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Lockout Will Jolt Fans More Than Baseball Strike

When a jubilant Ken Griffey Jr. slid home to complete the Seattle Mariners' improbable comeback from a 2-0 deficit against the New York Yankees in the 1995 American League Division Series, it was said that baseball was back.

After the strike that wiped out the 1994 season, baseball had finally begun to retrieve some of its justifiably angry fan base. And since then the sport has regained nearly all of its popularity and has seen a tremendous increase in attendance and TV revenue.

Now it's football that's dangling on the precipice, on the verge of a lost 2011 season. If the season were to be canceled, it would be a far greater blow to the rhythms of sports fans than was the loss of baseball in 1994.

This is because - for better or worse - football is unquestionably America's most popular sport, the game that defines us as a nation far more than baseball. It is truly our pastime.

Surely, many baseball fans will eschew that notion and will maintain that baseball will forever be inextricably linked with both progress and failures of the nation, the most representative recreational metaphor we have has a country. While this holds some truth, it is football that instills the most passion among fans.

Which is why a halting of play would be a dramatic change for many millions. Football is so completely ingrained into the fall and early winter routines of so many Americans that it would be a dramatic and unwelcome shift in their lives.

This was not the case with baseball in 1994. One big reason is that baseball takes place mostly in summer. Its presence is felt, but it's more of an option than a necessity. One can enjoy many more distractions and enjoyments in the warm season.

Obviously, baseball is a part of many people's daily lives, and the strike 17 years ago angered and disappointed legions of followers. But on Sundays in the fall, life nearly stops for most football fans. It is truly a religion for many. There's a tangible sense of anticipation in the autumn, as each week builds to its Sunday epiphany. The same cannot be said for baseball - at least to the same degree.

It is because of this national obsession with football that the lockout will likely not cancel the season and will probably see fans coming back more swiftly than they did for baseball, even if a work stoppage were to last longer than expected.

These fans need the sport in the fall and winter. Sure, they will express a degree of rage, and the typical venting will be directed at athletes who make such an obscene amount of money (as usual, the scorn and blame will likely fall disproportionately on the players). But make no mistake, fans will emerge from their surly cocoons of resentment and embrace the game they love - in fact, live - as intensely as before.

And Roger Goodell, who has enjoyed an overall positive rating as commissioner, highly desires a quick outcome, as his reputation is at stake. He has managed the difficult task of improving the integrity of the game, with his necessary crackdowns on behavior issues, and overseeing another economic boom in the sport.

But if the lockout does indeed continue, and suddenly Sundays (and Mondays and Thursdays) in the fall offer a bounty of free time never before experienced, some good can come of it. Consider:

· We wouldn't have to watch overgrown boys - men in their 30s and 40s - walking around wearing their football jerseys on Sunday. While sports merchandising stores will see a loss in profit, it may provide a boon to more fashionable attire as one-seventh of fans' wardrobes in the fall consists of team uniforms. They'll need to wear something else.

· Baseball can become front and center again with the pennant races, playoffs and World Series. Baseball fanatics will be able to gloat, temporarily, that their sport once again rules.

· With the Jets/Giants stadium empty, it will be easier to cross the George Washington Bridge on Sundays for those New Yorkers who feel a sudden - and odd - urge to visit New Jersey on a Sunday.

· And the best that would come from an absence of football is that tennis fans, like myself, will no longer receive nasty glares and mumbled expletives from bartenders and patrons when requesting the U.S. Open on one of the TVs at a sports bar.

 

Award-winning columnist Tim Joyce provides regular commentary for RealClearSports on Sundays and Tuesdays. Email: joyce.timothy@gmail.com

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