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Nevius: As much football as anyone could want

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Are you getting enough football? As you know, these days there is only one thing to say after a full day of binge-watching football games:

May I have another bowl please?

You may. Take your pick. There are 39 college bowl games this year and I hope everyone got the memo about the Frisco Bowl. It’s in Frisco, Texas, not San Francisco.

And of course, all these overflowing bowls are just the opening act of the NFL tilt-a-whirl. Beginning now, the playoff games are a three-weekend leadup to what our Founding Fathers so astutely decreed a national holiday — Super Bowl Sunday.

Quick question. Isn’t that a lot of football? Surely there is a saturation point somewhere. Isn’t this close?

Actually, no. By the numbers, football is an All-American hit. Sunday Night Football, just to throw out a stat, has been the No. 1 prime-time network show for nine straight years. No other show has been close to that. Ever.

And if you’re wondering, last Sunday night’s game between the 49ers and Seattle had 23.3 million viewers. That’s about three-million more than average. Hello rematch.

The NFL consistently draws huge, profitable numbers. According to John Ourand of Sports Business Daily, “60% of the 100 most-watched shows are NFL games.”

But the colleges, you say. Isn’t that a niche market in the south, like stock car racing?

Nope. The National Football Foundation has numbers that say the 366 televised regular-season games averaged 1.8 million viewers and were seen by “163 million unique fans.”

So football is thriving. If anything, the curve is up. This is the second year in a row that NFL ratings have risen, following disastrous dips in 2016 and 2017.

Front-office types now blame the two-year downturn on the kneeling protests led by Colin Kaepernick and the subsequent hysteria. Little-noticed in all of this is that the networks solved their problem by quietly not televising the national anthem. It kept them out of the mud bath, and, incidentally, gave them another 1:30 to sell ads.

Which is the kind of cold-blooded math that gives you pause about football. Sure, this is about teams. But the teams are made up of players. With partners, wives, kids and family watching their guy on every play, hoping he gets up.

We always say how huge NFL players are, and some are, but I’m always struck by how small some are. Granted, they’re ripped and can probably do one-handed chin-ups, but 180 pounds is not that big.

The New York Times had a stat that said: including the preseason, the odds that any given NFL player would get a concussion is one out of 10. Would you get in a cab that promised you a one-out-of-10 chance of an accident?

I can’t decide if the players are fearless or desperate, but the way they throw their bodies around is beyond reckless.

Of course, the league is going to tell us that concussions are down and there is nothing more important than player safety — right after they announce a 17-game season. Just to be clear, that’s a full game more for the same pay? Spare the compassion.

But the real evidence of concern for football is in the participation at lower levels. It’s trending down.

And you are not hearing from the rough, tough former players yelling about getting out there and hitting somebody. Chris Borland, you may recall, played a single terrific season at linebacker for the 49ers and retired, citing concern for his health.

And it was just in August when Andrew Luck left everyone stunned when he abruptly retired. He wasn’t going to put his body through this anymore.

That was an important story. For Luck, a star quarterback, to leave, says a lot about the game.

Borland and others are pushing flag football as an alternative to tackle, at least until high school. Saints quarterback Drew Brees coaches his sons’ flag football team.

Best of luck.

And by the way, for a game that consistently talks about expanding into other countries, there hasn’t been much of that, has there? Every other sport, it seems, has international connections.

There’s hardly an NBA roster without at least two international players. The PGA golf tour may be elitist, but if you can play, you can play. Major League Baseball has been multicultural for so long it isn’t even noticed. It is probably a great place to learn Spanish.

But football has stayed stubbornly, militantly America’s game. Somebody is always showing up with a British shot putter who can jump over the water cooler, but they never seem to last.

So, basically, what you see is what you’re going to get. It is a violent, engaging, and strategic game. People will get hurt on a regular basis. We will be sad but likely forget about them before long.

Meanwhile, the pile of cash continues to grow. CBS, FOX and NBC are currently paying roughly a $1 billion a year for the NFL. Ourand said the new deal, which may be done by the Super Bowl, could be “60-70%” higher.

It’s a lot to consider. But those are all problems for the future. This is the annual Football Vortex. Resistance is futile.

Please remain seated for the duration.

Contact C.W. Nevius at cw.nevius@pressdemocrat.com. Twitter: @cwnevius

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