A week ago, as the best indication yet that the national economy is gradually turning to garden mulch, the National Football League announced that it would be laying off 15 percent of the employees from the league's headquarters in New York City. I don't know exactly, but I would guess that most of the unfortunate newly unemployed were last-hired-first-fired types from the league’s marketing, merchandising, and accounting departments. I suspect that nobody got laid off who might in some way discomfit Roger Goodell, the league’s commissioner, who is the kind of arbitrary satrap that gives panjandrums a bad name. None of the necessary-but-regrettable defenestrations will touch him, I fear, and he will go on to ponder the great question of why an enterprise with an estimated $6.5 billion in revenues needs to shed payroll as though it were some family tool-and-dye business along the outer reaches of Route 20.
(This whole sad tale was enlivened by a columnist named Bonnie Erbe who, writing for the website of U.S. News, celebrated the sudden unemployment of 1,100 people who’d never done anything to her, because, as she put it, the NFL “glorifies overt machismo and intellectual nullity.” Well, if there’s anyone who can recognize “intellectual nullity” when she sees it, it’s someone who writes under the masthead of the St. Louis Rams of news magazines. U.S. News — If You Can’t Move Your Lips Fast Enough to Read Newsweek.)
I am now in the middle of watching a football season in which the New England Patriots may well finish 11-5 and not make the playoffs. A lot of that is due to injuries, and a lot of it has to do with making bad plays at the wrong time, particularly against Indianapolis. But a lot of it has to do with the fact that the National Football League this season has put together a remarkable collection of really bad football teams. I honestly believe that the biggest problem the Patriots had this season was that they were too good for this landfill of a league. They lost the best player in the game, their marquee running back, at least three of the best players on their defense, and now, it seems, the offensive line is starting to get beaten up. They handed the ball to someone who hadn’t started a game since shortly before his senior prom. And it is entirely possible that they may win 11 games. Unfortunately, the NFL rewards mediocrity at the expense of even marginal excellence.
The Detroit Lions may not win a game. The western divisions of the two conferences will send two teams to the playoffs, and their teams in total are a combined 37-75. There are so many dogs there that they should arrange to run the Iditarod this year from Seattle in the north, through Denver, the Bay Area, and Arizona, until they all finish together at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego — where, if this season is any true guide, they’ll all end up like the contestants in Monty Python’s “Upper Class Twit of the Year” race and shoot each other in the head. It is entirely possible that everyone in the NFL should be fired for producing this product at these prices.
There is no reason 1,100 poor souls in suits should take the brunt of this restructuring alone, no matter how much overt machismo they may have summoned up to inconvenience Bonnie Erbe. I think it should be possible for the NFL to lay off the Lions, the Raiders, the Chiefs, and the Rams. Right on the spot. Sorry, gentlemen, but you are so bad at being professional football teams that we think it’s time for you to seek another field of employment. (At least the Raiders could quickly reconstitute themselves as a motorcycle gang. Their fans wouldn’t even have to buy new gear.) But, surely, society benefits more if the NFL rehires some of its productive, tax-paying office staff and, in return, nobody ever has to watch JaMarcus Russell throw a football again. And if we laid off the Rams, who would notice? People in St. Louis? Hey, they’ve got their hands full trying to figure out how a bunch of Belgian pirates stole Budweiser out from underneath the Gateway Arch. And getting laid off would be the best thing that ever happened to the Lions. It would be better than being run by Matt Millen, which means that, yes, it would be better than nothing.
Further cuts can be made at the NFL Network. The league should dismiss immediately whoever it is that feeds the hamster that powers the network’s weekly telecasts. This person is clearly not doing his job at all well, and the hamster is clearly suffering as a result because, along about the third quarter of every game, the telecast begins to resemble something your Uncle Fud shot with the Super-8 at the beach back when you were nine. Media historians of the future will spend hours speculating on how it happened that a football league could launch a television network so abjectly incapable of televising football games. Watching the Thursday night package is like tuning in to the Food Channel and finding a show in which everybody dies of botulism. Anyway, I think everybody wins with my plan, except Bonnie Erbe, who I hope has a happy holiday season and won’t mind too much the three ghosts who’ll be stopping by her place on Christmas Eve.
OT columnist Charles P. Pierce is a Boston Globe Magazine staff writer.