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6 Reasons Hockey is Better than Football

Hockey versus football
In St. Louis, it's not even a debate

Americans love football. The National Football League makes nearly $10 billion a year, which dominates other professional sporting outlets like the NBA (under $5 billion) and the NCAA ($1 billion). The only real competition is Major League Baseball, which earns around $9 billion, but everybody knows baseball is excruciatingly boring unless you're at the ball park with a heart-stopping hot dog and a few friends to pass the time with. That's not a sport; that's an excuse to get away from it all. While ice hockey has been steadily growing in popularity over the last two decades, the National Hockey League still falls behind at $3.7 billion. For whatever reason, football wins the numbers game and will continue to be America's most popular sport for years to come.

I chalk this up as another bit of evidence that the American public is full of stupid people, because there is no empirical way football is the best sport. It's filled with whiny players with criminal backgrounds, torturously long games that break for commercial every two minutes, and rabid fans who think Bud Light and bull testosterone are food groups.

I grew up in a football family, and they may disown me for this column. I was raised in a house where every Sunday and every Monday night during football season were roped off and untouchable. My parents and brothers would crowd around the television, check their pooling data, and watch intently to try to call penalties the referees would blindly ignore. I would try to hide or do something else, but every few minutes, for no discernable reason, everybody would jump up and start screaming at the top of their lungs, sometimes gleefully and sometimes angrily. It was friggin horrible, and that's probably one of the main reasons I hate football to this day.

To be clear, crazy fans and shouting are not unique to football. It's pretty standard for any team sport, even my beloved ice hockey. But I want you to imagine that you're a sensitive little four year old who can't grasp what football even is, and you want to just play happily with some LEGOs in your room. You can't, though, because your loved ones are busy going through ridiculous extremes of emotion in the loudest way possible. You don't know what's going on; you just know your parents are suddenly super pissed off and you can't shut out the echoes of their screams. Those are the seeds for some long-term trauma and mental health expenses right there. I want you to understand this, because if you disagree with my thesis here, you can shrug it off as the pathetic result of an emotionally damaged child instead of coming to my house and beating me to death, you football-loving psychopath.

So, with that out of the way, here are six reasons ice hockey is far superior to American football.

A Lower Salary Cap

A Lower Salary Cap
Microsoft Excel much?

The salary cap is a limit any team in a given organization is allowed to spend on its players. Though low salary caps tend to cause labor strikes and piss players off on a regular basis, they are great things. They keep teams from getting out of control, setting up a dynasty, and winning the big game every single season. A team that spends a huge amount of money to sign a single player to a five-year contract isn't going to be able to spend as much on the rest of the team, which balances out the field. Some managers love to risk it all on a handful of expensive contracts, while others try to keep spending relatively even to build a consistent team that is more immune to the perils of injury, wash-out, or the failure to meet expectations.

The NFL does have a salary cap, but it's extremely high. As a result, teams are still able to win by spending the most money, and it's pretty easy to tell the best teams from the worst over a long stretch of time. The NHL, however, has a relatively low salary cap, which is why it's exceptionally rare for any team to perform well for more than a few years at a time. Great players are constantly shuffling around the league, and a team that wins the Stanley Cup one year may very well miss the playoffs entirely the next.

Football Players are Egotistical Pricks

Football Players are Egotistical Pricks
This guy manages to think he's the bomb despite playing for the Browns

As a general rule, hockey players tend to be more relaxed (off the ice, at least) than football players. They still make insane amounts of money compared to the average joe, but they make a pittance compared to the riches showered upon football stars. As a result, it's rare to have a hockey player with an out-of-control ego who loses touch with reality and declares himself to be the greatest human being who has ever lived, while in football, pretty much every team has at least one self-proclaimed messiah, if not an entire team of them.

Just listen to the post-game interviews. Football players talk about how awesome they are as individuals and how every success is their doing and every failure is somebody else's fault. No wonder there are so many wife-beaters. Hockey players, on the other hand, talk about how the team works together and about how success and failure are fleeting, mercurial things that result more from effort, organization, and luck than destiny. There are plenty of exceptions both ways of course--I've seen humble football players and I've seen jackass hockey players--but those exceptions tend to fade into the background because of the culture of the sport they play. In football, players are actually rewarded for being douchebags, but in hockey, if you're a blusterous asshat, other players aren't going to forgive you for it come game time.

Hockey Players are Invincible

Hockey Players are Invincible
You can't argue with science!

Despite all that humility and respect for teamwork they show on the sidelines, when they're on the ice, hockey players become superhuman. These guys take an insane amount of physical punishment, much more dramatic than the much-touted concussion problem of the NFL (a problem that also exists in hockey, but is overshadowed by other things like twisted spines, jaw replacements, broken arches, and heart attacks). Show me a hockey player who hasn't lost half his teeth and had his nose broken in five places and I'll show you a six year old who's pretty good on skates. People have straight-up died during a game but gone back out there after being revived. This has actually happened, more than once.

Meanwhile, players in the NFL can miss several weeks because of sprained thumbs and wounded pinky toes, the kind of injuries that wouldn't even make an NHL player miss a night of sleep. Sure, people get seriously hurt in football all the time, but they rarely bounce back as quickly as hockey players do. And the culture of the sport is very different, too. In football, excessive physical violence is strongly discouraged, but in hockey, it's a mandatory part of the game. If a right-winger hasn't split open an opposing defenseman's hard palate with the toe of his stick at least once, he's bad at his job. When a football player gets in a fight, he's greeted by an angry coach and a heavy fine when he gets back to the bench, but in hockey, he's given a pat on the back and a few fist bumps from his fellow players.

The Spectacle of the Thing

The Spectacle of the Thing
It's just a flesh wound

For all its fatal flaws and unspeakable vice, Ancient Rome understood sports better than any civilization that has come after it. Sports are about pushing the human body to the absolute limit and beyond, not for the sake of money or fame, but for the sake of spectacle. Though they don't always admit it, people watch NASCAR for the car crashes, not the actual racing. How else can you explain so many people in the stands to watch a bunch of cars drive in a goddamn circle for several hours? While a tad less violent than gladatorial combat in the Colliseum, professional ice hockey is able to cater to that same collective id, that desire to see blood bursting from somebody's face and bulging biceps ripped from their bones.

Professional football, on the other hand, gives audiences long pauses broken up by incredibly brief bouts of helmets bouncing off each other before a whistle blows and everybody has to reassemble. Hockey is fluid and fast; football is lumbering and slow. Why America continues to waste so much money on three hours of commercials that occasionally break to show you a bunch of football players standing around and maybe sometimes playing a wonky version of catch is beyond me. Hockey games are shorter--not only because of the game clock (three 20 minute periods instead of four 20 minute quarters), but because it doesn't take two minutes to set up after every whistle. There aren't as many whistles, either, because unlike hockey, football is actually designed for each play to be discretely separated from the next instead of just getting on with it. Hockey is brutal guerilla warfare, whereas football is old British troops marching down the field in straight lines. One is a visceral, entertaining spectacle, and the other is synchronized nonsense.

Hockey Commentators are Intelligent

Hockey Commentators are Intelligent
The look on Al Michaels' face is one of utter disbelief that his cohost could be so staggeringly stupid

The most popular football commentator of all time is John Madden. This is a man who made his living offering pearls like, "Here's a guy who, when he runs, he moves faster," and, "The defense should be expecting a run or a pass here" (actual quotes). Such wisdom! Various outlets have toyed with more intelligent commentators, but they usually don't succeed because football audiences aren't interested in hearing actual, insightful commentary. They didn't want to think and learn about the history of the sport, which is why Dennis Miller was drummed out almost immediately upon his arrival during the 2000-2001 season.

Hockey commentators, on the other hand, know their stuff. Sure, the nature of the job forces them to say asinine things on a regular basis, but so would you if you were forced to talk for two hours without being allowed to pause for more than one second. They not only can keep track of the puck and the players (which is clearly more difficult than keeping track of a football and a team that always stays in the same three or four formations), but they have an encyclopedic knowledge of the players, teams, and history of the sport that surpasses even the Internet's ability to keep up. There are other sports that have such knowledgeable commentators (baseball comes to mind), but they tend to be a lot less entertaining, because the other great thing about hockey commentators is that they have a real sense of humor and comraderie, whereas most of the jokes and banter in football feels forced, like the commentators are suppressing rage at every time they are forced to speak to their coworkers. Besides, hockey commentators speak with a funny Canadian accent, and that will never stop being amusing.

Hockey is International

Hockey is International
Take that, ruskies!

American football has shown up in the Olympic Games exactly one time back in 1932. It wasn't a full-blown event, either; it was one game. Do you know why? Because America is, surprisingly enough, the only country that is in love with American football. To the rest of the world, "football" is a game that involves kicking a soccer ball around (you know, hitting a ball with one's foot), and it is easily the biggest sport of all time. Soccer is a thing that exists here in the States, but it's less popular than almost every other team sport, lagging behind even ice hockey by a wide margin.

Thankfully, ice hockey is also pretty popular throughout the world, with players coming from every corner of the globe to play in the NHL. There are several professional hockey players that don't even speak English. This is great because, when the Winter Olympics come around every four years, hockey fans get to watch dream teams that would be impossible in the NHL get together and duke it out for national pride, and the U.S. team is hardly the biggest contender. The "Miracle on Ice," in which ice hockey single-handedly ended the Cold War during the 1980 Olympics, was never possible with American football, because even the commies knew that throwing an oblong piece of pigskin around is dumb.

What I'm trying to get at is that ice hockey is more entertaining and rewarding than football, in every respect. The lower salary cap keeps the drama alive and prevents each season from falling into a predictable pattern; hockey players are more sympathetic, making it much easier for audiences to connect and relate to them; they take inhuman punishment and never complain about it, which is the kind of thing that makes superheroes, gods, and Jack Bauer so popular; the sport is faster, less stuttering, and not completely overtaken by commercial interruptions; commentators have more humor and insight, giving them the ability to tickle your intellect while your base instinct tracks all the blood on the ice; and hockey is a sport that is enjoyed the world over instead of being the sole property of a single geographical region. These are indisputable facts, which is why ice hockey is empirically and unquestionably superior to football.

-e. magill 10/15/2015

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