When the Cincinnati Bengals upset the Baltimore Ravens this past Sunday, there was a sense of shock and disbelief. How could that happen? How could the lowly Bengals, the laughing stock of professional sports for more than a decade, beat the defending Super Bowl champions?
Actually, the more appropriate question is: Why were you surprised?
Apparently, NFL fans still don't get it. Folks, there are no upsets in this era of professional football. We have truly reached the point in time that one of the most trite and over-used cliches in football really is true. Any team can beat another team, the best of teams, on any given Sunday.
When will we accept this? Why won't we accept this? Why do we insist on crowning teams "dominant" when, in fact, it is impossible to be such a team in this day and age.
We did it a year ago when the St. Louis Rams got off to a 6-0 start. We decided the Rams had the best offense in NFL history. We claimed them to be unstoppable. We crowned them "dominant," then went slack-jawed as the Rams lost five of their next seven games, barely made the playoffs, then lost in the playoffs to New Orleans, another one of the NFL's belly-laugh clubs.
Amazingly, we continue to demand greatness from a league that is dedicated to preventing it. How else do you explain the penalties for winning?
Once upon a time, there was greatness; there were true and long-lasting champions, but we tired of that. The league saw the need for greater competitive balance. It came to understand fans were less likely to buy tickets for teams that had no chance, and once upon a time it was very clear who the no-chance teams were.
Who are they today? Can you honestly say you are absolutely sure the Jaguars will win this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, a team that failed to convert a third down in the Jaguars' 48-0 win late last season?
During the Steelers' run of four Super Bowl titles in six years in the 1970's, their record against teams below .500 was 50-1-1. Now, that's dominance, and there was good reason for it; the Steelers had dominant players.
That can't happen today. According to the value of today's players, the '70's Steelers starting lineup alone would total more than $120 million in salary cap hit. More than half of the starting lineup would have to go: Swann stays, Stallworth goes; Lambert's in, Ham is out; Greene would have to re-structure his contract; Bradshaw would be trade bait.
Goodbye greatness; so long dominance.
If you're looking for a sure thing, you better get a time machine. Today's NFL is about suspense. Dramatic upsets have been replaced by mild surprises; 50-1-1 is now 26-26.
"Teams have gone to the Super Bowl nobody expected to. With the parity in the league, the team that shows up best wins," said Tony Boselli, a long-time fan of the NFL who cut his teeth on Denver teams that went 17 years without having won a division title or participated in a playoff game.
"I like it better now. It's more fun for the fans," Boselli said.
Just don't be surprised. Expect the unexpected.
Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.