The best weekend of football ever
Even without an extensive knowledge of the history of professional football, it would not be an overreach to call last weekend the greatest in the history of the NFL playoffs. That’s because all four of the divisional round playoff games were decided on their final play. All four games gave us a good long look at the sports’ past and future star quarterbacks, including losses by the senior guard Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers and an absolutely mind-blowing shootout between Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. You could have not watched a single NFL game all year and still been completely captivated by the 14 or so hours of television, which is a testament to the universality of the NFL product.
Until Sunday evening, most people would consider the Bucs loss to the Rams the most significant game of the weekend – unless you really, really hate Aaron Rogers, as many people do. Tampa’s defeat further ignited the question of Tom Brady’s retirement at the age of 44. That discourse ended when the Chiefs and Bills played what amounted to video game football for the final two minutes of regulation, culminating with Mahomes driving the Chiefs for a game tying field goal despite only getting the ball with 13 seconds left after a Bills kickoff – then scoring the winning touchdown in overtime’s first possession.
These four games may have been the first example of water cooler talk fare in years, for those of us that actually go to an office and feel comfortable using a communal water cooler. For the first time in what felt like forever, people woke up Monday morning and wanted to talk about what they saw. In the age of fractured audience, streaming platforms, and binge viewing at your leisure, that almost feels like we’re traveling back in time. These days, you’re lucky if you can find someone that watches the same shows as you, much less on the same day. We don’t even watch the same stuff in our own house – and definitely not in the same room.
So what can we take away from last weekend’s games, other than the four teams playing to go to the Super Bowl and that everyone in the US now seems to be an expert on the squib kick. I think there’s a few things. First, let’s put to bed this notion that the NFL would soon be on life support, a widely accepted theory just a few years ago. Not only are ratings good and new media partnerships awaiting, it’s also clear that the American public once so concerned with concussions and CTE have moved on to the next topic. The NFL has perfected the art and formula of American fandom, and they remain king until they aren’t.
Second, more than ever, America loves an underdog. Buffalo has somehow become America’s team, which is why everyone outside the Kansas City metropolitan area was viscerally distraught after the Bills assault on logic during the final 13 seconds of regulation. People cheered for the Bills because of its cursed sports past, losing four consecutive Super Bowls in the Jim Kelly era. Because it’s the second smallest NFL market after Green Bay, a post-industrial town that you only visit by necessity. As much as we find ourselves divided as a nation about really fundamental American truisms, at the very least, we’re all still a fan of the little guy who can’t catch a break. That’s free advice to anyone running in the midterms.
Finally, the cruel and unpredictable ending of all four games reminds us all that in sport, nothing is guaranteed. With 13 seconds to go and a three-point lead, the Buffalo Bills assumed they were on their way to a home AFC championship game against the Bengals and very likely a Super Bowl berth. The Packers assumed the same, largely dominating San Francisco on Saturday. And yet now they’re both at home, in freezing weather no less, with no guarantee they’ll make it back again next year – regardless of what any analyst tells you. Sports are a series of disparate events. Meaning this year’s near miss is no guarantee of next year’s hit. Just ask Dan Marino, who never saw the Super Bowl again after losing it in his first NFL season. That, more than anything, is why losses like these hurt so much.
Of course, for us sports fans not affiliated with one of the four losing teams, last weekend was painless. In fact, it may have been the best weekend of football ever.
Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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