The funny thing about preseason in the NFL (among many other funny things, such as the fact that it has Raiders fans hopeful for the season) is that we're as excited to see it end as we are to see it begin.
Every year, the first preseason game for each team is met with tons of excitement. Fans have been watching training camps that are increasingly devoid of contact. Players have been battling their own teammates for a month. No one knows if the offense or defense of their team will look phenomenal or flat against "real" competition. And so when that first preseason game comes around, we rejoice at the return of real football.
Then a few weeks later, we rejoice again ... at the fact that the preseason is "finally" over. What changes over the course of a few weeks? Why do we go from celebrating "real" football at the beginning of preseason to saying things like "I'm just glad the real games are about to start" at the end of preseason?
Think of the NFL as food. Remember the last time you were really hungry? Maybe you skipped a couple of meals, worked a double shift, whatever. The point is, you're hungry. You come home and all that's sitting around ready to eat is a salmon burger (which you, in this hypothetical, are not all that fond of). When you chow down on the thing, doesn't it taste pretty good at first? At least during the first half when you're taking the edge off your hunger?
The NFL preseason is much the same. We're DESPERATE for football. Any competitive NFL football. That first game is like a salmon burger; it's not really very good, but we're so hungry we don't care. It's delicious to us (in case you can't tell, I had a salmon burger today).
By the time the third preseason game winds down (or, to keep the analogy going, by the time you're 3/4 done with that salmon burger), you're thinking a little more clearly and you see it for what it is; meaningless football diluted with weird play calling and second and third string players (or, you know, a salmon burger). And so your appetite is satisfied, and you're ready for the real deal.
The fourth preseason game is like if you had to finish that salmon burger. You don't really want to eat it anymore, and you've gotten the emergency over with so you've bought time to find an actually satisfying meal. But you eat it because, hey, there are starving people in the world and wasting food is in poor taste.
Once that really-not-very-good meal is over with, you're absolutely ready for whatever real food you're going to eat. Just like we're all now ready for real, live football. In fact, all preseason does every year besides stave off our football starvation is remind us how much we really don't like preseason.
Nothing illuminates the problems with preseason more than this conversation I had with Mrs. MNchiefsfan on the subject:
Mrs. MNchiefsfan: So preseason games don't count at all?
Mrs. MNchiefsfan: Not even for stats?
Mrs. MNchiefsfan: So they're totally pointless.
Me: Well, no, not exactly (giving a standard NFL fan answer I should've known I'd regret).
Mrs. MNchiefsfan: How are they not pointless? They don't count for stats, they don't count for the playoffs. They don't count for anything at all.
Me: Well, coaches use them to evaluate players. You can't really know how a guy will do until he's in pads against another team. Plus, it gives them a chance to practice with live contact and get their timing down.
Mrs. MNchiefsfan (after a moment of thought): Hmmm ... seems like a good coach should be able to evaluate players based on practice. And that they should be able to practice plays without bothering to call it a "game." And really, they could just have practices against other teams with contact without calling them games and accomplish the exact same thing. This is about money.
Me: Uh ... well, it's obviously a ... um. Yeah.
As you can see, even the most diehard of fans can't really defend the current preseason model as anything other than the NFL taking advantage of an opportunity to snag some money. This is why I don't have extended conversations with my wife about football; she points out how silly some parts of it are. I hate that.
Of course, preseason matters a great deal to some players, even if it's flawed and (secretly) pointless in its current format. A pair of tweets from Anthony Toribio very poignantly summed up just how important the preseason is to some players, and how frightening and lonely the end of it can be.
The morning after the last pre season game is the hardest time for any undrated rookie or bubble guys fighting for a spot....— Anthony Toribio (@Ribzz93) August 29, 2014
A sleepless night where every phone call you receive the next day causes a sinking in your heart knowing that call can be the end for you— Anthony Toribio (@Ribzz93) August 29, 2014
It's very rare we remember that these remarkable athletes we observe on the field are in fact very young men (the majority of roster bubble guys are in their early 20's) who are within spitting distance of a goal they've been pursuing for most of their life. Every year we remember the guys who make it and forget the almost 40 who don't.
Preseason might be a totally ridiculous salmon burger for us, and it might be a nonsensical moneymaker under the harsh light of reality. But crap if I don't wish it lasted just a little longer for the sake of those guys who aren't going to make the cut. I wonder what someone would give for an extra week living the dream of being on an NFL roster.
All that aside, "real" football is over. Time for real football to begin. All the best to those Chiefs players who get cut, and I very sincerely hope you get your shot elsewhere.