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America's Pastime

   by Larry Ness - 04/28/2005

One needn't look any further that last week's headlines to find all the ammo needed to prove that the NFL has CLEARLY established itself as "America's Pastime".

MLB once held this title but no more. The month of April was typically 'owned' by that sport but countless work stoppages and an absurd payroll structure that has the Yankees paying out over $208 million in salaries this year while the Devil Rays' payroll comes in at just under $30 million has left many shaking their heads. Of course the recent "steroid controversy" has just added to the sport's woes, fueled by the embarrassing and somewhat pathetic performance of those that appeared before Congress (more on MLB in Monday's column).

While April was always best-known as the beginning of the baseball season, it was also the month the NHL and NBA opened its postseasons. The NHL is on its way to extinction, losing all of last year to a labor dispute, with no end in site. Whether or not the league comes back this fall may be a moot point, as NO ONE seems to care!

As for the NBA, David Stern (although I'm sure he wouldn't admit it) knows his league no longer holds the nation's attention the way it did in the "Magic-Bird era" or the subsequent "Jordan era". Last week brought that point home very loud and clear. While the league was entering its final three days of the regular season last Monday through Wednesday (April 17-20), the story that dominated the sports pages across America was the NFL's new TV deal.

If you missed it, MNF is moving to ESPN in 2006 and NBC is back covering the NFL on Sunday nights. The new contracts will pay the league an annual average of $3.7 billion, which is 54 percent more than the current average of $2.4 billion. If you think that's something, get a load of this! The $3.7 billion a year the NFL gets is more than the COMBINED total revenue of the TV deals for the NBA, NHL, MLB, NASCAR, NCAA basketball, the PGA Tour and the Summer Olympics! You think Pete Rozelle is smiling somewhere?

The NFL even upstaged the NBA on the day the league opened its "second season". With the 76ers and Pistons ready to open an eight-game weekend of playoff action at 3:00 pm Eastern, the NFL beat the NBA to the punch again, as the day's 'lead story' was the NFL Draft (starting at 12 noon Eastern)! The storyline of Utah QB Alex Smith going No.1 to San Francisco while California QB Aaron Rodgers waited all the way until Green Bay selected him with the 24th pick of the first round, OVERSHADOWED any interest the public may have had in any the NBA's eight opening games.

It's good to be king!


A QB was selected first overall for the seventh time in the last eight years. That marks the first time that's occurred in any eight-year span in the 70-year history of the draft. However, RBs were selected with the second, fourth and fifth picks, for the first time in 40 years. Maybe that should not come as a surprise to those of us that follow point spreads.

The average fan may know the introduction of the "no-chuck" rule saw the league's 32 teams combine for a record 732 TD passes in 2004. What many may not know, is that the running game also thrived because of the rule. The 2004 season also featured the most 100-yard games in any season-ever. There were 179 100-yard games in 2004, easily surpassing the previous record of 151, set in the 2003 season.

What's significant to us point spread junkies are these 'factoids'. Teams that featured a 100-yard rusher in a game last year went 134-45 SU and 127-49-3 or 72.2 percent ATS! Teams that featured a 300-yard passer last season went just 36-45 SU and a pathetic 29-50-2 or 36.7 percent ATS!

You want more ammo that running the football effectively means WINNING in the NFL? Teams that out-rushed their opponents in a game last year finished the year 183-72 SU and 171-78-6 or 68.7 percent ATS. Teams that had more rushing attempts than their opponents in a game were 194-57 SU and 179-66-6 or 73.1 percent ATS.

Those are some fairly convincing numbers! Remember them while handicapping the NFL next year.

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