It starts and ends with Peyton Manning. At least this time around. Any player or team who merits it would get their shot at being the star of the story, but this year it's the man affectionately titled PFM. Ask a Bronco fan friend what that stands for. Right now we have the perfect narrative to wrap up the season and get everyone watching, and that's why you script some games.
I first realized the potential for this during Super Bowl 40 between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks. It was a terrible game. I was there, having bought cheaper accommodations before my Broncos and their home field advantage were dispatched by the Steelers in the AFC Championship. Hey, at least I was at the Super Bowl, even if it was in Detroit.
Being a fan of neither team, or at least not passionate about any one side, I watched in this weird, sad way that I never want to watch a game again. It seemed as if there were forces beyond the performance on the field that were shaping the outcome of the contest. A Pittsburgh fan asked no one in particular, "What is going on?" and it was the Seahawks who were getting the short end of it.
I'm not crying foul. I've been through it. The sadness of feeling betrayed by a game; the constant wondering if a Bronco victory really was a Bronco victory. Would the Patriots really fold like that in the 2014 AFC Championship? Did Brady have the flu or had Rumba with Giselle worn him out? It's been a decade of suspicion. Ever since that Motor City fiasco where everything seemed so broken. Now, however, I've come full circle and recommend that if the NFL isn't scripting games, then they probably should.
Why? I should discuss that. Well, first, the NFL needs the ratings not only for billions in immediate financial returns, but also to keep us inspired by the game. They need to soothe us with public service announcements about safety. They need to construct a family environment so parents will keep signing up their kids. They need us to keep Sunday a day of football worship. One entertaining way for us to overlook the scandals, the head injuries, and the domestic violence, is a narrative. To create that narrative, that perfect story, you need some help with the details.
It's not all games and it's not every play, but just enough curated moments to help manage the action and keep people interested. You do it with your coordinators--the endlessly shuffled inventory of the same offensive and defensive coaches who already understand what's at stake--who have their hands on the controls of the game. Is your passing team taking too much advantage of a weak defense? Well run a few ill-advised running plays up the gut. And then one more just for good measure.
You can use the litany of gray areas added to the game, too. For example, the new roughing, targeting and celebration penalties can help curb one team's momentum and stoke the others. The referees could get more control of the game with questionable pass interference and reception calls. Instant replay is a helpful tool as well.
The biggest part of scripting games--for even with the slightest swing to one side or the other--is getting some of the players on your side. Initially, this might sound impossible if not downright unethical, but think about how doable this could be. You have at your disposal the greatest athletes in the world and all of the ego that comes with them. These men have conquered every physical challenge thrown at them, but are they so good that they can win it for an entire league? Are they so good that they can manipulate the outcome of an entire game? Let these players and coaches be the gods who pull the strings and see what happens. Maybe even pay them millions of dollars.
I'm sharing this now because I get to be in Denver and part of one of the greatest football narratives to have ever lived. It's the story of the conflicted and sometimes confident Peyton Manning. The NFL should run with it. Wrap it up with the perfect ending.
Manning and the Broncos have stumbled into home field advantage and have a clear shot to the Super Bowl. That's the same situation that lead to disappointment in 2006, but that wasn't their year. It wasn't their story. Back then it was the retiring Jerome Bettis heading back to his Motown hometown. Seattle never had a chance. At that time and place, the Steelers were America's team.
This year I believe is Peyton's year to get his due. Besides, it's time for Manning to be rewarded for being a great quarterback. For being an incredible paid spokesperson for the league and aloof jocks everywhere. This is Peyton's year and now I'm going to kick back and see how they do it.
Because when you have a good story, it's hard to pay attention to anything else.