It's February and the Gatorade has dried, the confetti has been swept up, and you're at a loss for things to do on a Sunday afternoon. Uh oh, football season is over. Don't despair, we've got the goods to keep your pigskin craving satisfied.
By Max Corey
There is a moment that every football fan dreads. It occurs sometime after the Super Bowl Gatorade shower, but before the excessively mournful interview from the losing coach. This is the moment that NFL fans realize that the season is over. Opening kickoff is seven months away. Seven!
Do not despair, my fellow football fans. I am here to tell you what to look forward to in the next seven months to soothe your football craving.
1. Don't rely on other sports
I'm not here to tell you to follow baseball, basketball, or anything starting with “Women's.” Even if the Arena Football League hadn't decided to cancel their 2009 season, I wouldn't even recommend that. Relying on a substitute sport will only make you crave the real NFL deal.
2. Brush up on your football knowledge
Consider the off-season summer school. When the 2009 season comes around, you don't want to sound like Emmitt Smith when talking football with your buddies http://www.walterfootball.com/ has some great Emmitt Quotes. Hey ESPN, feel free to replace Emmitt, as well as 95% of your other on air talent, with ham sandwiches. No one will notice).
I suggest you keep current with NFL off-season news as well as brush up on your football knowledge and history.
First, I recommend Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback, a weekly SI.com column. While he takes some time off, King provides off-season updates, trade rumors, Hall of Fame talk, etc. King is simply one of the best football journalists today.
Second, I'd also recommend checking out some NFL related books, such as Michael Lewis's “The Blind Side” and David Halberstam's “The Education of a Coach“.
Third, I urge any true football fan to follow the geniuses behind Footballoutsiders.com. Aaron Schatz and the rest of his staff churn out valuable statistics that will impress your friends. No longer, do you have to nod and smile when some idiot (Emmitt Smith) extols that “Defense wins championships.” Football Outsiders uses detailed, but easily understandable formulas to decipher the true values of players and teams. Brush up on the 2008 edition of Pro Football Prospectus, their yearly almanac that educates newbies and hardcore fans alike.
Fourth, check out the rest of the best of football blogs. These include Profootballtalk.com, deadspin.com, and even forums like sportsjournalists.com. For mainstream NFL coverage of the offseason, ESPN, Yahoo Sports, CNNSI, and FoxSports are all acceptable outlets.
Fifth, you might want to consider purchasing the NFL Network. Personally, I'm not a fan of 24-hour sports coverage. I don't need football every single hour of my life. But, if you do, get the NFL network.
3. Relive the past
If you're a sports-loving male in your 20's and you don't read Bill ” The Sports Guy” Simmons, something is seriously wrong with you. Writing for ESPN, Simmons is a rare pop culture and sports hybrid, able to mix in “Pearl Jam” and “Skinemax” references along with detailed analysis of football and other sports.
I suggest re-reading his NFL columns. Every 5000-word column brings laughs and insight. Check out his preview of the 2008 season. While he doesn't claim to be a prognosticator (many, if not most, of his predictions are wildly off), there isn't a better sports humorist who churns out so much quality and quantity.
Also, check out the videos at nfl.com. They have a ton of videos in which you can relive the season. If you're an NFL fan with some spare cash, NFL Films has a large collection of NFL Films, a series of archived footage used on ESPN as well as on the old “Inside the NFL.”
4. Plan for the future
The following is a list of key dates during the offseason. While I won't break down each event here, suffice it to say that the NFL Draft is the big one.
- Feb. 18-24 — NFL Scouting Combine
- Feb. 27 — Free agency begins (there are various free agency deadlines that follow)
- There are numerous off field free agency and trade rumors you should follow. All eyes will be on Brett Favre, Matt Cassell, and Kurt Warner as to where they might end up. A few eyes will be even cast on JP Losman and Super Bowl quarterback Byron Leftwich (oh, the perks of being a backup in Pittsburgh). Other notable free agents include TJ Houshmandzadeh and Ray Lewis. Drama surrounds LaDainian Tomlinson, a running back who had a Citibank-esque decline in 2008. There's Tom Brady's knee rehab and Terrell Owens being Terrell Owens. In short, the NFL offseason has enough storylines to satiate your football needs.
- March 22-25 — NFL Annual Meeting
- April 25-26 — NFL Draft
- Draft hype will be a key in maintaining your interest in the NFL, check out draft guru Mel Kiper's analysis. http://profootball.scout.com/ has information if you don't subscribe to ESPN's insider content. Now might be go a good time to subscribe, and then unsubscribe once the real season starts). I personally think the coverage of the draft is a bit overkill. The post-draft grades of each team are just ridiculous, as no one knows how these young players will pan out. Still, part of the fun of following the draft is learning about the needs of all 32 NFL teams, which will make you a smarter fan come the regular season. Note: if you read “The Blind Side,” a certain figure from that book will be playing a big role in this year's draft. So read the book. Now.
- May 18-20 — NFL Spring Meeting
- July 20 – Michael Vick is released from federal custody. Get ready for the publicity tour of a reformed Michael Vick after that whole dog torture misunderstanding. The drama surrounding Vick and a possible return to the pros will clog football coverage. Given that Vick previously tried to bring a water bottle full of marijuana into the Miami airport, I'm giving him only a few months before he gets into trouble again. Michael Vick, really?!
5. Fantasy football
While February is a little early to start preparing for fantasy drafts, I would suggest that you look back on your previous season and see where things went wrong (or right?). How many transactions a week did you make? Did you make any trades and how did they turn out? What was your draft/auction strategy and did it pay off? Thinking about your fantasy game ahead of time can pay dividends.
Now, where do I learn about strategies? ESPN and Yahoo Sports provide a decent amount of high quality amount of content for free. I'd also recommend fanball.com. But, I'd also suggest a podcast, that, unless you live in Minnesota, you likely have never heard of: http://www.kfan.com/podcast/FantasyFBWeekly.xml
I'm from Minnesota, and I personally find this podcast to be one of the top sources of fantasy football information. While the podcast does not begin until August, the hosts help listeners prepare for the draft as well as regular season matchups. While other fantasy football podcasts feel like an 80's improv open mic session, this KFAN show provides plenty in quantity and quality. Come August, I'd highly recommend this unknown radio show for those who live outside of Minnesota, as it will give you a unique informational advantage.
If you follow my advice, September will seem a mere snap away. Come to think of it, warm weather will soon reach all of the United States. Simply playing the game might be the ultimate way to experience football. So, grab the pads, go outside, and do your best Roethlisberger to Holmes impression. Add in a Gatorade shower, and repeat until the real deal begins in September.