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Archive for Friday, August 18, 2006

NFL exhibitions are prime-time slime

August 18, 2006

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We've already heard John Madden, seen Ben Roethlisberger and smelled Dallas 13, Seattle 3 - an exercise that featured one touchdown, three field goals and five fumbles.

And, let's see, we're still not yet officially halfway through August. So folks, it's time again to ask the question that has only one answer but millions of heads nodding in unison.

Are you ready for some faux ball?

The NFL just returned to your living room with "Monday Night Football," a title technically correct since the game was played on a Monday, at night and with a football. But this latest edition of Raiders-Vikings was less prime-time than it was prime-slime.

There's nothing quite like the NFL's exhibition season, by which we mean there is nothing quite like watching has-been receivers drop passes thrown by quarterbacks who never were. NFL games in August are as close to NFL games in September as Vince McMahon is to Vince Lombardi.

Yet, the events are still dressed up in fireworks, theatrical music and broadcasters dramatically shouting despite the fact their mouths are two inches from a microphone powerful enough to pick up the heartbeat of a tomato plant.

People, listen please, this is bad television, painfully bad television. This is poor programming like Chevy Chase's talk show was poor programming. Personally, we'd rather watch "Wilford Brimley Gone Wild."

Then again, Monday's entertainment lineup included an offering on HGTV titled "Simply Quilts." So with roughly 900 channels to fill, there's something for everyone ... and something for no one, as well.

Just how powerful is the NFL's appeal? Oakland's phony dance with Philadelphia on Aug. 6 drew a 6.8 share for NBC; only two shows all week had higher ratings.

That means more than 10 million people tuned in for the chance to see Marques Tuiasosopo complete 5 of 15 attempts and compile a passer rating of 19.6.

Are you really that ready for some football? Are you so desperate you'll settle for watching a seventh-round pick out of Saginaw Valley try to beat out an undrafted free agent from Shipwreck State?

Evidently, yes. The Packers this month drew 62,701 for a scrimmage. Really, they sold out Lambeau Field for a rehearsal designed to prepare the team for all the other rehearsals still to come.

By comparison, the Milwaukee Brewers in May had a three-game home series against Philadelphia that attracted 62,885. And those games all counted, as much as any Brewers games have counted the past two decades. Is it the football that turns you on or the fact the next play could result in a maiming? Because even if the games are counterfeit, the injuries are as genuine as any compound fracture.

(If you want to talk entertaining, how about the setback suffered Saturday by New Orleans quarterback Adrian McPherson? He incurred a bruised knee when he was hit by a golf cart, a golf cart driven by Tennessee's mascot, T-Rac, who, inexplicably, is a raccoon. McPherson left the field under his own power; so did the golf cart.)

Also too-real is the money they charge to witness something too-fake. The Chargers will play Seattle in San Diego on Aug. 26. The cheapest tickets are $54. Or, at least, they were $54, before selling out. The cheapest tickets available now, according to Ticketmaster, are $74, plus a $6.75 "convenience charge."

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