Parity leaves pro football in a sorry state

Jim Schortemeyer

This is what pro football has come to. Three of the four remaining teams in the playoffs didn’t exist five years ago.
Something called the Tennessee Titans is playing in the AFC Championship game.
Its opponent: the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The situation in the NFC isn’t exactly better. The Los Angel … er, St. Louis Rams are set to face perennial power Tampa Bay.
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That’s not to knock any of the aforementioned teams. The teams that are left have squads that have clearly been a cut above the rest of the NFL.
But that ain’t sayin’ much. It all comes down to one thing: parity, the sports buzzword of the new millennium.
It started with Bill Parcells rebuilding two cellar-dwellers (New England and New York) through free agency. Now, every team looks to free agency for a quick shot in the arm rather than thinking long-term.
The results are evident in this year’s playoff squads. Teams that combined for a sub .500 record last season are suddenly powerhouses.
It’s not entirely bad. Teams like Tennessee and St. Louis have been so bad for so long that it’s nice to see them have a little success.
But what’ll happen next year? Just about every team in the AFC could compete for the Super Bowl. Denver didn’t look too pathetic at the end of the season, New York surged in the second half and you can never count out Seattle, a Mike Holmgren-coached team.
There should be at least one exception in the NFC. The Bucaneers are for real. Tony Dungy has built a defense-based team that’s also young enough to have a run at the top.
One drawback:Trent Dilfer.If you’re a Tampa Bay fan, hope he stays out of the lineup.
Football is a mess, and we should all be rooting for Tampa Bay to become a dynasty.
Why? With San Fransisco and Dallas floating face-down in the NFL talent pool, there’s no one to hate anymore.
Every NFL season needs a bad guy. For the early ’90s, it was the Cowboys.
Nothing quite says “playoffs” like watching a Dallas Cowboy cry because of a playoff loss. Sure, they made the postseason, but who among us actually thought they would move out of the first round? The Dallas Mavericks could have equaled the Cowboys’ playoff effort.
And the 49ers were so good for so long, it’s hard to even think of them as a cellar dweller. But Roger Craig isn’t high-stepping through opposing defenses and Ronald Reagan isn’t napping in the Oval Office anymore.
This is the year 2000, and football fans have never had so many questions.
Who are fans supposed to root against? The Rams have one of the most electrifying young offenses in football. The Titans have a dual-purpose quarterback in Steve McNair who’s just plain fun to watch. The Bucaneers have a speedy, hard-hitting defense that could rule the NFC Central for years to come. And the Jaguars have a nice balance between offense and defense.
There’s no Jerry Joneses here. No Montana to Rice.
And most importantly, there’s no reason to care if your team’s not in the playoffs anymore.

Jim Schortemeyer is the sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]