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Black and white make greed

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  September 19, 2012 10:06 AM

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We’re only two weeks in and already remembering just how maddening the NFL can be.

Try to watch a game at home these days without nearly putting your foot through the TV during the endless timeouts, referee Benny Hill sketches, and endless spots for new TV shows that won’t see October. Worse yet, go sit at a stadium where you’ll spend one-third of the game staring at players milling about while the national outlet comes back from another awful Eddie Money commercial.

This is nothing new, of course. The NFL has long carried a sovereign attitude toward its fans, understanding that nothing it does is going to deter the insatiable desire for football. And perhaps the only good thing that can said about its silly dispute with the A Team referees is that at least in these parts, the debate butts into the tired, nonstop Welker-Edelman controversy.

But maybe Roger Goodell ought to heed the warning this time around. When ESPN personalities, the banal suckups of all banal suckups, start calling you out as they did following Monday’s debacle in Atlanta, let’s just say you’ll want to stay away from the ceiling fan.

As “inelastic” as Steve Young believes the league may be though, is there a boiling point? Is there a percentage of fans who will see the league dumbing-down its product for a few bucks just to prove a point? And how many of those fans may decide they’re finished with $100 seats, $50 parking, $10 beers, and more stoppages in play than a preschool T-ball game?

When NFL fans realize they’re being duped and cheated, how many will fight back with their wallets?

Clearly it won’t be enough to put any significant dent in the NFL’s popularity, but Goodell’s arrogance has become a frustrating point of contention for many fans, players, and coaches during his six years at the commissioner helm. While no team can argue it has lost a game yet this season due to zebra incompetence (Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots might – might - argue) who doesn’t think it’s coming? From the moron who posted himself in Saints gear on Facebook prior to refereeing the New Orleans game to the tool who told LeSean McCoy he needed him in his fantasy game, the replacement referee system makes the 1995 Major League Baseball players look like a traveling team of legends. Players are frustrated, coaches are livid, and after just two games, football fans are starting to understand just how badly they are being duped.

So, why watch? We’re addicted of course, hopeful that each game isn’t marred by some call that the real refs would have gotten correct. And sure, there’s a bit of revisionist history too. When and if Team A comes to a settlement with the league, there will be blown calls and controversy. But at least the NFL will have rid itself of the embarrassing nature of having everyday fans decide the outcome of the games, which is essentially what they’ve done with these Division III jamokes.

A deal isn’t just necessary for competence on the field, but to settle any lingering volcanoes that are festering on the sidelines of every NFL stadium. Let this thing go much longer, and we could be looking at NFL civil war. How many people you think will root for Goodell?

NFL fans are willing to overlook the game’s greed because they thirst for the product. When that product takes a hit because of pensions that might cost the NFL what it just made in the 30 seconds since writing this paragraph, how many of those fans start to take notice just how badly the league is taking advantage of them?

It hasn’t been a great start to the 2012 season. That’s what the fans will tell you. But look at the ratings. Until those dip, why would the league do business any differently?

The product suffers, revenues don’t, and we’re on the verge of watching a game, perhaps a season, affected, thanks to a call by a guy with a Sharpie in his pocket – just in case he gets to meet Tom Brady.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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