My college experience was not the typical one - two schools, one 20 minutes from where I grew up, the other more than 20 hours, in two different states in very different parts of the country, stretched over five years. I did, however, spend a year in the dorms at American University. Many of the guys who lived on my floor at McDowell Hall were New Yorkers, who had a hard time getting their heads around what passed for local sports coverage during that 1976-77 school year.
With ESPN still years away from launching, television sports news came to us only through what Warner Wolf, Dan Lovett and whoever was on channel 4 at the time. And what they gave us in the spring of '77 made my New York buddies howl - Redskins mini camp. They had the Yankees and Mets. We had no baseball team, so it didn't seem unusual for the local sportscaster to fill part of his three minutes with the word on what to expect from the Redskins, even though the season opener was five months away.
Three and a half decades later, mini camp seems like mainstream coverage. Turns out here in D.C., we were well ahead of the times. Today, the NFL's offseason isn't only covered, it's blending in to the season. In fact, there is no offseason anymore. The league has gobbled up most of it and looks like it's headed back for more.
Back when the New Yorkers were howling about mini camp coverage, there was plenty of offseason. A check of the Redskins media guide shows the 1977 opener was played on September 18th and the final game of the regular season was December 17th - a complete season in exactly three months.
A year later, the creeping began with a new 16-game schedule. However, the season ended on the same weekend. They just started two weeks earlier. The NFL figured people would have enough football by the Super Bowl in mid January. They figured wrong.
The Super Bowl soon became a late January event, but stayed that way for quite a while, even when the league abandoned Labor Day weekend for season openers because television ratings were low. However, when 9-11 knocked out week two of the regular season and the Super Bowl had to be pushed in to February, nobody seemed to mind the game in the second month of the year. Now it's always in February. And if the NFL ever manages to push through an 18-game schedule, count on the Super Bowl being played Presidents weekend. And like the gnsu knife - oh there's more.
An ESPN report last week said the league is looking at holding the Combine in March, starting free agency in April and holding the draft in May. That way they lengthen their offseason relevancy even more. And as Paul Daughtery writes in the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Plans are in the works for regional Combines, leading up to the spectacle currently occurring in Indianapolis. It doesn't take a leap of marketing imagination to see the definition of "regional" expanding.
Men in Shorts: Mongolia, in which a lonely goatherd - 300 pounds, 40-inch vertical leap, 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash - abandons his wife, family and yaks to follow his dream of pass-blocking for Tom Brady.
Do you think I'm kidding? I wish I were.
The question I have is - what is the saturation point? Back in the 1980's, pro football in the spring failed. Why? Maybe because the United States Football League produced a product that was second rate. But remember Hall of Famers like Steve Young and Reggie White played in the USFL. And ABC and ESPN gave us well-produced telecasts of the games. Maybe pro football in the fall and winter is enough. You'll recall the USFL had actually planned to move to the fall before folding up.
The NFL is a long way from feeling a drop off in interest. In fact, the more they give us, the more we seem to want. Thirty years ago, it seemed crazy for ESPN to televise the draft. Now it's a three-day event with the first two in prime time. And if you landed on the combine on the NFL Network this past weekend, you probably stayed for at least a few minutes. It's a great product. We all love it. I love ice cream, but not every day.