The hangover of 2003 for NFL fans won't be lasting long. Whether it was the Cowboys on a fourth-and-24 or the Packers on a fourth-and-26, even the worst season endings are being quickly washed away as 2004 is ushered in.
With the NFL Combine starting tomorrow, free agency in a little more than two weeks and the draft in a little more than two months, the buildup to the start of 2004 has begun.
Which re-asserts why the NFL is king. Pick up a newspaper or tune in sports talk radio in Chicago. They're talking about how Lovie Smith is going to turn things around and how their offensive coordinator coached Priest Holmes and will draft or trade for someone similar for the Bears. Do the same in Detroit and the lowly Lions are talking about adding a running back to give Steve Mariucci's team reason for hope.
Then turn to Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association or the National Hockey League. MLB once again has found itself trumped by the embarrassment of Pete Rose speaking publicly and showing why he should remain banned. This time, it was the trade of MVP Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees. The Yanks are now paying their four infielders -- including the no-name replacing Alfonso Soriano -- more this year than the Twins will pay their entire roster. Why is this allowed to happen? MLB doesn't have rules in place that allow a team like the Yankees -- with a bigger local TV contract than most teams payroll figures -- to buy anyone they want if they lose in the playoffs. Lose to the Angels in 2002, steal Jason Giambi away. Go a third year in a row without buying another World Series title, get A-Rod. In the NFL, such wild spending isn't allowed and, even if it is done for the short term, you pay for your aggression in the long term.
Then take the NBA. In a league no longer defined by teams like the Celtics vs. Lakers, Celtics vs. 76ers or Bulls vs. Pistons, the NBA has become a freak show of individuals. How bad is it? Badboy Ron Artest didn't have a shoe contract, so he wore four different brands over All-Star weekend in hopes of getting an endorsement deal. The NBA has made its regular season four months of meaningless play to get to the playoffs. Every game matters in the NFL and you have to be good just to make the playoffs.
Then comes the NHL. Almost sure to go on strike, the word coming out from their own people says that they will come back from their strike with as many as eight fewer teams. Now there is some financial stability for you.
Only when the NFL is in one of its down periods are we exposed to the other major sports in the full glory. It's sad to watch how the NFL has peaked in its popularity, the NBA is sliding down hard and the American League is known as the Yankees, Red Sox and some other guys.
The NFL remains the only game worth following and, with the rumors generated from the Combine, we will start all over again beginning tomorrow. For baseball, basketball and hockey, their best days appear to be in the rear-view mirror and getting smaller all the time.
MLB, NBA Show Why NFL Is King
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