Football isn't dying, it's evolving. That's because football isn't boxing, it's a sport.
There - two thoughts that have been gnawing at us like roof rats in your attic. Ever since Tony Kornheiser appeared on AZ Sports 620 and forecast the future of the NFL as follows:
"All you have to do is look at boxing. Boxing was the most popular sport in America for a hundred years," said the TV-radio-print commentator/columnist. "And the cultural wheel turns at some point. And now it's conducted on pay per view and it's not on television all the time and nobody wants their kid to grow up to be a boxer."
Football isn't boxing, although it's inherently high contact and often violent. Thing is, you don't score points for a pancake block or a devastating tackle. Put simply: on the gridiron, you score points by scoring the football. There is a game that supersedes the hostility.
Boxing is battery. In the ring, the only objective is to assault your opponent. You compile points by piling on. Unless he's knocked out cold first, of course.
Boxing is violence that parades as a sport (Cue Russell Crowe: "Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained?")
And there's another way that football is not boxing: it's not corrupt to the core. In fact, quite the opposite. The NFL is perhaps the best run and most profitable business enterprise on the planet (all apologies to the Facebook IPO).
Now, is football where it was two decades ago? No. And that's a good thing. Hang on, you say. What about the big hits (BIG, BIG hits)? We all miss the honkin-huge take-your-head-off-don't-call-me-assassin-crash-test- dummy-type collisions that they used to sell on VHS tapes, right? Wrong. #Buzzer.
Not anymore. Now that we know what we know, do you miss it? I don't. When a guy gets splattered and splayed by a hit he never saw coming, do you applaud? No. Instead, we wince and pray he's okay.
And this comes from a guy who used to get ready for high school football games by (unsuccessfully) channeling his inner Ronnie Lott (Warning - author just got dangerously close to a hit ‘n run High School Harry story).
Once again, football has evolved. And so have the fans. No longer do we watch football just to see a defenseless receiver get blow'd up across the middle. And, if we're honest, we never did in the first place.
Whether you're in the stands or in front of your big screen, you're a fan of football the sport, not just the mayhem. If I showed you a highlight reel of just the brutal hits in a game, you'd ask me: what about the game itself? What happened in the game? Who won? Who scored?
That's not to say that hitting isn't integral to the game. But, now that we know the consequences, will you miss the blows to the head when they're gone? Yet, in boxing, what else is there? That is the DNA of the game.
And again, back in the day, I was Paulie Pay Per View. But we've changed. Now, how can you flip on boxing and, with every punch to the skull, not feel like you're huddled around a dimly lit ring watching human cockfighting?
"Football as we know it is over. It's over. The football that you grew up playing is over," Kornheiser continued. "And, as a parent, you probably think that's probably a pretty good idea. The football that became the most popular sport in America… sold itself with this contained roller-ball aspect of violence."
Football isn't over, it's different. But it's still football. And it's still the most popular sport in the country because it's much more than the violence. And that's why fans are still buying, not fleeing.