Now that the NFL draft is over, football season is right around the corner (if the minor details of the labor dispute can be reconciled). Time to root for your home team! In my case, that would be my beloved Cleveland Browns, having been born and having spent my formative years in Cleveland, with a lifelong, and somewhat soul-crushing, allegiance to all the Cleveland teams. Go Browns! Go Indians! Go Cavaliers! Sigh!
The National Football League does so many things well, all of which you probably know, being a true fan. But the current placement of teams in their respective divisions is not one of the success stories of the NFL. I will admit I do like the symmetry of the league, with 32 teams, divided into 2 conferences, with 4 divisions in each conference of 4 teams each. That is geometrically aesthetic, as opposed to the asymmetrical mess of baseball, for example, where there are 30 teams, unevenly separated into two conferences of 14 and 16 teams with divisions ranging from 4 to 6 teams each. “Bud, do you know basic arithmetic?”
Now, when the NFL went to the 8 division arrangement a few years ago, part of the placement was based on historical rivalries, such as the Cowboys and the Redskins. But we'll ignore that and focus on the main rationale for the divisions: geographical placement. The divisions are neatly labeled "East," "North," "South," and "West," – reflecting what are, the last time I looked, the four directions on a compass. And some of the teams are rightly placed – certainly, generally speaking, New York is usually thought of as "East," Minnesota as "North," New Orleans as "South," and Arizona as "West." But Indianapolis in the AFC "South"!! I have lived in Florida and Texas, and currently live in Indiana, and believe me, by no stretch of the imagination is Indianapolis "South." One winter in Indiana will dissuade anybody of such misguided thinking. In fact, the whole AFC South division is a hodge-podge; one would think that if the teams are geographically determined, they should be somewhat close to each other. Arguably, Nashville, Jacksonville, and Houston are all "South," but each is at least 500 miles from any of the others, hardly fostering neighborly rivalries.
The divisions offer many other examples of irrational geographical placement. What in the world is Miami doing in the AFC East division with cities such as New York, Buffalo, and Boston, all of whom are over 1000 miles to the North? Wouldn't it make more sense to have Miami in the same "South" division with Jacksonville, for example? I understand Miami is on the East coast, strictly speaking, but most reasonable people think "South" rather than "East" when Miami comes to mind. Similarly, how is Dallas in the "East" and St. Louis in the "West?" St. Louis may be the “Gateway to the West,” but it is hardly adjacent to Arizona, California, or Washington.
It is time, therefore, to scratch the current nonsensical set-up which is decidedly not based on geography. I propose a new and exciting model – one based on team nicknames!! Yes, nicknames. All teams have one or they couldn't compete. Fans identify with nicknames (sometimes choosing them in contests), and even dressing up like their namesake to attend games. Teams often have really cool visuals on their helmets reflecting for whom (or what) they are named (see the Cleveland Browns for a notable exception). Sportswriters use nicknames to inspire the headlines of their stories, after a team win or loss, such as: "Bears maul Packers" or "Broncos stampede Titans” or “Saints venerate Bills.” And, while a team may move from city to city, they often will maintain the same nickname (see Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts or Cleveland/Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams) thereby maintaining identity continuity during geographic change (see Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans for a notable exception).
It is the nicknames by which fans identify with their teams and it is nicknames by which the teams should identify with each other in their respective divisions and conferences. Here, therefore, is my new set of divisions, within two new conferences, all based on team nicknames:
ANIMAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE (AFC)
BIRD DIVISION CAT DIVISION
Arizona Cardinals Carolina Panthers
Atlanta Falcons Cincinnati Bengals
Philadelphia Eagles Detroit Lions
Seattle Seahawks Jacksonville Jaguars
MAMMAL DIVISION HUMAN DIVISION
Chicago Bears Baltimore Ravens
Denver Broncos Buffalo Bills
Indianapolis Colts Cleveland Browns
St. Louis Rams Miami Dolphins
GROUP FOOTBALL CONFERENCE (GFC)
FRONTIER DIVISION VILLAIN DIVISION
Dallas Cowboys Minnesota Vikings
Houston Texans New York Giants
Kansas City Chiefs Oakland Raiders
Washington Redskins Tampa Bay Buccaneers
HERO DIVISION WORKER DIVISION
New England Patriots Green Bay Packers
New Orleans Saints New York Jets
San Diego Chargers Pittsburgh Steelers
Tennessee Titans San Francisco 49ers
The Animal Football Conference consists of three divisions of strictly non-human animals and one division of (mostly) human animals. We start with the "Bird" division, consisting of the "Cardinals," "Falcons," "Eagles," and "Seahawks." A delightful division of avian artistry! Now, fans can see, twice a season, whether a Cardinal can consistently beat an Eagle, or who would win between a Falcon and a Seahawk. One would surmise that the flocks in this division would have devastating "air" attacks, and their division games would be high scoring affairs.
We move to the "Cat" division, filled with feline fortitude with the "Panthers," "Jaguars," "Lions," and "Bengals." As natural hunters and predatory animals, each team in this division can be expected to try to "claw" their way to the top by preying on their division rivals. We will finally find out, on a seasonal basis, which is superior – a “pride of lions” or a “streak of (bengal) tigers.” These games will also be marked by stealth and cunning, though there may be excessive time-outs for grooming and coughing up hair balls.
Next is the "Mammal" division (or the "non-cat" and "non-human" mammal division) with the "Bears," "Broncos," "Colts," and "Rams." These are all rather large and swift land animals; as a result, the division games are likely to have a fair share of fast, powerful running backs with the Bears and the Rams more likely to feature power rushing fullbacks and the Broncos and Colts more nimble halfbacks who can also catch the ball with their hooves.
Finally, our (mostly) "Human" division comprised of highly advanced humans and one highly intelligent non-human. The human teams are the “Browns," (named after Paul Brown), the "Bills" (named after the historical Buffalo Bill Cody), the "Ravens" (a bird, in name, but a tribute to Edgar Allen Poe, who died in Baltimore and penned the poem, "The Raven"), and the “Dolphins” (technically a non-human mammal, but smarter than most humans, and therefore, richly deserving of inclusion). What a division! A coach, a showman, a poet, and the smartest creature in the sea! These division games will be intellectual chess matches, pitting cognitively advanced animals against one another in exciting and unpredictable affairs.
So that is the Animal Football Conference, comprised of birds, cats, mammals, and humans. We now turn to our other conference, the Group Football Conference. Each of these divisions are groups of real, or mythical, people or creatures, who share common traits with each other.
The "Cowboys," "Texans," "Redskins," and "Chiefs" make up the "Frontier" division. This division is nicely divided into the Native American Chiefs and Redskins, along with the Wild West settlers of Cowboys and Texans. These teams all reflect the proud, independent, and high-spirited attitude of the Western Frontier. The division maintains the on-going rivalry of the Cowboys and Redskins, while adding the natural "State of Texas" rivalry between the Texans and Cowboys, as well as the new and natural rivalry between the Redskins and the Chiefs.
The next division is comprised of groups of people or entities commonly thought of as Heroes." This includes the heroes of the American Revolution, the "Patriots," as well as the holy helpers from New Orleans, the "Saints." Also included in the Hero division are the "Titans" and the "Chargers." The Titans, of course, are Gods from Greek mythology, who routinely did heroic deeds; given the ambiguous origins or meaning of the nickname Chargers, hero status here is based on the natural attribute of a Charger, as someone who rushes in to help another in need. At any rate, the teams in this division can be expected to compete honestly and valiantly, respecting their foes, and doing what is necessary for the common good of all. Excelsior!
If there is a division of "Heroes," there needs to be a division of "Villains." And so there is with the "Buccaneers," "Raiders," "Vikings," and "Giants." Glorious villains all! A Buccaneer is a dastardly pirate on the high seas, while a Raider takes that which is not theirs, causing mayhem in their wake. The Vikings were Norse explorers; while not pirates, per se, they were certainly seen as villains to those they encountered due to their brutal fighting ability and tendency for territorial expansion. Giants are almost always villains, whether in "Jack and the Beanstalk" or Greek mythology. We can expect ferocious battles within this division of villains, with each team attempting to achieve victory by any means necessary, using subterfuge, deception, or general chicanery.
Finally, we come to our "Worker" division comprised of teams doing an honest season's work for an honest season's pay (if, by honest season, most of us are earning over a million dollars a year.). There are those teams named after workers in Packing companies ("Packers"), the Steel Industry ("Steelers"), and pioneers who worked their way out west in search of gold ("49ers"). Also in this division are the "Jets," named after all the hardworking planes that toil while transporting us from place to place. While the games between these divisional rivals won't be glamorous, you can expect 60 minutes of honest effort during each and every football game. And, even more hard work should the game go into overtime!
There are many advantages to this new system; rather than the best teams emerging from arbitrarily placed divisions, loosely based on geography, at the end of the regular season, the best teams will now be those who are victorious over truly similar divisional opponents. And, two teams will then proudly represent their respective conferences, as the best Animal and the best Group in the Super Bowl. I look forward to the NFL reviewing, and implementing, this change for the 2011-2012 season. Please write to the NFL representative in your district. And Go Go Go advanced Human, majestic Animal, Browns!