The Thanksgiving piece about what we're thankful for in sports is about as threadbare and hokey a concept as any in sports writing, which is why you can deny me seconds at the dessert table for indulging in the idea myself. That said, the NFL is very likely taking some irregularly scheduled time off after the conclusion of this season by virtue of an impending, seemingly inevitable lockout, so we had better appreciate America's most popular sport while it's still a sport and not an ongoing contretemps at the negotiating table.
There are untold things to be thankful for in the NFL, so it's best to be specific about what additional developments we have to appreciate. And so, here are 10 neatly packaged bits of newness to love about the 2010 NFL season.
10. Rex Ryan Is The Id To Every Other Coach's Superego - Rex Ryan has long been the oversize physical embodiment of the underlying crassness of the NFL that only seldom penetrates the patina of respectability the NFL tries so strenuously to maintain. However, it's only this year that that has been shown to be true to a national audience. Rex was the star of this summer's Hard Knocks season, which made the coach an outspoken star. Which would help to also explain how Rex also tops a survey released by Sports Illustrated this week of which coach NFL players would most like to play for.
9. Michael Vick Isn't Redeemed But Is Playing The Best Football Of His Life - Even if Vick is nowhere nearly as sympathetic a figure as defenders and apologists would like to believe, his play this season has been nothing short of breathtaking. There are those such as K.C. Joyner who argue that Vick has merely been the beneficiary of good luck covering for some poor decisions, and that's fine. It's been fun to watch Vick play out of his mind so far this season. Should Vick crash and burn down the stretch, that could be just as entertaining to the schadenfreude-minded among us.
8. The Villainy And Scapegoating Of James Harrison - The helmet-to-helmet fiasco that continues and will continue to have pervasive and possibly pernicious effects on officiating in the league has proven to be a fascinating side drama for the 2010 season. Referees have made it clear they don't have a keen sense of how to enforce the NFL's strengthened "emphasis" on helmet hits, but what the league and officials have made clear is that James Harrison is the bad guy. The level of antagonism between Harrison and the league office seems to elevate on a week to week basis, with Harrison being either fined or penalized for hits that in past years would barely register notice with the league office. Harrison, or "Silverback" to his teammates, has at times been reduced to a sniveling malcontent to the readjusted policy, which has made for a hilarious episode in which the Pro Bowl linebacker threatened to retire. It's unlikely that will be the last such drama this season between Harrison and the NFL.
7. The NFL Developing A Workplace Conduct Seminar - League executives have the facile idea that the new "workplace conduct program" they hope to implement by the end of the season will expunge Ben Roethlisberger and Ines Sainz-type scandals by teaching players about issues relating to gender and how to interact with media professionals. I guess you could commend the NFL for trying to address these issues, but there couldn't be a more Goodell-like and futile solution than another supposedly informative seminar for players.
6. The Cowboys Being A Complete Laughingstock - The NFL is always more thrilling when the Cowboys are struggling. And oh, how they've struggled this year. Couple the over inflated media focus that America's Team always receives with the hair-trigger temper of Jerry Jones and you've got yourself a fine little meltdown on your hands. Of course, the Vikings implosion has been just as pathetic and similarly saturating the news hole of the media covering the league. But that's really all about Brett Favre. He'll soon be gone. Our contempt for the Cowboys will not.
5. The Expanded Availability Of The RedZone Channel - Since this time last year, the NFL's RedZone channel has been made available to cell phone users and DirecTV has made its RedZone Channel a basic part of its Sunday Ticket subscription, rather than an add-on. Cheers to that. The only unfortunate thing about the NFL postseason is the void left by the huge cluster of games that occur at 1 p.m. Sunday each week during the regular season. You can't possibly hope to keep up with everything going on instantly without the RZC's help. It's like a mini version of the first two rounds of March Madness every week.
4. Announcer-free NFL Game Broadcast - It won't help the experience of watching the game this evening, but the decision of the NFL Network to re-broadcast tonight's Jets-Bengals contest sans announcers on Saturday should come as welcome news to anyone who's been to jab safety pins in their ear canals listening to the likes of Matt Millen, Joe Theismann and Jon Gruden in the booth. In place of the announcers, ongoing reaction from 15 miked players and coaches will serve as the commentary for the game. It's a great experiment and one that will hopefully lead to such stunts being tried on live contests, as difficult a project as that would be.
3. The Death of The Wildcat Formation - You might have blocked it from your head by now, but there wasn't a week that went by during the 2008 regular season that didn't feature talking heads exclaiming wildly about the sensation that was the not particularly novel Wildcat formation. Watching Dolphins game since then has been a particular pain, as even though the team hardly ever uses it anymore, it's still a huge talking point for broadcasters during their games. Fortunately, even that may soon be a thing of the past, as the Wildcat is rapidly losing favor among NFL coaches.
2. PARITY! PARITY! PARITY! - The Reddit NFL ouroboros graphic was quite a hit this week, making visual what has come to be assumed that there is no real favorite in this NFL season (though a select few teams are starting to make claims) and that every team really does have a chance to beat any other any given week. Add to that the fact that no first place team in the NFL holds a lead greater than one game over the second place team and we have all the makings of a highly dramatic final month and a half of the regular season.
1. Brett Favre Is Finally - Thankfully - Finished - It's no longer a question of whether he wants to be. He just is.