It's getting to be that time of year. In a few weeks, football season will begin with all the trimmings that go along with it: Tailgating for three days before the game, parking oneself on the couch with a beer in front of the TV on Sundays for six hours, cheerleaders, marching bands, fantasy football, Monday night parties, pools, the whole nine yards...
Not only do I wholeheartedly acknowledge that football is the number one spectator sport in this country, I am no exception to being an enthusiastic fan of the gridiron game.
Major college football is absolutely my favorite sport to watch, and my alma mater's varsity squad, the UCLA Bruins, is my favorite team in the sports world. I have passionately followed the True Blue and Gold for over twenty years. Indeed, some of the happiest days of my life have involved Bruin football victories over their crosstown enemy, USC.
Having said that, I have also been passionate about baseball throughout the bulk of my life. Having been involved in the game as either a player, coach, or a fan since the age of ten, there are still some areas where the national passtime still surpasses the gridiron. As much as I love and prefer to watch college football, these are the things that make baseball still credible:
1. The difficulty of playing the game. I would like to see Peyton Manning (or his brother for that matter) or Reggie Bush try and hit a 95 mile-an-hour fastball, or a curve ball going 12-to-6. There's a reason why ballplayers who only succeed at the plate three out of ten times are multi-millionaires. You think Brett Favre would've been a god in Green Bay (now New York) if he only completed three out of ten passes?
2. The physical conditions of former NFL players. Ex-gridiron stars left in constant pain and barely able to walk are commonplace. Jim Otto, the Raiders' former center standout, has two plastic knees and takes 30 minutes to get out of bed in the morning. Johnny Unitas couldn't straighten his throwing hand after his playing days. Dick Butkus cannot squat down today. Earl Campbell, the ex-Houston Oiler running back and an icon of my youth, needs a cane to get around.
Baseball players do not get the career-ending debilitations at the same level of the ex-gridironers; one has a much better chance of big able to walk without excruciating pain after a career with the Yankees than after a career with the Cowboys.
3. Because football games are controlled by a clock, if a team's winning by forty points at the two-minute warning, the game is over -- let's just face that fact. The losing team would have absolutely no chance at a comeback, because there wouldn't be enough time. However, in baseball a team needs to get 27 outs to win, even if they're up by 20 runs. As long as that 27th out has not been made, a team getting creamed still has a chance. Unlike in football, a baseball team can't just take a knee and kill the clock.
4. Baseball has more of an historical significance as far as statistics and records, and is a bigger part of the nation's fabric and folklore. The fanatical football fan most likely couldn't name Walter Payton's final rushing yards, or Dan Marino's touchdown passing totals. The casual baseball fan, however, knows that Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs, that Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 consecutive games, and that Ted Williams was the last man to hit .400. That sense of history is part of what makes baseball the national pastime that it is.
5. Baseball skills are harder to master than football skills. In football, standing out in only one area, while unable to do anything else (like blocking), will make you successful and valuable on a team. In baseball a player's ability is measured on at least three things: hitting, fielding, and throwing; you need to be proficient in all three to be considered good. That makes the game more challenging.
6. While football is a tremendous team game, a team can continuously go to its best guy when a contest is on the line. In baseball, Alex Rodriguez still has to bat once out of every nine times. He can't bat for Richie Sexson in the bottom of the 9th if his turn to bat hasn't come up. In other words, A-Rod can't save the day, Sexson has to.
I think it's a matter of individual perspective when people debate which sport is better. It seems to me that older generations tend to prefer baseball, while the Gen-Xers and Yers prefer football.
At the end of the day, one must conclude that there are some things about football that make it better than baseball, and some things about baseball that make it better than football. That's all I'm trying to say here.