The National Football League has not done anything tedious or inconsequential, let alone provably consequential, since its annual draft 13 days ago. It is the company’s annual Comic-Con, and it is a great ratings hit. The belief is that if you slap the shield on anything you will attract a crowd, and for the most part that is true, proving yet again that the global apocalypse that returns planetary hegemony to the unicellulars is not only desirable but overdue.
But two weeks is roughly the outer limit for the league to go until it gets to its next inflatable nothing. Thus tomorrow brings us the grand reveal of the 2022 schedule. If the draft is Comic-Con, this is Roger Goodell’s moment to remind us of Benito Mussolini’s one alleged achievement: He made the trains run on time, even though as it turns out he didn’t even do that.
Goodell is just giving everyone the train schedule for the upcoming season. The folks who actually make the trains run on time are the network heads. Maybe Sean McManus (CBS), Jimmy Pitaro (ESPN), Jon Miller (NBC), Eric Shanks (Fox), Brian Rolapp (NFL Network) and all the other mammalian flotsam that bring you your Sunday heroin-and-eggs are the Mussolinii of which we speak. That is, if Mussolini is the apt comparison, which he isn’t, though the idea of comparing one of them to Mussolini would be a bit of a hoot just to see if they took it as a compliment.
Besides, the network heads have been breaking their own news this offseason by trading game broadcast teams frantically, and in Shanks’s case making sure that the Tom Brady line can stay financially solvent until the aliens come and turn the earth into the bottom of their intergalactic barbecue grill.
Let’s not be naive about Goodell’s role here. He has been in charge as the league has made every bit of its public business an announcement of extraordinary importance, while hiding all the things that should have its owners locked up under trade, tax, and trafficking laws. Whether it is his vision or one he just borrowed from some intern that ended up being Jack Easterby or someone else made entirely of smarm and packing tape, the NFL has perfected the inflation of the inconsequential … or at least the illusion of same. They still haven’t sold us all on the combine in the same way that Comic-Con isn’t for everyone.
But the schedule is the most brazen example of the art form, as we know the schedule format and we know the teams each team will play the day the previous regular season ends. It has become a staple of beat writers’ last-game-of-the-season notebooks so that everyone involved can spend less time in the locker room asking strangers about their groin pulls and more time at home not thinking about the appalling shambles their lives have become.
The only thing that happens Thursday is that we get to see the order in which the games are played, hurricanes and COVID permitting. We get to see which team gets the three-game road trip that allegedly destroys seasons even though the teams with three-game roadies last year were Cincinnati, Dallas, and Indianapolis, all of whom ended up with winning records, one with a trip to the Super Bowl. And we get to find out when our favorite team goes to Las Vegas, as long as our favorite team is Arizona, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New England, or San Francisco. Hotels and flights must be booked, children sold to cover expenses, etc.
But that’s it. The league has not yet figured out how to make this a homogenous three-day extravaganza in that one-size-fits-all way they have, but they drop the schedule in separate shards—the overseas games one day, the Thanksgiving Day Wall Of Football, the Christmas Nickelodeon Celebration Of The Birth Of Slime-Coated Santa another—knowing that the barking dogs at the various network shows will do the heavy lifting for them because, as their own ratings will tell you, Reds-Pirates isn’t going to lure many eyeballs. In fact, most of the schedules will be leaked by intrepid beat reporters who have sold chunks of their soul for a 20-minute exclusive on when the Ravens come to town.
Thursday is the last kind-of payoff because every team gets named, not just the big ones. In the litany of dates and times, all of which are fluid anyway since the networks can flex games to the Phantom Zone if they smell too much like Jags-Lions, your team will be mentioned 17 times, and you will have a phalanx of people explaining what it all means. (This year, the NFC teams will get the extra home game in the 17-game schedule, as an ongoing salute to the league’s ongoing “Yay! We Got 17 Games, And 17 Games Is Intolerable!” campaign.
But at its essence, it is still just a recitation of names and times, just like a train schedule. And like the combine. The one thing you can actually benefit from is that Vegas will have betting lines on all 272 games before sunset in the west. And yes, somewhere there is some chirpy creep Tweeting out “Only 120 days until FOOTBALL,” like they’re announcing the rollout of a new COVID vaccine, or more accurately the return of Satan. Thursday, September 8, 8:20 p.m. ET, don’t miss it.
It’s all so monstrously depressing—especially since we can’t accurately compare Roger Goodell to Benito Mussolini. We can’t even honestly compare Mussolini to the network guys who would come closer to Mussolini than Goodell if Mussolini weren’t actually just one more fascist grifter whose main contribution to global society was being hung upside down from a Milan lamppost by angry partisans. Which if you think of it might be the only remaining Super Bowl halftime show worthy of our attention.