With a few weeks off from the NASCAR grind, many of us have turned our long-overdue attention to the National Football League, catching up with our favorite team just in time for the playoff drive to begin.
The NFL has long been the 600-pound gorilla of American sports, and over the years, the league has cultivated a massive media juggernaut that examines, reports and critiques the most miniscule of gridiron maneuvers. Compared to NASCAR, the NFL media corps is downright bloodthirsty, often campaigning openly for individual players to be benched and coaches to be fired.
The New York Post, a longstanding bastion of blistering criticism for professional sports teams in the Big Apple, actually expressed unhappiness with Sunday’s 16-11 road win by the hometown Jets over the Tennessee Titans, lamenting that the team “severely hurt their chances of landing the No. 1 pick in April’s draft” with the victory.
While not encouraging the 3-11 Jets to tank their remaining games in a backhanded attempt to secure the top pick, Post writer Brian Costello said embattled coach Rex Ryan and his staff, “know they are on their way out,” pronouncing Ryan “a near lock to be fired in two weeks” and general manager John Idzik “more than likely to be thrown out with him.”
Costello also questioned “why (Ryan and Idzik would) leave a parting gift for their successors like the top pick?”
Lest they be accused of blasting only the local talent, the Post’s Bart Hubbuch declared Johnny Manziel’s inaugural start with the Cleveland Browns – a 30-0 shellacking by the Cincinnati Bengals -- “an utter disaster,” adding that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan “certainly didn’t do (the) rookie quarterback any favors… (putting) Manziel in a straightjacket instead of playing to his creative strengths.”
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New York Giants radio analyst Carl Banks emptied both barrels on Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III Monday, after Griffin laid face down on the turf for several seconds after a seventh sack in his team’s 24-14 loss to Big Blue.
“He takes sacks, he makes bad decisions and then when he gets hit, he lays there like he’s shot,” said Banks on WFAN Radio. “I called him a drama king on the air yesterday, because you’d think he’s never getting up again. Then he bounces right back up. It’s almost like, ‘Everybody look at me, I’m hurt.’
“It’s like he’s a martyr or something.”
Try to recall reading anything like that written about a NASCAR crew chief, general manager or competition director.
It simply doesn’t happen.
While the media clearly enjoys getting its licks in, NFL fans can be even more scathing in their criticism of the home team.
Oakland Raider fans are showing up for games lately with paper bags over their heads, in protest of the team’s league-worst 2-12 record. It’s not a new phenomenon, New Orleans fans routinely donned grocery cart garb in the 1980s. But when’s the last time you saw someone in the Talladega grandstand wearing a Dale, Jr. t-shirt and a bag over his head?
Never, that’s when.
Sure, Sprint Cup Series crew chiefs are sometimes the target of Monday morning quarterbacking by fans. Alan Gustafson’s decision to pit driver Jeff Gordon out of the lead in the late laps at Homestead Miami Speedway last month was thoroughly questioned by the railbirds. But in the grand tradition of Tammy Wynette, NASCAR fans generally stand by their man (or woman) through thick and thin, tempering this week's unhappiness with hope for a better effort next Sunday.
The NASCAR media rarely (if ever) lambastes questionable pit strategy with adjectives like “utter disaster.” Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s not.
One thing’s for sure, however. It sure is different from the NFL.