Living outside of the Stars and Stripes for three years forced me to evaluate somethings about my upbringing, sports in particular. When I grew up, football was king. It was emperor. It was god. All other sports worshipped it and merely wished they could be it. I enjoyed other sports, both recreationally and as a fan, but in a direct comparison, nothing could hold a candle to football.
In the last few years, I have been largely isolated from most all the sports I love to watch (football, basketball and MMA primarily) and been exposed to a steady diet of what the rest of the athletic world has been up to. My eyes have been opened to the skill, passion and glories of soccer, footy, netball, rugby and cricket.
My sporting palate has been introduced to flavors that I never knew existed. And after all of this, if I am to be honest with myself and weigh things dispassionately, I have no other option than to broadcast this declaration to all of humanity: American football is without a doubt… the most perfected and divine sport that mankind could possibly devise with the biggest, strongest and fastest athletes the world has to offer… and the competition ain’t even close.
I realize that there are different strokes for different folks, and that’s fine. I’m not looking to dissuade someone from liking their favorite sport. I’m just here to say that your favorite sport is objectively inferior to my favorite sport and on average boasts less impressive athletes. What’s that you say? Prove it? Oh…I’m so glad you asked. Come with me for a few thousand words and brace yourself for some enlightenment as we head into the 2016 football season.
A few quick things I need to address before diving in. I’m not sure why people feel the need to make this particular retort, but they apparently do, so I’ll come out and address it right away. When you read this, please refrain from saying “oh yeah! Well a professional rugby player is way more fit than you!” Yeah, I’m aware. I’m an out of shape, partially disabled engineer who works at a desk all day. There are girl’s volleyball players riding the bench down at Centennial Middle School who are more fit than I am.
Also refrain from trying to convince me that “soccer requires insane amounts of skill. I’d like to see YOU do that,” or whatever. Of course it requires a lot of skill. A lot of things require insane amounts of skill. Professional yo-yoing requires mind-boggling skill, but that doesn’t mean it’s the ultimate sport, or even a decent sport. With that out of the way, let us begin.
Some Common and Not-so-Common Arguments.
Why is American Football the best sport in the world? I’ll start by refuting a few common arguments/criticisms that I know are already swimming around the minds of the dissenters. This should save you the keystrokes of having to type these rebuttals into my comments box. I’m such a nice guy.
Soccer is more globally popular. I hear this one come up all the time. “WAAAY more people watch soccer (and even cricket) than American football, so that means soccer is WAAAY better!” While it is true that more people watch soccer, I think the link between global popularity and objective superiority is a tenuous one. The reason why soccer is watched and played more than American football has nothing to do with it being a better sport. It has to do with the fact that it is the most available and accessible. What do you need to play soccer? A rock, a piece of trash, a pinecone? Soccer is the most popular sport because there is no barrier to entry, it’s not intimidating, and it’s available everywhere. It’s a gateway sport for four-year olds so parents can see if their kids like to run after a ball or would rather chase butterflies.
Saying soccer is the best sport in the world because it’s played the most is like saying that plain beans and rice is the best food in the world because it’s eaten the most. While I am thankful for beans and rice and the role it plays in global nutrition, I realize that when one acquires more means, they typically go on to bigger and better meals. I moved on from soccer when I was seven and I stopped buying Ramen noodles when I graduated college.
Games like soccer and cricket are also extremely traditional. You can see signs of early soccer in ancient Greek carvings and Chinese tapestries, and that’s just dandy. The USA, on the other hand, is a relatively much younger country and although we don’t have ancient carvings and tapestries, we do like to invent stuff (see TV, internet, mass produced automobile, manned spacecraft to the moon, tater tots, telephone, airplane, light bulb, disposable diapers, personal computer, 3D printing, the Roomba, etc).
And so we set out to invent a better sport than the ones handed down to us by medieval England while they were drawing and quartering William Wallace. We’ve come up with a lot of good ideas since the William Wallace days, in the world of technology and also in the world of sport. Not beholden to maintain the unevolved athletic traditions of our ancestors, we set out to do what we do best: invent stuff (see list above). The result? American football (and basketball for that matter, another supremely fine sport).
It makes sense to me why soccer is more popular than American football, in the same way that it makes sense to me that the Kia Rio is more popular than the BMW i8.
USA doesn’t like soccer, because they stink at it. This is only partly true. Don’t mistake our apathy for your dominance. Most of our freak athletes are busy playing football and thus not playing soccer. Now if only there was some way for me to show what would happen if American football didn’t exist and our best athletes were fully engaged in soccer. If only there was some subset of freakishly awesome American athletes who don’t play football… the women! I wonder how our women do in soccer in global competition. Let me Google it, hold on. Let’s see here…FIFA Women’s World Cup…history, yada yada…format…ah, here it is “All Time Performance.” Oh, would you look at that. We’re number 1. So no, it’s not that we don’t like it because we stink at it. We (i.e. our men’s team) stink at it because we’re anxiously engaged in nobler pursuits.
Football is too slow. They’re always stopping and starting. First off, if you’re coming to this particular argument with “cricket” as your sport of choice, then you are probably heavily under the influence of alcohol. Not just because your logic is flawed, but because that’s the only state of being in which anyone could possibly enjoy cricket. This whole “stop/starting” argument is most commonly thrown out there by soccer fans, who like to point to their constant running as proof of their non-stop action. If this is true, then the most action packed sport is actually a marathon, which it isn’t. Marathons are for raising awareness for cancer research, setting personal challenges that only you care about, and annoying non-marathon runners on Facebook. Who holds the record for the fastest marathon? You don’t know?! Of course not, because no one cares.
Soccer has a claim to non-stop action in the same way that a bad day of ice fishing does. Yes, a line is always in the water, but when you get a bite every 30 mins and maybe pull up one or two undersized rainbow trout on the day, you can hardly claim it as non-stop action.
You know who else shares my opinion on this? Statistics does. Looking at almost 200,000 games in 126 years of English soccer, we learn the following:
– 7% of games end in 0-0. That is 1 out of every 14 games, folks. No points. That’s not only something that can happen, it’s something that REGULARLY happens. If aliens came down and visited earth and wanted to know what was our most heralded athletic entertainment and we said “soccer” and then they found out that one in fourteen games ended in 0-0, they would either immediately mobilize to conquer and subjugate the simpletons of earth or simply move on, realizing that they are still looking for intelligent life in the universe. Let’s not let soccer screw up our first conversation with aliens, please.
– 46% of the time, only 2 goals or less are scored. And I don’t mean by each team. I mean in total. If the World Cup is on and you’re looking for me, I’ll be out where the action is, fishing the worst spots I can find on Utah Lake.
– 25% of the time the game ends in a tie. This is by far the most egregious of all soccer statistics. What the hell is this, Dora the Explorer? Nobody wins and nobody loses. Yay! Everyone gets a trophy! A quarter of the time there isn’t a winner. I want you to digest that bit of rancid data for a while before you claim soccer is the world’s best sport.
“It’s ok that soccer only has a couple goals a game, because it’s way more intense and exciting that way!” Oh yeah? Allow your wife to use that logic on you when it comes to frequency of intimacy and let’s see how long you keep making that argument.
No fluff. Where sports like soccer get it wrong, football gets it right. The stop/start nature of football actually enhances its excitement, not detracts. There is a lot of what I refer to as “fluff” in other sports. It’s time where you’re walking, lightly jogging, dribbling around, etc. Yes, the play is constant, but nothing is really happening and 75% of the people on the field are just farting around. If that is “constant action” then I want nothing to do with it. It’s a waste of a spectator’s time. It’s superfluous. Football has done away with that. It has stripped away the fluff and only kept the parts that matter, concentrating the excitement into strategic bursts of organized warfare.
Added to this, is the unique intensity that comes every few plays when a team is faced with a third or fourth down conversion. All of the sudden it’s not even about whether or not your team scores, it’s about whether or not they can get a few yards or even inches or conversely, whether or not your team can stop the other team from getting those yards or inches. It’s roller coaster of adrenaline, excitement and constant anticipation all game long. It’s the frequently occurring subplots and cliff hangers that keep you on the edge of your seat from kickoff to the final horn.
“Pads are for wusses.” Another common criticism (mostly from rugby fans) is that “American football players are pansies because they need all those pads. Rugby players don’t need any pads!!” I could tackle this one from a dozen different angles but the simplest response might just be to imagine how the game of rugby might be different if everyone was adorned in lightweight, high tech suits of armor. However much we enjoy watching Tony Stark fight crime in an Armani suit, the heavy hitting action begins when he transforms into Iron Man. Like with the Iron Man suit, pads in football are used as a weapon as much as they are a protection.
The added protection lets players crash into opponents at maximum speed and reckless abandon. It’s like if there was a league of football players that played on concrete and then made fun of the players that played on grass because they “weren’t as tough” as the concrete players. The concrete ain’t adding anything to your game, it just becomes a caution that players shouldn’t have to tolerate. A bit of protection, when applied correctly, actually increases the ferocity with which the game is played.
Plays away from the ball. This next unique feature of football is one that is rarely discussed, but still noteworthy in my eyes. I played middle school and high school football. I wasn’t the most naturally gifted athlete, but I worked hard and was fortunate enough to start, some years both ways. I played kick/punt returner, running back, fullback, linebacker, defensive end and even lineman if you’ll believe it. Again, I was never a star athlete, but was a solid contributor most games. I had the thrill of winning championships, coming down with game clinching picks, recovering fumbles, blocking kicks, scoring touchdowns, making sacks, and so on.
All of this over the years, and you know what some of my favorite, most memorable plays were of my football career? Blocks. I didn’t even have the ball, nor did the guys I cleaned up. You’re not going to find this in any other sport. Not in basketball, soccer, rugby, baseball, volleyball, tennis, or cricket. You won’t even find it in hockey, since the big hits are almost always on the dude with the puck. If you want to make an awesome play, you have to be going for or touching the ball. Football, however, is much grander, and offers so much more. Yes, everyone is keyed on the ball carrier, but there are almost a dozen one-on-one battles playing out every snap. Personal wars between linemen, running backs, receivers, defensive backs, and linebackers and ALL have the makings of highlight material. It’s a thing of beauty.
You can score from anywhere. Related to the omnipresent sense of anticipation that I described above is the fact that on any given play, at any moment, from any spot on the field, either team can score. Offense, defense, special teams, lineman, QB, cornerback, wide receiver, anyone from anywhere at anytime. You see a lot of soccer goals go in from midfield? Three-quarter court shots in basketball? No. You have a pretty good idea in most other sports when your team is getting set up to score. The unknown that you are never safe, or conversely, that there is always hope gives football yet another unique feather in its abundantly plumaged cap.
Strategy. Because of it’s unparalleled highlight reel hits, some folks may think that football is all brawn and no brains, but nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from amping up the tension and disposing of the fluff, the stop/start nature of football also allows for the coaches to call a near endless variety of plays in a battle of tactics and wits that is without equal in all of sports. Passes, hand-offs, routes, blitz’s, coverages, play actions, run options, audibles, blocking assignments, etc, etc, etc. From week to week, each opponent can present vastly different offenses and defenses. It is the brawniest of brawn and the brainiest of brain all at once.
One of my very favorite outgrowths from this strategically focused battle is the trick play. The hook and ladder, the double reverse pass, the statue of liberty, the fake punt, the onside kick. Show me where else in all of sports that you see such a glorious gamble of deception and unorthodox tactics for a potential huge gain like the trick play in football. You have to be ready for anything in this sport.
Tights. One final compliant I would like to address is the oft-cited slight that “football players wear tights! Har, har, har!” Well, of course they do. That’s because tights are the universally accepted apparel for people with super-human abilities. And as we all know, no athletes in all of team sports are quite as super-human as football players. Don’t believe me? Well, prepare to become a believer.
I’m not saying that other sports aren’t filled with incredible and gifted athletes, with athletic freaks and physical monsters. I’m just saying that the strongest and fastest people on earth who compete for or with a ball are playing collegiate and professional football. Let’s break it down.
Speed: Every sport measures speed differently, but the most universal measuring stick is the 100m dash. Whether you’re playing soccer, rugby or American football the 100m dash is basically how fast you can run from one end of the field to the other, and if you line up soccer, rugby and football players for a race, the first two groups are going to get absolute freaking smoked by the third group.
Plainly put, the list of fastest rugby and soccer players that run a sub 10.5 sec 100m dash is very very short. Like count on your fingers and toes short. The list for American football is practically endless. In fact, most lists of “fastest rugby players” are still including times in the 11 sec range. I’m pretty sure I saw a retired football player with a wooden leg run an 11 sec 100m. Believe it or not, you can combine all the soccer and rugby players that have ever run a sub 10.5 sec 100m dash and it will be less than the number that enter the NCAA in a SINGLE YEAR. I didn’t say enter the NFL, I said NCAA, meaning that you can take all of the fastest professional rugby and soccer players, put them in a room and I can take the fastest HIGH SCHOOL football players from say 2014, and there would be more in the football room.
“THAT’S RIDICULOUS!!!” You shout. I agree. It is ridiculous. Ridiculous that anyone thinks any sport other than football has the greatest athletes in the world. Don’t believe me. Google it. Here, I’ll save you the time [here, here, here, here] What about a sub 10.4, 10.3, 10.2, 10.1? Take a look at this year. Kolby Listenbee enters the NFL this year with a 10.04 100m dash. No rugby player or soccer player has ever been that fast. Ever. And don’t show me some YouTube video of Ronaldo sprinting 96m in 10 seconds flat as “proof”. That video is about as accurate as a blind man clocking a sprint with an hourglass. Someone actually did put Ronaldo up against a guy who could run a 10.14sec 100m dash and he got absolutely smoked. The only speed record Ronaldo holds is for the fastest soccer player that runs like a goose.
Strength: Again, don’t get me wrong, professional rugby players are absolute monsters. There’s just a bigger and stronger breed of monster that hails from the realm of American Football (I don’t include a comparison to soccer players here because, well…they’re pansies.) The only real thing I need to say here is two words: Larry Allen. I’ll just drop the proverbial mic and walk off the stage.
Vertical Jump: So your fastest guy doesn’t run as fast, your strongest guy ain’t as strong. Should we talk about how high they can jump? You’d think NBA would far and away have this one in the books… and you’d be wrong, way wrong. There are a lot of claims about verts on the internet, but under controlled testing (I’m taking NBA vs NFL scouting combines), the NFL dominates. For the 2016 combines, NFL’s top jumper recorded 41.5” while NBA’s did 37.5”. In 2015 the divide was even greater with the NFL at a crazy 45.0”, NBA was 38” (also note that during the 2015 NFL combine, Byron Jones BROKE THE WORLD RECORD for standing long jump). In fact, if you compare the all time NBA combine record for running vertical to NFL’s standing vertical, the NFL STILL WINS (45.5” vs 46.0”). That is insane.
Overall: So I know what you’re going to say: “Football’s big strong guys are fat and slow and its fast guys are small. I’m looking for the OVERALL best athlete rolled into one.” Without listing all of football’s freaks of nature I will just invite you to offer up your sport’s champion. Offer up your most monstrous of all athletes, and I will find five athletes more impressive that play American football. And after I present you with those five, I’m going to do that Princess Bride thing where I tell you that “I’m not left handed” and reveal that those five players were only college players. I might even throw in a high school player or two, just to be a jerk.
Conclusion: Any way you look at it, from athleticism to strategy to complexity to intensity to excitement, American football reigns supreme. It is king of all sports humanity has devised. Now if the BYU Cougars could just put together a season worth blogging about…