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J.A. Adande

Nothing Fazes NFL Faithful

January 19, 2006|J.A. Adande

The glamour teams are gone, the big cities are out, the stars who wear the best-selling jerseys are home, a player just accused the league of cheating for its favorites and the head office admitted that an official blew a potential game-changing call.

Something tells me the NFL likes it this way.

Here is its chance to show it still stands atop the sports pedestal. What other league could absorb such hits to its marketability and credibility?

The NFL playoffs move on without the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, without their big-name quarterbacks and their credit card commercials. In fact, the Super Bowl could feature two quarterbacks named Jake.

The nation's 10 largest metropolitan areas have no vested interest in the games.

The Super Bowl will involve the Seattle Seahawks or Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos or Pittsburgh Steelers. And yet people are already stocking up on the chips and salsa for Super Sunday. The game will earn its usual 40 rating on TV. The NFL is practically matchup-proof. Have a cigar, Paul Tagliabue.

Baseball can't call itself the national pastime any more than Michael Jackson can still claim the title King of Pop. There is nationwide interest in the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs. Everyone else might as well be the Toronto Blue Jays.

We saw that by the lack of interest in the 2005 World Series. Not even the story line that worked in 2004 -- long-suffering, big-city team named Sox ends decades of futility -- worked. A year after the Red Sox drew a 15.8 in their sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, the ratings plunged 30% to an all-time low of 11.1 for the Chicago White Sox- Houston Astros series.

And if the NBA gets stuck with another Detroit-San Antonio finals, Commissioner David Stern might do a swan dive off the Brooklyn Bridge.

When the Pistons and Spurs met for the title last year, ABC averaged an 8.2 rating. Those numbers were a 29% drop from the previous year, which featured the final look at Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in the same uniform.

That's what happens when a league is sold on personalities. As far as the public is concerned, Tim Duncan has no personality. And the most marketable part of the Pistons is Ben Wallace's Afro.

Only in the NBA could the sudden truce between O'Neal and Bryant spark a round of questions about the league's prospects. After hyping the high tops out of the last two Kobe-Shaq Christmas games, now what?

The NFL will survive even though Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, whose jerseys were the top two sellers in the heavy shopping month of December, didn't make it to the championship games. In fact, seven of the top 10 jersey sellers are now gone.

But something about the league instills loyalty long beyond individual names. So the Steelers led the league in jersey sales last month, according to NFL.com, even though they

haven't won a Super Bowl since 1980.

The NFL even had a player accuse the league and its officials of bias Sunday. Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker Joey Porter said of teammate Troy Polamalu's interception being overruled by a replay: "Don't cheat us that bad. When they did that, they really want Peyton Manning and these guys to win the Super Bowl. They are going to straight take it for them. I felt that they were like, 'We don't even care if you know we're cheating. We're cheating for them.' "

Somehow, Porter got away without a fine from the league. Maybe because his coach, Bill Cowher, acknowledged that Porter was out of line. Or maybe it was because the league admitted the officials made a mistake on the call.

The NFL doesn't call a player out for an accusation that undermines the very foundation of the league and makes the worst possible charge: that there is a conspiracy to aid chosen teams? You'd think this would knock down the league's integrity, and yet come Super Sunday the sports books will be packed with bettors putting down money, expecting a fair outcome.

It's not as if there's good news all around.

The day before the biggest game of the weekend, Colt cornerback Nick Harper gets wounded in the leg and his wife is charged with stabbing him during an apparent domestic dispute.

About an hour before kickoff, the Colts issued a news release detailing the injury and stating that, based on their understanding of the NFL player conduct code, Harper would be eligible to play. It was a curious note, unless there's a rule in the books that prohibits players getting stabbed.

Apparently there isn't anything about being charged with assault. Seattle Seahawk offensive tackle Sean Locklear was arrested early Sunday after he allegedly grabbed his girlfriend by the neck.

He will still be in Seattle's starting lineup this weekend, having satisfied Seahawk Coach Mike Holmgren with his explanation and apology.

In Seattle, Holmgren said Locklear "realizes that this has been a negative thing in what should be a feel-good week for us."

Holmgren should realize that this is the NFL. Even with an arrest, an in-house accusation and a final four grouping that didn't follow the script, it's still a feel-good week for the NFL. They all are.

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J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read more by Adande go to latimes.com/adandeblog.

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