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Column: When did football become No. 1?

By By Josh Taylor / staff writer
Aug. 31, 2003
I once heard someone say that baseball is America's pastime, but football is America's passion. As I sat and watched Indianapolis and Denver pound it out in
yet another preseason game it got me thinking. When did football surpass baseball as America's favorite sport?
Pro baseball had a good 50-year head start in the national spotlight. The nation spent years chanting names like Ruth, DiMaggio, and Cobb. These were just a few of our first sports legends and superstars.
Pro football did not come into national prominence until Super Bowl III in the late 1960s. A kid named Joe helped push the New York Jets and the NFL into the
hearts of all Americans in a 'Rocky' like style.
The obvious answer would be the MLB player strikes in the mid 1990s. MLB commissioner Bud Selig has definitely received his fair share of criticism over this.
The strikes made it painfully obvious to all of us that Major League Baseball had taken a turn. It had become more about the money and less about the fans.
The NFL of the 1990s went the opposite direction.
Changing the free agency rules allowed players to have more control over their careers while also making every team a potential Super Bowl contender. This is an important part of it.
Dynasties have long been a part of sports. This has come to rule pro baseball over the last decade. How many titles have the Yankees won? I don't know. I lost count. The good side of dynasties is upsets. It's always fun to pull for the little guy, especially when he wins. It was great watching the Anaheim Angels win the big one. The rally monkey was fun to watch too.
But, there is a bad side to dynasties. When you already know who will win, why watch? Television ratings actually go down when the Yankees are on World Series number three or the Lakers are pounding on the Pacers, again. People lose interest.
As I said before, the changes to free agency in the NFL have led to Super Bowl teams in a single turnaround year. It all started with the St. Louis Rams. They were done before the season even started when their star quarterback went down. Out of nowhere came Kurt Warner and 'The greatest show on turf.' Warner himself was unseated a few years later by a largely unknown Patriots team led by a young Tom Brady. The team that invented losing, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, actually won a Super Bowl.
The point here is that without dynasties in the NFL, there is always hope that your team will be the one this year to go all the way. The last dynasty in the NFL was the Dallas Cowboys of the mid 1990s and it will probably be a long time before we see one again.
Major League Baseball doesn't have this. Does anyone really think that the Detroit Tigers might win next year's World Series? I didn't think so.
Another component people always mention is that our society has become more violent and so has our entertainment. Football is definitely more violent
than baseball, but if this theory were true, hockey would be the most-watched sport.
Another problem baseball has is the sheer number of games. An NFL season lasts exactly 16 games per team.
An MLB season lasts 162 games per team. Who has the time anymore to keep up with all of that.
A smart man once told me that baseball is a game of anticipation. It's all about situations. Two out, bottom of the ninth, down by one. This is the anticipation that makes baseball great. On the other hand, baseball is a very slow game. Americans have very short attention spans. The long drawn out drama of baseball makes it less involving.
Football is all about speed. The clock is always running. Baseball doesn't even have a clock. This is also why pro basketball has become more popular. I'll admit that Michael Jordan also had a large part in that, but the fans wouldn't stay around unless it was good entertainment. Good, fast entertainment.
I think baseball is a great game, but maybe not number one. I got sucked
into the McGwire-Sosa drama just like everyone else, but when it was over I went back to football.
Pro baseball does have one good thing still going for it. It's a great filler between football seasons. But then again, I may be a little biased.