The off-season in any sport is a time of reflection and change, and a time to plan, prepare and postulate. It’s a time when fans voice anger, fears and desires – and when teams seldom respond to the will of those fans. The thing about the NFL off-season, as with most sports, is that almost every team in the league is left with the same empty feeling–the feeling of what could have been, or what wanted to be.
All except the team who wins it all.
The NFL is comprised of 32 teams, who all play 16 regular season games, who all have 53 active players and 45 dressed players, and who all have an opportunity to draft players in seven different rounds. And for every team besides the Super Bowl winner, they are trying to determine the best way to use all those numbers to reach that elusive plateau. Some teams have further to go than others, but 31 teams are striving to be where only one team managed to reach in the previous season.
Even the champions are trying their best to devise a plan to prevent the other 31 opponents from knocking them back down into the masses.
When a person, organization or team wants to improve, change is inevitable. Without change, there can be no internal improvement, nor can there be any possible way of expecting to finish in any better position. Without change, the only possible movement can be downward. As my high school coach used to tell me, “If you’re coasting, you must be going downhill.”
This is when things begin to get sticky in a locker room. Loyalties, allegiances and emotion have to be placed aside in the name of doing what is best for a team. The formidable voice known as the fans must be muted so that there can be quiet reflection on what did, didn’t, will and won’t work.
To fans, players are an investment of hope and heart.
Fans have the luxury of becoming emotionally attached to players. The wearing of their favorite player’s jersey is the highest respect that can be paid by a fan, and for that player–within the span of mere months–to don the uniform of another team (especially a bitter rival), is out-and-out blasphemous to the fan.
To team management, players are an investment of their money and their coveted roster spots.
General managers and owners are not at leisure to allow their personal feelings for a player to rule the decision making process…particularly in the modern era of sport. Team executives have to weigh not only contributions on and off the field by players, but the dynamics in the locker room and on the sidelines–as well as answering to the almighty dollar and it’s outrageous demands upon their decisions.
It can become a tug of war that leaves fans and management with a sourness (even bitterness) for the other sides–which is why in many cases teams fail, leave town, or even simply fold. Both sides want to win a championship, but it’s here that the disconnect happens. Management wants to win a championship…fans want them to win a championship with the players they’ve come to love.
The important thing to remember is that no NFL general manager or owner ever sat down in a conference room with their trusted advisors, locked the doors and said, “How can we stick it to these fans this year?” And despite what some fans think, there really aren’t owners out there who want to lose because it makes more fiscal sense on their yearly tax return.
If your favorite player on your favorite team is leaving town, you aren’t alone. Chances are there are fans in nearly every other NFL city that are sharing your pain. The off-season is filled with stories of anguishing farewells, whether it be from trades, release, free agency or just retirement. Change is a painful thing. As humans we fear change, and we gravitate towards familiarity.
There are 32 NFL teams.
Only 18 different teams have ever won a Super Bowl.
Twelve of those teams have won it more than once.
Even the NFL struggles with change.