During the dark days of the lockout we all thought irrational thoughts, and promised irrational action against the NFL if the labor impasse didn’t end today, tomorrow, or next week. We became angry, depressed, sad, and desperate, a cycle of emotions that repeated itself at will. We lost sleep, we slept too much, and we ate a lot of comfort food (we’re still paying off our Haagan-Daz tab).

Easily the most common and irrational act was the promise made by many that if the lockout didn’t end by Day X, they’ll never watch NFL football again, or at least not in 2011. This blinding rage was plastered on message boards throughout the murky corners of the Interwebs. Usually it went something like this:

“ROGER GOODELL AND THE OWNERS ARE NOTHING BUT A BUNCH OF MONEY SUCKING BILLIONAIRES, AND THE PLAYERS ARE JUST GREEDY, DIRTY MILLIONAIRES!!!!!!!!11111 I WORK MY 40 HOURS A WEEK MAKING $6.98 AN HOUR AND STILL FEED MY WIFE, KIDS, THREE DOGS, AND TWO GOLDFISH!1!1! JUST GET A DEAL DONE!1@#!1!

The NFL forgives you, angry football fans. The league doesn’t hold grudges, and it was ready to welcome you back with open, loving arms this week. You didn’t just come back–you came back in record numbers.

Last night’s Sunday Night Football thriller between the Cowboys and Jets on NBC pulled an overnight rating of 16.9, which is the best rating for a prime time game on Sunday or Monday night in 15 years. The amount of eyes on TV sets was up three percent from last year’s SNF opener, and 26 percent from 2009, and it became the top-rated Sunday night game ever, according the Nielson ratings.

Combined NBC’s Thursday and Sunday night games had a 17.1 overnight average, which is the best rating since the network started this opening week format in 2002.

This really shouldn’t be the least bit surprising. Football is the juggernaut of North American sports, and can’t even be slowed by an offseason that forced fans to take sides and showcased the greed of both players and owners as they tried to divide a delicious $9 billion revenue pie. Instead the squabbling actually helped the league’s bottom line, with the mere threat of empty stadiums in the fall driving an increased thirst for all things pigskin.

If you flash back to those doomed early days in March and April when all looked lost, there was a time when this seemed impossible. Welcome back, football.

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