio of inaction to action is approximately 10 to 1, according to WSJ. Sounds about right.
Yes, baseball has some interminable delays of its own (particularly when the Red Sox and Yankees play). I would maintain, however, that the inaction in baseball often helps build up the tension to a greater extent than in football, particularly in the late stages of a tight game. Game 6 of this year’s World Series may have had just 14 or 15 minutes of action, in the technical sense, but the final hour was non-stop drama. A baseball game is played out against a backdrop of strategical intrigue that’s much more accessible than in football. Fans in the stands can argue about whether to send a runner, or whether or not to intentionally walk the hitter, or whether the manager should pull the pitcher. There’s second-guessing and strategizing in football, of course, but not to nearly the same extent, I would maintain.
Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post wrote a famous piece in 1987 in which he gave 99 reasons why baseball is better than football. For the purpose of this post, I like No. 71: “A typical baseball game has nine runs, more than 250 pitches and about 80 completed plays — hits, walks, outs — in 2½ hours. A typical football game has about five touchdowns, a couple of field goals and fewer than 150 plays spread over three hours. Of those plays, perhaps 20 or 25 result in a gain or loss of more than 10 yards. Baseball has more scoring plays, more serious scoring threats and more meaningful action plays.”
I’m not here to dump on the NFL. It’s a great product. I spend many an enjoyable Sunday perched on the couch watching football. But for excitement and action, give me a baseball game any day.