It happened over the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick dusted off his high school physics textbook and went in depth about the science behind air pressure in footballs.
He may as well have been wearing Fonzie's leather jacket and water skis; this was the moment the NFL officially jumped the shark. And yet, we can't turn away.
This week in Arizona will kick off the crescendo of what has been a season the NFL would rather forget. Between the Washington Redskins' name controversy, the league's handling of the Ray Rice scandal and Adrian Peterson's child abuse allegations, commissioner Roger Goodell has too often found himself answering questions that have little or nothing to do with the on-field game, becoming the public's whipping boy in the process.
But this latest "DeflateGate" scandal – over whether the New England Patriots intentionally deflated the footballs against their AFC Championship game opponent, the Indianapolis Colts – has captivated the country (and reduced the media to a bunch of giggling 5th graders) in a way that few others can.
If you were looking for proof of just how powerful the NFL's stranglehold on American pop culture is, consider the fact we spent an entire week talking about air pressure in footballs like it was a national crisis. The DeflateGate scandal -- a far more trivial controversy compared to the more serious, societal issues that the league has dealt with this season -- even transcended the sports world.
From Saturday Night Live to the White House, every corner of the media has weighed in on the controversy. National news networks have covered the various press conferences from Belichick and star quarterback Tom Brady. Even Bill Nye the Science Guy has given his two cents.
It’s been pretty clear that despite all the NFL’s off-field troubles, we can’t get enough football. Even though it was down from last season, Conference championship Sunday on Jan. 18 averaged 46.1 million viewers and the Divisional round the prior weekend was the most-watched in league history. When the Patriots face off against the Seattle Seahawks on Super Sunday, NBC is expecting an audience north of 110 million viewers.
The litany of scandals hasn’t taken the air out of advertisers’ love for the NFL either. According to ad-tracking firm iSpot, TV networks took in just under $4 billion this year from national ads alone (the average cost of insertion was $338,000 per ad).
This week, the entire world will have all eyes on Arizona. Even in a scandal-filled season as this one, it appears nothing will deflate the NFL’s grip on us.
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