On Thursday 8th August, the coin was thrown in the air to signal the start of preseason in NFL. After weeks of training camp camaraderie, teammates line up to compete for a place on the starting line up. Coordinators clutch their new laminates ready to test a new system to secure their futures in the franchise. Fans breathe a sigh of relief as the coin hit the turf: after a 6 month wait, football is back.
Preseason began as a test
Preseason football began as a way to test new players, systems and coaches in a not-for-record but still competitive game. It allows teams to practise against an opposition to learn how the team works against unknown situations.
Since 2002, teams have been allowed to have a say in their exhibition game. It allows us to see match ups we would not get to see in the regular season. We’re given a host of intra-state rivalries. The Giants/Jets MetLife Bowl, the Chargers/Rams Battle for LA and the Eagles/Steelers Quaker State Rivalry. AFC teams get to play NFC teams – something that only happens in the regular season once every four years. Old friends compete.
With the Giants and Patriots closing out their preseason together as Robert Kraft and Steve Tisch are buddies. Even time zones provide a backdrop to these games. With the Broncos and Cardinals playing a Mountain Time game, being the only two teams in the league in that zone.
Season after season, discussions arise about the purpose of the preseason games from all areas of the NFL universe. Baseball has around 30 not-for-record games ahead of the regular season. Yet these four weeks send the media into a frenzy.
The collective bargaining agreement
In 2008, the commissioner proposed reducing the preseason down to two games. This was in favour of increasing the regular season to 18 games. This was part of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, after the Player Association cited player fatigue and health concerns. With the CBA set to expire in 2020, a number of outlets brought this issue to the front again. Citing the league’s desire to change the league’s fortune after years of declining views. It’s unlikely that the concerns in the 2011 CBA will have changed.
These discussions centre around a lack of competitiveness in these games and the cost of tickets remaining the same as the regular season. Buoth points boiling down to coaches opting their star players out of the games.
Last year, LA Rams Head Coach Sean McVay opted out almost all his starting players to avoid injury. There were concerns that they’d start the season unprepared and sluggish. But The Rams didn’t score fewer than 33 points in a game until Week 6, and they finished the season 13-3 and they made the Super Bowl. This year, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks and Aaron Donald all sat out of week 1. With Gurley not making the trip to Oakland with the rest of the team.
The copycat league
With the NFL being a copycat league, not only are we seeing teams imitating McVey’s system, we’re also seeing teams following his preseason strategy. Chicago HC Matt Nagy is resting his starters to keep them healthy for their opening game against their rivals, Green Bay. Doug Marrone is doing the same down in Jacksonville, benching Nick Foles and the rest of his prominent players to keep them fresh and ensure he doesn’t have to rely on his back ups when the season counts.
With these teams’ star players on the bench, it’s easy to put yourself in the shoes of the fans who refuse to pay a regular season ticket price to watch a roster of second stringers.
Yet, credit is not given
Credit isn’t given to those rookies and second stringers for being able to play an exciting game. It is week 2 of the preseason and we’ve already been treated to some great storylines. Buffalo receiver Christian Wade has given the UK NFL fan base another player to get behind after his beautiful 65 yard touchdown against Indianapolis. We’ve seen Tennessee Quarterback Mariota run and flip a two point conversion over the back of New England Safety Durmon Harmon. 17 year veteran QB Josh McCown has come out of retirement to sign for Philadelphia after Doug Pederson saw holes in his backup situation.
Cleveland’s WR Damon Sheehey-Guiseppi’s week one performance serves as a perfect example of the beauty of preseason football. In April, he was sleeping outside NFL Combine trainer Pete Bommarito’s facility after spending his last $200 on training services ahead of his Browns workout after talking his way into tryouts. Fast forward to August 8th, and he returns an 86 yard punt for a touchdown against the Redskins, and instantly soars to NFL folk legend status. His family is running his Facebook account to deal with the amount of media requests he has received, and Google Trends shows that his name was the biggest search term in Ohio on August 8th. In that preseason game his life was changed, and without being put on the starting roster in that instance it’s unlikely that anyone outside of the Dawg Pound would know who he was.
It’s not only fairy tale storylines that play out in Preseason…
We get to see some magical football from both sides of the ball that wouldn’t happen in the regular season going up against the star players of the league.
We saw a run from Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson where he spun, leapt and swerved for an 18-yard touchdown. This wasn’t reflected in the box score of the game due to a call against WR Willie Snead. But it highlighted the second year QB’s athleticism.
It reminded everyone that while the offseason story has been his improved throwing, going up against a Green Bay defense still figuring itself out in the preseason was the perfect opportunity to remind everyone that he can still run too. This play felt like poetic justice. Especially after the media noise around his low Madden rating of 76, ranking him 24th in the league’s QBs.
Arizona Cardinals fans have been treated by some preseason gems to hype them up for the regular season. Kyler Murray has been disappointing in what we’ve seen so far. Which is limited given HC Kliff Kingsbury has been holding him out of the games to avoid injury. Although his first throw in the NFL was a completion.
Around him, though, rookie receiver Andy Isabella caught a 59 yard catch from QB Chad Kanoff. His first catch as a Cardinal. We saw defensive coordinator Vance Joseph erupt in celebration after S Tyler Sigler intercepted a pass against the chargers in week 1. A promising glimpse into the new era of Arizona after a tough few years of rebuilding.
Preseason is a wonderful build up
These stories are unique to preseason football. And for fans, watching football with no consequence is freeing. Especially for those whose teams are coming off a bad season. Or who haven’t made the playoffs since the Obama administration first took office.
Preseason football is a wonderful build up to the best time of year and a celebration of the underdog. When else will you get to watch down and out QB Nathan Peterman make a 50 yard run against last year’s Super Bowl contenders?