As Butler rained down brick after brick after brick in Monday's night's title game loss to Connecticut and the sound of the basketball clanging off the rim dominated the sound effects for those watching on television, it reminded me of why the NFL rules over all, even the spectacle of March Madness, in our sports landscape. I will take, without question, the all-around quality of the NFL playoffs over any other sports event out there, including the NCAA basketball tournament.
Now, I love the two weeks of March Madness as much as anyone. It's a blast to blow off a half day of work and settle in with my buddies and watch basketball until my eyes bleed. I love the upsets. I love the purity, although when you factor in the business of the NCAA and all of the recruiting horror stories you hear, it takes away some of the luster of the event. Despite all of that, I adore the tournament. It ushers in spring for me. I root for the underdogs. I like the way it brings together people who fill out a bracket. The energy is contagious.
But it regressed this year. I'm done with the mid-major story. With 68 teams in the field, the college basketball regular season has been de-valued. Teams with 10 or 11 losses are in the tournament. Connecticut finished ninth in the Big East, for goodness sakes. And while the first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament were fun, the third weekend was a bore. March Madness turned into April badness.
The NFL playoffs, by contrast, reward teams for their outstanding play in the regular season. And while there were some out there who wondered, as the NFC West floundered through much of the 2010 campaign, if the league should consider revamping the playoff format, the system seems to work perfectly. A true champion is crowned each year, one that went through the regular season and won enough games to qualify for the playoffs and then won two or three games in successive weekends to reach the Super Bowl.
The one-and-done format of the NFL is what makes it unique from the other professional sports. I'll give you the idea that not always is the best team that season the one that wins the Super Bowl. Football is a game of winning that day. That's why it works in the NFL. You have a 50/50 shot of winning every week. There is no best-of-three series, or an agonizingly-long best-of-seven set. The NFL is about game day, me against you, with the winner staying alive and the loser cleaning out his locker the next day.
College basketball's win-and-move-on format works, too. But with 68 teams and power-packed conferences and post-season conference tournaments, it's just too diluted. I want to see a true national champion. I want to see the best teams in the national championship game. Didn't happen this year. Not sure it happens many years.
On the other hand, the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers were deserving participants in the Super Bowl. And while the Super Bowl itself was a bit sloppy and rather ordinary, it was a whole lot better than the brickfest we watched on Monday night. And the games leading up to the Super Bowl were outstanding, brilliant, down to the wire. The quality of play was great. Underdogs beat favorites. There was great emotion and fan involvement.
It was everything a football fan wanted in its post-season tournament -- other than, of course, the Eagles winning the Super Bowl in Cowboys Stadium.
I've felt this all along, that the NFL playoffs reign supreme. I feel reinforced in that feeling after watching the NCAA Tournament the last three weeks. It was fun while it lasted, and it was an excellent transition from the cold winter weather here to the more palatable early spring. But nothing in my mind beats the frenzy of the NFL playoffs, the exclamation point after 17 weeks of the best regular season in sports.
The NFL has it all when it comes to down to it. Just as we all know. It's a tough time to think that way, and to say it out loud with the work stoppage and all, but it's the truth. Let the games begin on time this year, please. Missing a week of the NFL creates a void that just cannot be replaced.