Boxing Day in the EPL, and why the NFL bores the shit out of me...

Well, was that the greatest Boxing Day as a whole, or what? Usually, from what I could tell, Boxing Day served a noble purpose: getting all the dreary 0-0 draws out of the way all on one day, allowing the rest of the season to have the goals we love so much. However, the goals were flying in from everywhere this year, including a "major upset" that isn't so major if you do the smart thing, and not listen to all the know-it-all pundits out there.

Anyone who actually, you know, pays attention could tell you that Charlton Athletic is a dangerous squad. They have a should-be England international (Scott Parker) in the center of the park, a fantastic goalkeeper in Dean Kiely, and a very solid back four to go along with a hard-working midfield. They don't have a true scoring threat, which is why they won't be challenging Arsenal or Manshit United anytime soon. However, on any one given day, they are certainly a side that any intelligent manager does NOT want to face. I've been saying this all season (go on...check the archives of this very blog), and they certainly have as much chance as Fulham or Southampton or Newcastle of finishing fourth.

That reminds me of something else, before I get to the actual match. Pundits amuse me...greatly. Most of them are former players, or at least guys that probably watch a lot of football. However, it's just like the pundits we have here...in sports, politics, movies, or anything else -- you have to take what they say with the entire shaker of salt. The biggest mistake these types usually make is a fascinating reliance on inertia...which is fine for a physics test, but not so much in sports or politics or life in general. Just because Chelsea or Manshit United or even Arsenal win most of the time, it's treated as a league-altering event any time they so much as get a draw with anyone outside that group of three. Now, unless it's Manshit United in one of the Championship Manager games, any squad in real life is going to lose 4-5 matches, and draw at least 4-5. Out of a 38 game season, even a top-three side is going to drop points a tad more than one quarter of the time. And, any real fan that watches a zillion matches a year knows where the real potential land mines are...Charlton, Bolton (this season, anyway), Everton when Wayne Rooney is healthy, any relegation-threatened squad towards the end of the season, etc. But, look at any match preview, and it may as well be saying: "Well, Chelsea will most likely stroll into the Valley and beat Whatstheirnames 9-0."

Well bucko, it doesn't work that way most times...especially against one of those aforementioned landmine teams like Charlton. Chelsea may have had a Christmas hangover, maybe they read one too many idiot hack pundits who continue to rate Charlton as favorites for the drop (The hell?! I'd love to see the reasoning behind that besides the Selig-esque "OMG THEIR STADIUM IS SMALLISH AND THEY ONLY HAVE ONE STAR LOL." Whatever the case was, their defense was a shambolic disgrace, their midfield dominated possession but never actually DID much with it, and their strikers wasted most of the chances they got (and, it wasn't even a case of Kiely being god-like today...he was only "really good"). When it was all said and done, the Addicks thumped Chelsea to the tune of 4-2, and it perhaps should have been even more.

What struck me about Charlton's performance is that they play a total team game...their passing is intelligent as well as breathtaking at times...their defense refuses to give an inch, and when they do get beaten, Dean Kiely is there to mop up most of the mistakes. Striking-wise, Jonaton Johannson and Jason Euell aren't going to strike the same kind of fear in the hearts of men that Theirry Henry, Hernan Crespo, or Ruud van Divingprick do, but they tend to take enough chances to keep Charlton up towards the elite. I watched the Dallas-Sacramento NBA game on Christmas, and when Sacramento was really going (minus their big stars, Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic), they struck me a lot like Charlton does...the passing, the pressing defense, the total team game (how the HELL did the Kings manage to lose that one, anyway?) So, good on you, Charlton! I would love nothing better than to see them or Newcastle finish fourth...hell, the way Chelsea played, maybe third and fourth respectively. Heh!

As for the Arsenal, they're not going to be on TV this round, sadly...not even on a delayed basis. However, they easily dispatched Wolves 3-0, while the filthy drug-test-missing Manks won 3-2 against Everton. So, status quo in first and second places, while Chelsea loses ground in third (and, coincidentally, also loses ground towards the 4th and 5th clubs, as Charlton moved to 5th with the win, and 4th-placed Fulham won against Southampton).

Now, as for the NFL...I don't know if I mentioned it in this space before, but I have the NFL package on DirecTV, thanks to the promotion they were doing when we signed on (first 4 months free, all we had to do was get the package, which worked out to be cheaper). And, for about 4 or 5 weeks now, I think I've watched one quarter's worth of American football. It's not that I despise the game now...I've been a fan since the Joe Montana days, and football's given me no small amount of enjoyment over the years. But, as I've grown, and been introduced to many of the world's sports, I find it just can't compete in my mind with the real football, or ice hockey, or rugby, and even basketball these days (and I've always been a supremely casual fan at best).

Here's why, explained to the best of my ability.

-- It's sllllooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow. I love how mainstream sports media types are quick to jump on soccer, because they equate low scoring with boredom (not that they've watched a match in their life, I bet). But, in soccer, and rugby especially, there is ALWAYS something going on. The clock doesn't stop, play doesn't stop, there's only breaks in play when really necessary, and the action is fast and continuous. In American football, there's one play every 40 seconds, and each play only averages a few seconds in length. How's that for excitement? On top of that, when a coach calls for an instant replay, it takes longer than a UN meeting. In rugby, they look at a few angles, and make a fucking decision.

-- It has a childish mentality. At this point in my life, I can't get into a sport where defensive players (and both sets of linemen) brag about injuring others, while offensive players live only to show up the opposition. American football players and fans alike buy into the idea that this mentality equates to toughness, and that's why everything else (especially soccer) are "pussy sports". That's about two or three steps down the evoultionary scale, isn't it? For the record, rugby is just as "tough" as American football, with the added bonus that they have no equipment, and play two halves of 40 minutes...straight, with none of this "9 substitutions every play" that American football has. Anyone who says soccer's a pussy sport should be sentenced to 90 minutes of getting slide-tackled and "accidentally" elbowed in the face by Roy Keane, or Robbie Savage, or Patrick Vieira. Also, these are the types that probably haven't run 90 minutes in their entire life, let alone the span of one match. Get back on your couch and keep swilling that lite beer, football-boy. Not only that, but the way the football community treats its kickers and punters is absolutely atrocious. Both are highly-specialized skills, that are crucially important in any game. Any NFL coach will tell you that field position is vitally important, and punters are right at the crux of that battle. Also, look at any list of most points scored in a career....know who populates the entire top of that list? Why, kickers, of course! Ishn't that veerd? They get treated like absolute shit most of the time, and especially when they happen to miss an important kick. But, they're the first to get mobbed by their teammates when they do make that all-important kick. John Hall makes a 50+-yard field goal against the Raiders to get the Jets into the playoffs what...two seasons ago? And now, he's on the Redskins? How does THAT work? Go down to your local high school sometime, and try to make a fucking extra point, without even another team trying to block it, let alone kick even a 35-yard field goal. Meanwhile, field position and kicking are just as important in rugby, but flyhalves and people who can nail conversions and penalty goals are just as big of stars as anyone else...maybe even more so (JONNY~! WILKINSON~!). In soccer, the tough d-mid who gets stuck in and wins loose balls is just as revered by real fans as the guy who scores 30 goals, and just as much as the brilliant goalkeeper, or the central midfield engine that every play has to go through at some point. Also, you won't see any cell phones or pom-poms or plain general malice in soccer or rugby celebrations. When a goal or a try is scored, you see something that usually relates pure, child-like exuberance. The day Terrell Owens runs around with his shirt over his head doing the airplane thing with his arms....well, no sense finishing that thought...it'll never happen (and hey, I LIKE Owens). It's fun to watch someone from Cameroon or South Korea or Italy celebrate a goal...much more so than some cynical multi-millionare prick, at any rate.

- Enforced parity. Godfuckingdammit, this is the worst. Any league that essentially passively punishes you for running your team well is a crock, a joke, and any other synonym you want to throw out there. While it can be frustrating in soccer that many leagues have those two or three teams that are always up near the top, you have to tip your hat to them...they're up there for a reason. It's like in baseball...the Yankees' best players tend to be the ones they produce on their own, through their scouting and youth development. Also, for the ones they do pay top dollar for, they tend to make their top dollar go further than, say, the Rangers' top dollar (and, interestingly enough, that fits for Rangers of both the Texas AND New York varieties).

- The X-Boredom Factor. You want to say soccer is boring because scores are lower than many sports? Fine. Be that way. But, please be so kind as to explain how football is better, when boring-as-hell squads like the Baltimore Ravens and this year's Carolina Panthers often tend to be among the most successful. The most fun-to-watch team this year is definitely the Kansas City Chiefs, but they're not going to go far in the playoffs, are they? I bet you the Super Bowl is going to have at least one of these Baltimore-Carolina type teams that offensively are about as fun as watching paint dry. Seriously, how does any football fan in one of these cities make the "soccer is boring" argument with a straight face?

- The Super Bowl. Taking out the St. Louis-Tennessee masterpiece of a few years ago, when was the last exciting Super Bowl? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? I STILL have nightmares about the Baltimore-NY Giants game, the blowouts that perpetuated the '90s (well, I'll be honest and say excepting San Fran's demolition of San Diego...they ARE my team, after all), and even the late 80s (any Super Bowl the Broncos were in up until the Mike Shanahan era, for example). I think the last good Super Bowl before the St. Louis-Tennessee one was the San Fran-Cincinnati one, although my memory IS bad these days. Meanwhile, when was the last good FA Cup final? Oh, right...last year, when brave Southampton very easily could have beaten the mighty Arsenal if things had gone differently. The Rugby World Cup final was perhaps the most exciting game in any sport I've ever seen, with a finish better than almost any scripted pro wrestling match I've ever seen. A drop goal (the hardest scoring play in rugby) to break a deadlock with the last seconds of extra time expiring? If it were in a movie, you'd deem it ridiculous and corny. In real life, it's a all-too-rare blinding bit of magic.

- It's so bloody American. And, I don't mean that as a knock on America in any way shape or form. I love America, and I love being American...most of the time. It's just that when a sport is only played by one country, it loses a lot of credibilty to me, as I see myself as much more a citizen of the world, rather than a citizen of just America. I find myself being drawn more and more to games that many countries play. I love how, if you can get past the language barrier, I could talk soccer with someone from Papua New Guinea, rugby with someone from South Africa, basketball with someone from Angola, baseball with someone from Japan, ice hockey with someone from Belarus, etc etc etc. To the rest of the world, American football is a bastardized, less-interesting version of rugby, and I can't say I disagree.

So, there you have it. If this makes me a pussy, or an idiot, then so be it. Arsenal-Southampton live on Fox Sports World this Monday for me, please.


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