A new decade of football is upon us. What’ll it bring? A premium on fat guys, for one thing. And more tweets from kickers. MATT TAIBBI’s guide to what’s in — and out — in the ’10s.
A new decade of football is upon us. What’ll it bring? A premium on fat guys, for one thing. And more tweets from kickers. A guide to what’s in — and out — in the ’10s.
By Matt Taibbi
The modern NFL has metamorphosed with each decade. We had the smashmouth ’70s dominated by the Steelers, the cerebral ’80s ruled by Bill Walsh, and the coke-and-strippers ’90s in which the Cowboys’ party monsters reigned supreme. As for the last decade, its shape was decided on September 23, 2001, when Jets linebacker Mo Lewis laid a savage hit on lumbering interception machine Drew Bledsoe, knocking him out of New England and setting up a 10-year rivalry between his Pope-visiting replacement Tom Brady and Indy’s good ol’ boy pitchman Peyton Manning.
The NFL became a passing league during the Brady-Manning decade, a period that ushered in rules changes that made it illegal to breathe on a quarterback or say unkind things to pass-catchers more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Referees in the 2000s looked at offensive holding the way on-the-take Chicago cops looked at rum-running in the ’20s. By 2009 it was so easy to complete passes that even then-Redskin Jason Campbell — a nice kid who couldn’t hit the life-size blue whale exhibit at New York’s Museum of Natural History from seven paces — threw for more than 3,600 yards. That would have led the league in 1978; in 2009 it was 14th.
Lax on-field regulation, easy scores, and grotesque stat inflation — the 2000s NFL was the perfect sport for the financial-bubble era. CEO-like GMs and head coaches were celebrated as much for their ability to manage the salary cap as for the way they sized up talent. The annual draft was peddled as a kind of sporting securities exchange where the whole country was invited to bet on penny stocks like Brandon Marshall and Marques Colston that might turn into on-field IBMs and Apples.
By the end of last season, the NFL was the most innovative and elaborate show on TV, a year-round entertainment concept that incorporates a half-dozen different reality-show plots: Survivor (on each cut-down date, five more players are voted off the island!), The Apprentice (which poor-sap coach will dictatorial schmuck Daniel Snyder impetuously fire this week?), The Bachelor (to whom will belle-of-the-ball free agents Karlos Dansby and Albert Haynesworth give their final roses?). The league even does a fantastic job of putting together its own round-the-clock version of Cops.
So what does the new decade hold? As the first season of the ’10s kicks off, we can already see the next sweeping changes:
Out: Running backs
Instead of remembering where they were when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, young people of this decade will recall where they were when Jahri Evans signed a contract for $57 million — which also happened to be the same day they whispered to themselves, “Who the hell is Jahri Evans?” The thing is, nobody knows who Jahri Evans is. Even guys who played with him during the Saints’ Super Bowl run need a minute to place the team’s starting right guard. “Good for him. I love his albums,” Reggie Bush said when asked about the Evans deal. Okay, I made that last part up, but the point is, NFL executives have discovered an eternal economic truth: Running backs burn out quick, while the anonymous fat guys they run behind last well into their 30s. Two signature last-decade moves were San Diego paying a superstar diva like LaDainian Tomlinson $8 million a year to turn into Mr. Magoo and soon-to-be ex-contender Seattle cutting vicious mauler Steve Hutchinson loose because, as the saying goes, “you can always find a guard.” The new exploitative-capitalist blueprint: Draft young running backs in the middle rounds, run the bastards into the ground while they’re still under their rookie deals, then shove them and their wrecked knees out the door and in the direction of the CFL. Meanwhile, re-sign scary-bearded guards like Alan Faneca and Logan Mankins to whopper contracts.
Out: Bill Belichick
In: Rex Ryan
This is a cyclical thing. The prototypical ’70s coach, John Madden, was a bellicose, overweight loudmouth. The prototypical ’80s coach, Bill Walsh, was an effete, self-congratulatory innovator/genius. The top ’90s coach: Bill Parcells, another fat, loud asshole. His successor last decade was Belichick, a glowering, maniacally suspicious introvert who dressed like a janitor and had a reputation as an eccentric mastermind. Now we’re back to Ryan, a croaking blowhard with the brains of an anteater and an awesome football physique: It looks like you could light-saber his gut and watch 40 pounds of White Castle burgers spill out. Still, it works for him, which is the point; football seesaws from being a tactical chess game to being, basically, a street fight that’s mostly about which team of oversize steroid freaks enjoys kicking the shit out of people the most. The modern Jets have brought the game back to street-fight mode, where it’ll probably stay for 10 years, until the next mean, bookish weenie takes over.