11 Reasons the NFL's Offseason Is Better Than Any Other Sport
There's a reason why one of the most common phrases attached to the National Football League is "there is no offseason." Even if you count preseason as part of the regular season—season-ticket holders who get charged full price for preseason games will agree with you there—that's 26 weeks or half the year.
That leaves half the year without games, which, for most sports, would be a dark time. In the NFL, there's always something new on the way.
Every event associated with the NFL gets hype beyond comparison. The fact that fans got excited by a recent unveiling of new Nike uniforms shows that if you're into this sport, you are all in.
The following 11 pages will demonstrate the reasons that the NFL's offseason can compare with the regular season in any other sport.
This year was a little more hyped than the average free-agency period when the Colts said good-bye to Peyton Manning and the craziest bidding war in league history was the result. This time of year is always full of surprises, as Mario Williams to the Bills was a shock.
When the season ends, anything is possible, and a team spending a lot of money on a free agent excites the fanbase. A lot of the time, like the "Dream Team" pickups from the Eagles last year, it doesn't result in on-field results.
Because there are no win-loss records associated with free agents, every team can feel closer to a championship, whether by signing a player for nine figures or standing pat.
Announcing the Schedule
This could be the only reason and it would be enough to assure non-fans that fans are obsessive about the league. One smart thing the league does is not let fans know when it's going to announce the schedule until less than a week before it happens.
The unknown drives fans crazy.
The NFL Network dedicated a three-hour program to unveiling this year's schedule on April 17. Fans already knew who their teams were playing, just not the exact date.
They cared not. Excitement was through the roof.
The NFL draft has become the ultimate reality show. It used to run all day Saturday and only the most dedicated fans would watch. Now it's required viewing, covered wall-to-wall by two different networks.
It's not just the three-day draft that catches the fan's attention. It's the buildup. Andrew Luck was projected to be the number one pick if he had come out last year. When the Washington Redskins traded three first-round and one second-round picks to the St. Louis Rams in order to have the opportunity to draft Robert Griffin III, it changed two franchises.
Once again, every team gets an opportunity to play on draft weekend, and every follower of the league ends the weekend satisfied, except for Jet fans.
Players on Twitter
NFL players can be more interactive than ever with fans through social media. This is good for the fans and a potential headache for front offices. It's as easy as a Google search.
Some players tweet what they're having for lunch, how their latest workout went, or even what glamorous vacation spot they're visiting. Others do struggle with the English language.
The final advantage of Twitter is getting to see Tweets like this from Rob Gronkowski.
There's only one channel that can get you your NFL fix 24 hours a day, seven days a week: the NFL Network.
Their programming doesn't always work (the top 100 players is barely worth a bar argument), but if you want the classic NFL Films shows with the slow-motion running and the Autumn Wind soundtrack, there's only one place to go. The network has their daily news programming, but the best shows are the behind-the-scenes footage from the previous season like Sound FX.
Even the Top 10 shows (with titles like "Top 10 Quarterbacks of the '80s") are fun shows if only to see the highlights from 30 years ago.
The channel can be a sore spot for subscribers of Time Warner or Cablevision, two networks who have not worked out a deal to include the channel with their packages.
If you want to play general manager, fantasy football is the way to do it. It's easier to join a league than finding a Dunkin' Donuts in Boston.
The best part about fantasy football is it can be as casual or die-hard as you want it to be. You can play a simple league through the major sports sites with basic rules and even have a computer select players for you. Or you can get in a deeper league like a dynasty league, that lets you keep players from year to year and have rosters as big as an NFL team.
When you talk smack about your favorite NFL team, in reality you didn't participate in the victory at all. When you win in fantasy, it's all because of your astute moves.
When in a work league, tread lightly when talking smack to your boss.
Research, Research, Research
To be a proper obsessive fan, you have to know your team. And while you're at it, all 31 other teams. An offseason that stretches from February to August should do the trick.
As free agency and the draft conclude, your team acquires new talent and you must know every player. Most fans know their college and stats, but you can go deeper. Discover where they like to eat lunch.
Be prepared to talk smack to that Ravens fan come opening day. Learn the name of every cheerleader, not because you are stalking them but to warn them, by name, when a stalker approaches.
Figure out where Bill Belichick gets his hoodies altered. Use Twitter to find other fans of your team and commiserate, but never meet in person.
That would be creepy.
In your copious offseason time, you can learn who the third-string waterboy is all the way to the tattoo that your middle linebacker has on the small of his back. The Chinese characters don't say what he thinks they say.
You would never take the results seriously, but it's cool to see all of your team's rookies in their new duds for the first time.
Because of last year's lockout, most rookies didn't even get a playbook upon being drafted. This year, there's a full offseason and that's a good news for rookies hoping to assimilate.
Offseason Team Activities and Minicamps
Each team has a set time in the offseason to get together and practice. They're called OTAs, or Offseason Team Activities. They're held in May and June, and it's a first shot to see new free agents and holdovers from 2011 on a field.
Minicamps follow, and that gives coaches a chance to install new schemes.
There's not much to it besides practice, but for fans, anything with a team logo involved is worthy of a tailgate. See who's sweating gravy and get a glimpse at the 2012 breakout players.
Training camp is when it starts to get serious. Teams begin to prepare for the 2012 season. Fans can watch selected practices and sweat along with the players in the intense heat.
The best news about training camp is that it means preseason games are around the corner, and that shows that the regular season that seems too far away in May is going to happen again, as it always does in the fall.
Players Get a Bye Week, Fans Need Bye Months
Last fall, I covered the Tennessee Titans for a now-defunct blog. It was hard enough being there in person, as Jake Locker brought them five yards away from a victory over the New Orleans Saints, only to inexplicably take the sack on the final play. I had to relive that feeling while watching NFL Game Rewind—crack for football fans.
I don't want to do that more than 16 times a year.
As much as I try to justify making the lows not as low as the highs, my heart thinks otherwise. That walk up the Woodland Street Bridge feels like I am ascending Mount Everest after a loss. The offseason is my time to relax and recover, and dream of the future.