In the year 2001 the NFL was riding high. The surprise New England Patriots and Tom Brady had just won the Super Bowl. The Pats were the League's fourth different championship team in the last four years. While other sports were lagging behind, the NFL's revenue sharing, salary cap, and non-guaranteed contracts were making them a juggernaut.
Meanwhile, the New York Yankees had just competed for their fourth straight World Series Title and the Jordan-less NBA only had the Kobe, Shaq, and the Lakers as anything resembling an interesting team. Consensus was that the structure of the NFL made them what they were, and every city felt as if they had a chance every year.
Every year, however, it seems that the NFL's good are getting better and the bad getting worst. I can say, very easily, that the Raiders, Bills, Chiefs, Texans, Bucs, Rams, and Lions have no chance at winning a Super Bowl this year. Throw in the 49ers, Browns, Bengals, and Broncos, and you have a third of the league with very low expectations heading into the season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots have won five of the last eight Super Bowls (and if it weren't for a once-in-a-lifetime helmet and hand grab by David Tyree, it would be six of the last eight). Is the NFL's structure not all that it was cracked up to be eight years ago? Should they be panicking?
The truth of the matter is that the structure, although the best in American Professional Sports, cannot force different winners and losers. In the NFL, success is determined by two things: front office personnel and quarterbacks.
In 2001, the NFL had exactly one consistently great QB. His name was spelled funny and he hadn't even retired once yet. The others at the time (Manning, McNabb, Warner, McNair, etc.) were inconsistent, often injured, or just coming into their own. This is what made for parity.
Once Manning, Brady, Roethlisberger, and company came into their own, the NFL playoffs have looked awfully familiar every year. Additionally, those quarterbacks play for the best and most stable franchises in the league. Great QBs and GMs make for a successful combinations.
This is not to say that the NFL is not still the king. It most certainly is. Perhaps, however, it is not for the reasons we thought in 2001. In fact, the nature of this television friendly game is simply more exciting, captivating, and easier to follow then the longer seasons of the other pro sports leagues.
This is bad news for them. Baseball was hoping that a copy of the NFL's structure would make them more competitive and relevant. As a baseball fan, I am afraid those days are long gone.