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IMHO: A Lapsed Football Fan’s Holiday Wishes

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 1/4/2019 4:21:41 PM
Modified: 1/4/2019 4:21:45 PM

Dear Santa:

I know, I know. I’m a bit last-minute getting this out. But you know how skilled I am at procrastination. I never get around to it until someone actually gives me a round tuit.

And, yes, I know it’s going to be another list of sports items I’d like to see under my tree come the morning. As someone who knows me as well as you do, none of this should come as a surprise.

Please understand that I’m so grateful for your help in bringing the Stanley Cup to Washington last June. It was a gift 44 years of frustrated Capitals fandom in the waiting — yeah, you procrastinate as well as I do, but you certainly make up for it in the end.

In spite of that, for someone who claims to be as blasé about football as I am, I seem to be fixated on that sport’s many ills this holiday season. So please indulge me as I run down my Christmas wish list. I hope you can make every one of these come true:

A muzzle for Scott Zolak. When it comes to on-air technique, the former New England Patriots quarterback and current color commentator may be the worst analyst in the history of radio. He cuts off more people than a Massachusetts driver on a New Hampshire interstate. His blatant boosterism brings back unpleasant Johnny Most flashbacks. If he was in my booth, I’d throw him into the stands. (Sorry, Santa, please don’t put me on the naughty list for that remark.) A scholarship for Zolak to attend broadcasting school would be a suitable alternative.

A new identity for the Washington Redskins. You know you have a problem when a conservative like Charles Krauthammer calls your mascot racist. Beyond that, Santa, Dan Snyder’s two-decade stewardship has greatly damaged the franchise, one that in its glory days guaranteed home sellouts and playoff trips like your annual visits. Lately, Snyder has been reportedly busy with back-door governmental maneuvers in order to secure a sweetheart land deal to build a new stadium when he’s not signing players (see: Reuben Foster) of dubious moral character. (Just a few of the reasons why an Associated Press columnist recently labeled the Redskins the worst franchise in sports.) Please swap the Redskins’ history with that of the Washington Federals, the capital’s dreadful United States Football Legaue team (seven wins in 36 games) of 1983-84. At least then the team’s only shame would come from its on-field performance.

A bigger College Football Playoff field. A four-team draw was a good start, but the tournament — if it can be called that — has metastasized into Alabama, Clemson and two guests from a limited field of candidates. With the NCAA having long ago abdicated jurisdiction over Division I-A football, five greedy conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC) have monopolized the major college scene at the expense of the rest. (And please, Santa, don’t get me wound up about the bowl system.)

The Football Bowl Subdivision needs a minimum 16-school tournament field; reduce the regular season to 10 games if school presidents are so concerned about interfering with class time. (They aren’t, not with so much TV money rolling into their coffers.) If the Football Championship Subdivision (24 teams) and Divisions II (28) and III (32) can do it, so can the big boys. Speaking of which …

Ivy League teams in the FCS postseason. An office colleague of mine went slightly off the rails the past couple of weeks as Maine, his alma mater, advanced to the FCS semifinals for the first time. I couldn’t help but think how much Princeton and Dartmouth deserved the same opportunity this year, but they still can’t go because of their stuck-in-the-mud administrations.

Ivy presidents will argue reduced academic time for football players to the moon, yet their hockey programs have to take finals as they play out their conference tournaments and, sometimes, as they’re in the NCAAs. If every other Ivy sport can have a postseason, football can — and should — as well. (BTW, Santa, my office partner-in-crime says thank you on behalf of the Black Bears.)

Grace from Patriots fans. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that, as last week dawned, the six most comforting words you could say to a Patriots fan would be, “Buffalo at home; Jets at home.”

It appears that the reign of the region’s NFL team is on the wane: The king is showing flaws, his prince is slowing down before our eyes and the knights are continuing to founder in the same ways as in recent campaigns. If this run is indeed ending, Santa, please grant fans the perspective that this franchise can’t be great forever and the humility to realize it’s been a special ride. And the Cowboys still stink. (Sorry; see previous naughty list worry.)

A more humane response to concussions. Sad to say it, but with few exceptions (Buddy Teevens and Dartmouth come to mind), the adults in professional and college football have failed on the concussion front. Instead, leadership seems to be coming from the lower levels: Vermont-sanctioned flag football in middle school, coaches teaching proper tackling techniques, things like that.

That means we could be waiting many years — decades, perhaps — before football becomes legitimately safer to play; I call it the “trickle-up” theory. The NFL seems more interested in limiting its financial liability than assisting depleted former players who gave their bodies, and brains, to the game years ago. They deserve better. We deserve better.

I apologize, Santa, if I come off as a downer. This should be a season of joy, but there are so many things bothersome about a game I once loved that I’m afraid only you can fix it.

Someone should care. Maybe someone will. Eventually.

Safe travels from your friend …

Greg Fennell, who can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226. After he opens his presents first, of course.




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