A few days ago we called up Time Warner and added the “Big Ten Network” to our cable package so we can watch this weekend’s Michigan–Michigan State football game. The first thing we saw on the channel when the signal started coming through was a video of a Wisconsin history professor giving a lecture. We bring this up not to disparage Wisconsin’s fine history department, but merely to point out that our vast universe of sports-television options now includes history lectures at Midwestern universities but not the official channel of the country’s most popular sports league, the NFL Network.
The channel has, of course, been the subject of a long-running dispute between Time Warner and the NFL, who can’t agree what price the cable provider should pay for the right to carry it. (According to Roger Goodell, they won’t be reaching such an agreement anytime soon.) Its absence in New York City and many other areas around the country is old news, but we’ve been thinking more about it this season partly because ESPN seems to have become even more pronounced in its tendency toward bombastic overcoverage of a few story lines and characters — Brett Favre, Michael Vick, the new Cowboys stadium — at the expense of league-wide news and analysis. On Monday, this irritating editorial bent combined with our other least favorite aspect of the network’s football coverage — their inexplicable willingness to let Chris Berman slather his unbearable, incessant, totally distracting, utterly uninformative, suicide-inducingly egotistical shtick over every single highlight they air on Sunday and Monday — to produce the most brain-raping Monday Night Football countdown show possible, in which Berman led a 700-hour circle jerk of praise for Favre’s game-winning pass against the 49ers on Sunday. Literally any other option would be superior to this right now, and Drew Magary twisted the knife by mentioning on Deadspin that the NFL Network’s Sunday wrap-up show was mostly Favreophilia-free.
The channel’s absence is made all the more galling by the launch, this year, of the MLB Network. That operation, while not entirely free of overconfident proclamations by ill-informed talking heads, is by and large a pleasure to watch each night (or at least was a pleasure to watch until the important playoff races were all settled in August, and will be a pleasure to watch once again when the playoffs start). Their detailed, dedicated-fan-oriented game wrap-ups and careful, nuts-and-bolts breakdowns of various situations are a vast improvement over ESPN’s gimmick-driven hyperbole. It’s the kind of approach that we, and probably most New York sports fans, would really, really like to see applied to football at the moment.
We also wish that New York City had Steak ‘n Shakes, Chick-fil-A’s, establishments that sell or use fresh flour tortillas instead of the preserved kind you buy in the supermarket (nothing against Mission tortillas, we’ll eat a Mission tortilla any day, but the fresh ones are still way better), public restrooms, Waffle Houses, bar bands unpretentious enough to simply play Rolling Stones covers for two hours while everyone drinks whiskey, In-N-Out Burgers, congestion pricing, an NBDL team in Harlem, and someplace to get a cheap beer outside Shea Stadium.
Let’s make it happen, everyone.