I watched the Super Bowl and enjoyed it. After three slow quarters of play, the fourth quarter was exciting and suspenseful. It was a very good game.
However, even in the rare event of a competitive and entertaining Super Bowl game we can see how football is inferior to baseball. Two plays in particular demonstrated that football, despite its physical nature and on-the-field execution, is a game where mind-boggling technicalities can be just as important as a touchdown or missed tackle, and usually break the flow of the game.
(Just over a year ago I wrote that baseball is superior to football because it has no clock. In football you have two teams and a clock, and the competition is just as much about beating the clock as it is about beating the other team. Call me silly, but I’d rather see teams compete with each other than with a clock.)
In the third quarter New England coach Bill Belicheck successfully challenged that New York had too many players on the field, granting the Patriots five yards on the NY penalty and thus a first down in a situation that seemed crucial at the moment. On replay you saw, however, that a NY player was running to the sidelines, trying to get off the field before the ball was snapped. This is not an example of a rule violation that would give the Giants an advantage on the field (in the way that a hold might keep a play alive). This violation is simply a technicality, one that has no impact on the way a down was played. It’s ridiculous to have to watch a slow-motion replay of a single player running toward the sideline – far from the ball or any other player – for a possible penalty. Is that what head-to-head, physical competition is all about?
And then at the end of the fourth quarter, after New England was unsuccessful at converting a fourth down, a single second remained on the clock. NFL rules required that the Giants take the field and resume play. What logical reason was there to do this? Oh yes, the clock. Even though the game was all but over, and the coaches, media and players had already stormed the field, the players had to line up and snap the ball to get that one second off the clock. At that moment the game was being "played" not for the sake of competition, but for the sake of a rulebook and the Almighty Clock. Boring!
In baseball we don’t have such silly technicalities. Each team gets nine innings, or 27 outs, to defeat the other team. Because it is a simple head-to-head game (ie, there is no clock), there are no meaningless plays in baseball – baseball doesn’t run the home team to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning if it is already winning. But that’s precisely what happens in football every week – minutes of meaningless football are played, simply so that they can run out the clock. Yawn.
I do like football, and I really enjoyed the Super Bowl this year. But football doesn’t compare to baseball, where technical rules are few and teams compete without a clock. Free from the burden of technicalities and Timex, all baseball offers is some good old fashioned head-to-head competition.
Is it Spring Training yet?