In a remarkable article on contemporary quarterbacks, Sports Illustrated columnist, Joe Posnanski argues that Brett Favre is the last 'old-time quarterback', the guy that defies numbers, that doesn't care that much about an interception, as the next time he has the ball he will throw an impossible touchdown pass. This, in a time where American football is all about numbers. Some of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game would not probably play these days, as their numbers were not convincing. Nowadays, coaches are the supreme leaders, not the quarterbacks; defences win games; not quarterbacks. The game is now faster, more spectacular, with big tackles (and big injuries) and huge interceptions. But is it better?
The other day I was watching the 1985 NBA finals between the Lakers and the Celtics and how different was basketball back then. The game was slower, less physical, and still, teams would play offensive basketball, and think the game. Today basketball is all about fast-breaks, slam dunks, big D and big shots. It is fast and furious. It is entertaining, but is it any better?
Last July Spain won the European Championship in football (or soccer), defeating Russia in the final 3-0. Many people thought it was a great tournament, with many goals and great plays. I am not so sure about that. Football seems to be increasingly similar, in its dynamics, to ice hockey, where teams are either defending with everybody behind the ball and then, or when in its possession try very fast counter-attacks. Players that stop and think, smooth plays from the back involving most of the players, all of these are increasingly rare. A new statistical category introduced in football is that of the number of miles ran by a player during a game, as if the mere act of running was something relevant in a player's performance. They certainly run more these days, they tackle more and they have less time to think with the ball on their feet. Some research done a few years ago showed that Pele used to have an average of 3 seconds with the ball on its feet, while Zidane had it for 0.5 seconds. One can only imagine how would Zidane be as a player if he had played during Pele's time...
I could give many other examples, but the underlying logic seems clear: if there are increasingly greater sums of money involved in sports, it is supposed that its main actors perform to the limit of their capacities, in order to justify the investment. Sport, overall, is becoming faster, stronger, and more exciting. But is it getting any better?