On our drive back to Columbus today, we listened to satellite radio because the Virginia and West Virginia mountains interfere with decent reception on FM and AM channels. We turned to ESPN radio to catch reaction to the Buckeyes’ big win last night and listened to its programming for about three hours straight.
As you would expect, there was discussion of last night’s NCAA Tournament games and also of today’s games, but to my surprise there was at least an equal amount of spirited discussion of . . . the NFL. This, even though the Super Bowl was played more than a month ago, the draft isn’t for weeks yet, and even “pre-season” games won’t occur for months. Although we are into the off-season for the NFL — to the extent there is an NFL off-season anymore — the talking heads wanted to yak about the trade of Tim Tebow to the New York Jets, the punishment meted out for “bounty-gate,” and the move of Peyton Manning to the Denver Broncos, among other topics.
In contrast, there was no discussion of Major League Baseball, even though spring training is winding down and the start of the season is right around the corner. What does it tell you about the popularity and financial health of a sport if even a 24-hour sports channel doesn’t talk about it on the eve of a new season?
Baseball used to be the most popular sport in the land, but it has long since been passed by college and professional football — and now the NFL is pushing Major League Baseball ever farther into the back of the bus. If I were the owner of a pro baseball franchise, saddled with huge player contracts and long-term leases and looking at declining TV ratings, I’d be very concerned, indeed.
Today the Cleveland Browns won a game they absolutely had to win. By the end of the season this game may mean nothing — but at least a win in a must-win game is a welcome change from prior seasons.
The Browns beat the Indianapolis Colts, 27-19. It’s not a great achievement, because the Colts without Peyton Manning are like a mighty aircraft carrier without a captain. Nevertheless, any win on the road in the NFL is a win to be celebrated. For the Browns in particular, the game is worth relishing because the Browns actually managed to hold onto, and then expand, a fourth-quarter lead and put the game away. Peyton Hillis’ hard-running 24-yard touchdown gallop gave the Browns a two-score lead, and the defense’s forcing a fumble from Kerry Collins on the next series was the back-breaker.
The Browns have a long way to go, but winning to keep pace with the other teams in the AFC North was crucial. Today’s game also showed some promising signs. For the first time since Kamerion Wimbley’s rookie season, the Browns may have an defensive line that can consistently pressure the opposing quarterback without blitzing. I particularly like the hustling, never-say-quit play of rookie lineman Jabaal Sheard. Colt McCoy had a reasonably good day throwing the ball, which is essential if you are going to run the West Coast offense. And the Browns continued to stick with the rushing game, wearing the Colts down until Hillis sprang his clutch run.
This win is a baby step, but it is a baby step in the right direction after last week’s embarrassing performance against the Bengals.