There were eight touchbacks in last night’s Bills/Broncos game. Every time Denver kicked off the Bills started from their own 20 yard line.
Each time someone scored, it was in your best interest if you left the room and found something better to do for five minutes. If not, you would be forced to sit through a set of commercials. Then a touchback. Then another set of commercials.
You would have passed out from the boredom, and maybe bumped your head on something sharp and heavy when you slumped over in your chair. Blood would have been everywhere. It would not have been pretty.
If you are Lady Macbeth-ing your living room carpet this morning, maybe you noticed the NFL has changed its kickoff rules this season. You also may have noticed that special teams coaches and downright jazzed about the modifications.
If you are out of OxyClean, however, you may not be so enthused.
This isn’t about the touchback prowess of Matt Prater, either. Denver’s backup kicker booted one so far out of the end zone he may have impaled a Broncos fan in the seventh row. It was a minefield out there. Camera crews just gave up on following the ball at one point, just to avoid televising the carnage at Mile High.
Touchbacks are stupid and, while practical, offer little entertainment to anyone. No one likes being practical, that’s no fun. The more astute point, perhaps, is that no one likes watching someone else be practical.
A touchback is watching someone hold five dollars in their hand in front of a casino. A kick return is watching someone put that five bucks down on 23 or tossing it into a slot machine. Hey man, it’s not my money. Let me watch you live a little.
The rule changes are with player safety in mind, something that will be reason for a number of modifications over the next few years. Taking care of players is difficult to argue against, which is a big part of why it will be bandied about so frequently. If you value players as human beings who have families and a brief time on this planet, you must support player safety.
The problem is that fans don’t look at players as human during the game. On game days players are mere cogs in the entertainment football is intended to provide. It’s not inhumane but simply part of the mindset necessary to enjoy football. On the field players are not human; they are extraordinary specimens that make up a team intended to bring you joy but often leave you disappointed.
Taking five yards off the field on kickoffs doesn’t fix everything, though. Just last night you saw one Bills player get carted off the field on a routine play and another laying prone for several minutes after an overthrown ball left him vulnerable on the sidelines.
This isn’t the last change that will be made in the name of player safety because football is not a democracy.
National Football League, American football is not ruled by popular vote or groundswell opinion. It is ruled by television revenues and the slow, grinding wheels of legislative evolution. It is less innovation than it is patience, banging your head against the wall until someone notices you’ve made progress.
Fans have no part in that, and with this in mind it’s clear that they don’t matter. Look at the way the game has changed and it’s obvious the fans don’t matter as much as the league would have you believe. Go to a game and consider all the sitting around and doing nothing. Break after break while the viewers at home are subject to beer companies and movie trailers.
Football, a sport designed as a homage to war, has slowly morphed into a commercially optimized version of community pride. These days it is less battlefield and more runway or shopping mall. In the process, it has become the biggest and most profitable sport in the country.
There is nothing we can do about the enormous amount of touchbacks we’re going to see this fall. I’d suggest putting all that extra time to better use. Bring a book to the Ralph or surf the web on your phone. Say something funny on Twitter. Maybe start a game of Madden to grind out during all that down time.
If you do break out the controller, make sure you get some kick returns in there. Take some risks, because we sure as hell won’t see many once we break from commercial.