The NFL: The league that never leaves

WASHINGTON — I love the NFL.

Pro football was the gateway obsession when I first got into sports. I loved getting the paper on Sunday with breakdowns of all the matchups, and I would flip between the pregame shows on CBS and NBC. I was doing mock drafts when the NFL Draft was still held on a Tuesday in late April; I prepared preseason predictions in February, May and August (and, no matter how talented Dallas was, somehow had them finishing 6-10 each time).

I enjoy watching the pregame shows side-by-side-by-side, no matter how unfunny the “funny picks guy” may actually be. I still get goose bumps nowadays at 3:45 p.m., knowing that the next 45 minutes could very well resemble the first day of the NCAA Tournament. I enjoy Thanksgiving games in Detroit and Dallas, even if they’re played in Pontiac or Arlington. I cherish those weekends in January when legacies are made. And I still eat way too much buffalo wing dip on Super Bowl Sunday.

I love the league. But I hate the fact that it never goes away.

The draft was once an oasis in an offseason desert. Now it’s a three-day buffet that is one day too long. Just getting there is an ordeal, with the scouting combine in late February and free agency in March (first, FA should be held after the Draft as a roster supplement, but that’s just me). After the draft and the slow drip of OTAs (Organized Team Activities, not Offseason Torture Antagonism) the next two months, we’re given what feels like a week to breathe before training camps open.

Only, the news faucet is never shut in the NFL. The league feels it’s better to worm its way into the conversation, no matter how embarrassing the circumstances. Deflategate felt like a bad “Saved by the Bell” episode (you might ask yourself, were there any good “Saved by the Bell” episodes? Yes, three), with Commissioner Roger Goodell playing the part of Mr. Belding (obviously Tom Brady is Zack, Rob Gronkowski is Slater and Julian Edelman is Screech, with Belichick playing the part of their boss at Malibu Sands Beach Club).

We spent the better part of a calendar year discussing, in depth, the PSI of a football. And there might still be more, because the Commish — despite appearing to have the legal sensibility of Lionel Hutz — refuses to punt after being thrown for a loss by a federal judge.

The NFL is like that buddy who comes to your house for a party and makes the event better than you thought imaginable … only to show up to rage again the next day when you have laundry and vacuuming to do. And they come back the day after that to hang out, even though you have work or a wife to focus your energies on. Or maybe you just don’t want to be confronted with the minutiae of their non-party existence. But there’s the league, like the British Empire that never let the sun set, back for more face time.

Even the season is getting to be exhausting. Thursday-night games have been shoved down our throats for a decade, with overworked and underprepared teams combining to deliver a subpar product. If they had teams coming off bye weeks playing instead, you’d have 10 days for players to recuperate and over a week for coaches to create a game plan that doesn’t look like it’s been duct-taped together.

Sundays are now longer, with the London regular-season games kicking off at 9:30 a.m. on the east coast. I’m just thankful the league hasn’t realized it could really crush the 25-54 demographic with 6 a.m. Sunday starts. We have the last laugh on the Brits, though — they’re getting Jacksonville and their two-tone helmets again this year. Instead of failing to sell out their stadium eight times in a market that never should have gotten an NFL team, the Jaguars are averaging more than 83,000 fans at Wembley Stadium. I think the Monkees sold out Wembley too …

Next to expand? Try the playoffs.

Talk of expanding the postseason to 14 or even 16 teams has been “gathering momentum,” according to the commissioner, just like the demand for more games in London is “gaining traction.” We’ve had more than a few teams reach the playoffs despite records of .500 or lower recently. Is it necessary to lower the bar even further? More importantly, where do you put the extra games in the Wild Card round? A Saturday or Sunday triple-header? Extend the playoff weekend to Monday night?

Earlier this year I joked that the NFL was considering expanding its draft to a “one round a week” format during April and May so it could further intrude on the Final Four, Major League Baseball’s Opening Day, the NHL/NBA Playoffs and the annual showing of “The Ten Commandments.” Obviously I was being facetious — the league would never show that lack of restraint. They’d much rather go to two picks a day between Feb. 15 and June 23 (June 22 on leap years).

But I still can’t wait until kickoff …

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