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ONE BIG GAME AWAY.
May 25, 2001

by Bill Hogan

 

 
 

The NBA and NHL playoffs are in full swing and getting interesting, so, let's talk football! Everyone else is.

The NFL owners, this week, realigned the NFC and AFC conferences. It's good for the league, they say. It's best for everyone, they say.

 
 

It's more geographically sound, they say. And, they were able to make this swift decision without disrupting "old rivalries".

The Seattle Seahawks were one team not in favor of the approved format. It forced them to move from the AFC west to the NFC west. Coach Mike Holmgren wanted to stay put and maintain the Seahawks current rivalries.

Of what rivalries does Holmgren speak? Is there any team that reads the upcoming schedule and circles the Seahawks when identifying their team's key match ups?

Truth be told, playing a team twice a year does not make that team a rival. It makes them an opponent.

From a fan's perspective (which is the only one I can give), it's not how many times two teams play that rates them as rivals.

The reason Dallas-Washington is a rivalry is because there always seems to be something on the line for one team or the other (or both) when they face each other.

Cleveland and Cincinnati play twice a year, every year. That's not a rivalry, that's monotony.

The Broncos and Chargers meet each other annually for a home-and-home. Not a rivalry - that's a glutton.

One big game. That's all it takes for fans and local news reporters to elevate an opponent's status to that of "rival".

"The Drive"* orchestrated by John Elway in the 1987 AFC Championship game propelled the Broncos into Super Bowl XXII and sent the Cleveland Browns home. (The Broncos handed the Browns a similar fate in the 1986 AFC Championship).

Two minutes in the "Dog Pound" would convince any current Bronco player that Browns fans consider any future match-up a rivalry.

The folks up in Buffalo are still reeling about the "Music City Miracle" of 1999 when the Titans won a first round playoff game against their Bills on the last play of the game.

Instant rivalry.

The Baltimore Ravens spent two weeks in Tampa trash-talking before Super Bowl XXXV, then had the audacity to go on the field and back up every word. I'll bet that teed off a Giants fan or two (how 'bout a couple of million that can't wait to circle the Ravens on a regular season schedule - twice).

Instant rivalry.

These days, players come and go. As do coaches, general managers and even owners. The only constant is the fan. The fan will dictate their team's biggest rivals, not the schedule and not the realigned divisions.

The fan remembers, and a new - or old - rivalry is only one big game away.

* * * * *

The owners needed to put all these teams into divisions, and the geographic alignment theory is as good as any, but they passed up the opportunity to create a real stir among football fans.

Imagine the buzz in Northern California if Oakland and San Francisco were in the same division. Al Davis would be the most hated man on both sides of the Bay Bridge.

How many extra police officers would need to be hired each fall in New York City if the Giants and Jets played a home-and-home (at the same home?) each season - and were playing for a divisional title instead of bragging rights?

(The answer to the above question is none. The games would be played in New Jersey!)

Kansas City and St. Louis are about 200 miles apart. Close off I-70 for a couple of hours two Sundays each fall and you could have the world's biggest block party when these division "rivals" meet each other.

Pittsburgh and Cleveland - straight up (or down) I-76 for the visiting team, a brief detour to Canton on the way for inspiration andů.o.k., they got that one right.

Two meetings between the Ravens and Redskins each season would cause a beltway ruckus that would make the Bush-Gore demonstrations look like a Cub Scout jamboree.

Houston will have a team in 2002. They'll be working hard to build a winning program as well as a loyal audience. Who would be a better geographic "rival" than America's team from Dallas. The Cowboys, too, are working hard to build a winning program.

In case you were wondering, the drive from Houston to Dallas is under four hours - about a half-tank of gas in your average pickup (unless you're towing a horse trailer).

Imagine the kudos the NFL would receive from environmental groups for their energy conservation efforts. There may even be a government subsidy in it for them.

* * * * *

* I'm going to assume that, unless you are very young, or a recent immigrant (in which case, welcome to United States football) you know about "The Drive". Otherwise, you can probably get the details from any sportsfan over the age of 24.

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