This week marks the opening of the 94th season of the NFL, otherwise known as the league that can apparently do no wrong (though allowing Ryan Seacrest to be involved in the pregame telecast of Thursday’s Denver-Baltimore contest came pretty darn close).
For your humble correspondent, it’s my first year writing primarily about the Seattle Seahawks and the NFL after 16 seasons covering the Washington Huskies.
After that lengthy of a stint reporting on one team, it felt like a good time for a change when the opportunity was presented.
As a lifelong fan of all sports, it was also tempting to want to get an up-close look at a league that is undoubtedly the most popular in the country, seemingly impervious to any perceived blight on its resume, be it a messy concussion lawsuit or a star player being charged with murder.
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I was curious to get a closer look at an NFL that is not only the true Teflon league at the moment, but also has made itself a perfect fit for our 24/7/365 social-media culture by turning the draft, free agency and even offseason training programs into must-see events, transforming the league into a year-round conversation piece.
It was equally tempting to want to get a first-hand look at a Seahawks team that may be more popular than any in Seattle sports history. We could debate (and maybe will in a future piece) where the 1979-80 or mid-1990s Sonics, the 1980s era or 2005-06 Seahawks, the early 1990s Huskies, or 1995-2001 Mariners fit into that conversation, as well.
As evidence of the Seahawks’ overwhelming current popularity, check out the off-the-charts local ratings for their four exhibition games, which included a 25 for the final contest against Oakland — the most meaningless of the exhibition season, making it as meaningless as any NFL football game could ever be (for comparison’s sake, UW’s season opener against Boise State drew an 11.1 locally).
Other than why make the change, the main question I’ve gotten since moving to the Seahawks is to assess the difference in the two experiences.
For starters, there are the obvious — the players are bigger, stronger, faster and better. You go to a Seahawks practice and more passes are on target, more balls are caught, more did-you-see-that plays are made.
NFL players are also older and as such, generally more comfortable in the media spotlight (as an aside, it seems to me that college programs that increasingly shield their players from the media and other such responsibilities aren’t helping prepare players for that spotlight, which with every year is only growing brighter).
Two other NFL vs. college differences have also struck me during the many hours standing on the sidelines at the VMAC:
• The sizes of the rosters. This is another that may seem so obvious as to make me seem naïve for even pointing it out. But after spending 16 years around practices of a UW team that, in the fall anyway, usually had 100 or so players, watching the Seahawks the last week with just 53 active (and 61 including practice squad) made me wonder a few times where everybody was.
In college, you don’t see key backups who could be called on that weekend working in practice on the scout team (college teams save those jobs for deep reserves or others who are sitting out).
• The salary cap. Again, another obvious point — NFL teams have one, college teams don’t, unless you consider scholarship limitations to be a quasi-substitute for a salary cap.
The cap, though, colors everything about roster construction in the NFL in or out of season, a constant shuffling of bodies you don’t see in college football.
You can’t just be a big school, build the best facilities possible, and know that players will come rolling in.
That too, though, may be a topic worth exploring further as we head into another NFL season that will once again give us all kinds of interesting stories to tell.