It would be foolish for NFL to close its doors at the height of its power 

The Beatles broke up.

Muhammad Ali fought once too often.

The Edmonton Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky.

Michael Jordan played baseball.

Tiger Woods slept around.

Sometimes those in the brightest spotlight manage to do something that rattles even their most loyal fans. Some overcome it, some don’t.

So, with this being the best Sunday of professional football on the calendar — two conference championship games for the right to play in the Super Bowl — I just wanted to point out the rumblings off in football’s distance.

The National Football League is by far the hottest ticket in sports right now, with every other sport, college or pro, trying to figure out how to capture the magic the NFL has bottled and sells to its fans.

A fascinating season has just been played, with stories ranging from Brett Favre’s soap opera return to the inaudible exit of Randy Moss, from the amazing run of the Atlanta Falcons to the disappointment surrounding the 49ers.

And that has been topped by the most unpredictable playoffs imaginable. Both top seeds have been knocked off, while both No. 6 seeds remain alive. And don’t forget the most unlikely upset of all: the Seattle Seahawks ousting the New Orleans Saints.

What’s the fans’ reward for enjoying it all? They’ll be left to endure a money squabble that will knock off the natural rhythm of the sport.

What about free agency? The draft? The mini-camps? Preseason? It’s all part of the perfection that forces fans to talk about football year round.

So why will fans endure the petty squabbling over the goose that continues to lay one golden egg after another. Because they care.

And what commissioner Rodger Goodell and the NFL has done brilliantly has been to craft a script where the sport’s outcome matters. To fans of every franchise.

This won’t spiral into the Tampa Bay Rays versus the Colorado Rockies in the World Series, with 99 percent of the country turning to American Idol.

The passion fans have for a sport is not a given. It can blow up in football’s face. Just ask the sports of horse racing in the 1950s, boxing in the 1970s and 1980s, the NBA today.

When the light bulb of passion flickers, there will be something right there ready to jump in — just ask the Rolling Stones, Larry Holmes, Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins, Hakeem Olajuwon or Graeme McDowell. And sometimes it’s impossible for the original owner to get back.

Even our National Pastime has had to re-adjust its swagger in recent years because it isn’t the national pastime any more. Football is.

Let’s just hope the owners and players remember why.

 

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at tliotta@sfexaminer.com.

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Tim Liotta

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