Tuesday, January 21, 2020
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It’s Wildcard Weekend in the NFL. Who knew?

Four NFL teams made the playoffs as wildcard teams this year, and the four games they’ll play this coming weekend against the four division winners of eight with the lowest records this season will determine which four advance to the divisional round; the other four division champs get a bye this week.

I say that only because this is likely to be news for more people this year than it was last year. Statistics and metrics that examine this type of thing—TV ratings, surveys in the news, game ticket sales—show a definite downward blip in fan appreciation for football.

There are all sorts of theories as to why this is happening, but people who may be feeling less love of the game certainly have their own mix of reasons.

Some say media reports that players’ brains degenerate at younger ages more frequently than normal have pounded fans into apathy, especially coming after years of tobacco industry-like cover-up by the NFL. Some say mocking Native American names makes fans lower their esteem of teams they love. Some, including President Donald Trump, say the national anthem protests have turned people away, but others see little connection.

After that tweet, there was a marked difference between how people who voted for Hillary Clinton viewed the NFL and how those who voted for Mr Trump viewed it, the New York Times reported. About 60 percent of both Clinton and Trump voters had a “favorable or somewhat favorable” view of the NFL before the tweet. After the tweet, about half of the Trump voters did a 180, while Clinton voters continued to view the NFL favorably or somewhat favorably.

Whatever caused it, though, a reduction in fans’ interest in football has been noticed. As neither the Bears nor the Ravens made the playoffs this season, it’s now time to consider some of these factors and the role they may have played this season.

Fans develop a bond with teams as children, way before high school, but then, as they get older, it becomes clear that watching games with friends doesn’t bring enjoyment as much as a well-chosen career or family time, the New York Times reported as last year’s NFL season started winding down.

“I think I have gotten to a point in my life where I need to let things go that don’t bring me enjoyment,” the paper quoted one such fan as saying. “I think as you get older, you realize you don’t hang on to things that don’t bring you joy. If it’s not making me happy, then why do it? Don’t just do it because you feel like you should be doing it. That’s what I was doing—I was going up every Sunday for the Browns, and I was dreading it.”

But in high school, students are still fans and still get excited about things like the Bears-Packers or Steelers-Ravens rivalries. And participation numbers, while down a little for football in recent years, still make it the most popular high school sport in America.

Writing in The Voyager, the student newspaper at Guilford High School in Rockford, Illinois, Nick Eichstaedt says the Bears-Packers rivalry is still “one of the biggest” in the NFL. Since and including the first game on November 27, 1921, the two teams have played to a 96-94-6 cumulative record. The Packers are up, a little, in the cumulative standings for this rivalry, but lately, it’s been all-Packers whenever these two teams meet.

Nick quotes Nathan Johnson, a math teacher and Packers fan at the school, which is in Illinois but very close to the Wisconsin border, about why he thinks the Packers have won 15 times in the last 18 meetings: “I think at least 80 percent of our recent success has been due to Aaron Rodgers. With his injury, everybody else has had to step up and I think it’s going to make us stronger in the end.”

“It’s definitely been a tough match-up for the Bears as of recent years, but I think we’re trending in the right direction,” one freshman student, clearly a Bears fan, was quoted as saying.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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