I've been waiting a lonnngggg time to write this column. For weeks. For months, actually. Hey, it's Super Bowl week. So this column has become a Super Bowl tradition like no other.
In fact, it's become my favorite column of the year, if you want to know the truth. Why? Because there's no better time than Super Bowl week to punch a really enjoyable hole in the NFL's most widely accepted -- but hilariously fictional -- bit of institutional propaganda. Which is:
That in the awesome and sacred National Football League, anybody can win. (Ho, ho, ho.) ... And every team has a chance. (Ha, ha, ha.) ... And the landscape is totally level. (Guffaw, guffaw, guffaw.) ... And parity rules. (Har, har, hardy, har, har.)
Oh, really? Tell it to the Browns.
Yeah, if only baseball could be more like football. If only baseball weren't a sport where (sing along with me) The Same Teams Win Every Year. If only baseball had a little parity, like the almighty NFL. If only ...
Wait. What's that? The facts say that baseball actually whomps the NFL's posterior in the old competitive-balance mano a mano? Why, that's just shocking.
Or at least it's shocking to those of you who have been getting outraged by this column for a decade now. As if I'm just inventing phony facts to annoy you. Or because I cover baseball. Or because I feel like being a troublemaker one day a year.
Nope. That's not it. I promise. I'll even swear that everything you're about to read in this column is one giant bundle of truth, and pretty much nothing but the truth. These are real facts, researchable by one and all. So feel free. Research up a storm to try to prove otherwise. Good luck on that.
But in the meantime, here it comes -- the eagerly awaited (except by Roger Goodell) Super Parity Bowl column, extra-special 2016 edition:
* First of all, I'd like to salute Peyton Manning -- and thank him. By making it to another Super Bowl, he's making it easy on me to write columns like this. It may be a heartwarming story to see Manning in this Super Bowl. But it's not exactly a stunner to find him there.
Now if Philip Rivers showed up, or Andy Dalton, or Alex Smith (let alone Josh McCown), then we'd have a whole different story. But of course it's Peyton in the Super Bowl -- because the same three quarterbacks represent the AFC in the Super Bowl every darned year. Or just about. And he's one of them.
Did you know that Manning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger have been your AFC QB in 12 of the past 13 Super Bowls? And 13 of the past 15? Meanwhile, 143 other distinguished quarterbacks, from Drew Brees to Cleo Lemon, started a game in the AFC over those 15 years. And exactly two of them reached a Super Bowl (Joe Flacco and Rich Gannon).
That stat obviously says something about the greatness of Manning, Brady and Big Ben. But it says something about the competitive landscape of their sport, too. Right?
* Ah, but I'm sure many of you out there are thinking that by focusing just on quarterbacks, I'm being misleading. Or conspiratorial. Or just downright annoying. So let's get back to the real issue at hand.
If you think that, I'm guessing you're still clinging to the myth that, QB trivia aside, the NFL really is the Anything Can Happen League. And good for you. Yeah, it sure is a good thing that the Same Teams Don't Win Every Year in football, all right. Except that, oops, I just remembered something.
The Broncos are in the Super Bowl.
Because, well, of course they are. Have I mentioned (since last year) that the Broncos, Ravens, Patriots, Steelers or Colts are always in the Super Bowl? They're just five teams in a 16-team conference. But they've now represented the AFC in the Super Bowl for (ready for this?) 13 years in a row. Yep, 13. And 18 of the past 20.
So it's a good thing there's so much parity in the NFL. I'm sure that that's what's fueling all that hope in Jacksonville that the Jaguars are Super Bowl-bound any century now.
* Since I spend most of my year honed in on baseball, I can actually tell you exactly which day I first started looking forward to writing this column. It was Oct. 15. That was the day we learned the identity of the final four playoff teams in a sport in which everybody knows The Same Teams Win Every Year. Those four teams were:
The Royals -- who hadn't won a World Series since 1985 (30 years).
The Mets -- who hadn't won since 1986 (29 years).
The Blue Jays -- who hadn't won since 1993 (22 years).
And the Cubs -- who hadn't won since Lincoln was president. All right, not really. I made that up. It was 1908 (107 years).
So that adds up to 188 title-free seasons. In a sport in which The Same Teams Win Every Year. Just thought I'd throw that out there.
* But back in the NFL, the final four looked slightly more familiar.
There were the Broncos. They've been in the playoffs five years in a row and 12 of the past 20.
There were the Patriots, who were playing in their fifth straight conference final in their seventh straight trip to the playoffs. And their 12th in the last 13 years.
And there were the Panthers and Cardinals. Two teams that hadn't faced each other in a playoff game since -- oh, wait -- a whole 386 days. In the previous year's playoffs.
OK, so it's true that neither of those two has ever won a Super Bowl. But this makes three straight trips to the playoffs for Carolina and two in a row for Arizona (not to mention four in the last eight years). So it was slightly less disorienting to see them there than it was to, say, find yourself watching postseason baseball at Wrigley Field.
* Hold on. One more thing about that NFL final four. It comprised -- whaddaya know -- the top four seeds in the Anything Can Happen League. Just to put that in perspective, you want to know how often the four teams with the best records show up in baseball's final four? Glad you asked. The answer: precisely once in the entire wild-card era (in other words, the 21 seasons in which more than four teams made the playoffs).
* Oh, and who's playing in the Super Bowl in the Anything Can Happen League? That would be the two No. 1 seeds. For the third straight year. Meanwhile, over in baseball, where The Same Teams Win Every Year, that's only occurred three times in the entire wild-card era, and just once in the past 16 seasons. Hmmm. How'd that happen?
* But let's widen our perspective, simply because that's just as much fun. Twelve NFL teams made the playoffs in the Anything Can Happen League. A whopping eight of them had been there the year before. Just to refresh your memory, those eight included:
The Packers -- a playoff team for seven straight seasons, eight of nine, 12 of 15 and 18 of 23.
The Seahawks -- a playoff team in five of the past six years, and 10 of the last 13.
The Steelers -- a playoff team in four of the past six years, six of nine and eight of 12.
The Bengals -- a playoff team for five straight years and six out of seven.
So over the past six seasons, those four teams, plus the Broncos and Patriots, have made the playoffs a combined 31 times. And missed them just five times. Wow. Imagine how often they'd get there if they played in a sport like baseball, where The Same Teams Win Every Year.
* But wait. Maybe it's possible we have the Same Teams Win Every Year sports backward. Can't imagine how that happened. But let's compare the NFL's glittering display of parity with the landscape in baseball. There's no more revealing way to do that than to look at how many new teams make the playoffs every year. So here's a chart showing the number of teams, over the past six seasons, that made the playoffs after missing them the year before:
Hey, that chart appears to be suggesting that in every one of those seasons -- six in a row -- baseball has had more turnover in its playoff field than the NFL, even while many of you were still trying to convince us that The Same Teams Win Every Year. Sorry to have to keep introducing these pesky facts into that argument. It's just a bad habit I've developed.
* And you want to know what else? To find the last season in which more than half the teams in the baseball playoffs were repeaters, you'd have to go all the way back to 2005. Whereas it happens in the NFL pretty much every year. Hmmm. More pesky facts.
* And you know what else? In the 10 seasons since then, 28 of baseball's 30 teams (everyone except the Marlins and Mariners) have made the playoffs. That's 93.3 percent. But over in the National Parity League, 28 of 32 teams have made it. That's 87.5 percent. This seems pretty close until you remember that there were 120 playoff spots in football, 36 percent more than the 88 in baseball. Uh-oh. Those facts keep coming. Don't they?
* And you know what else? In the past five seasons, all but six baseball teams have made the playoffs (that's 80 percent), as opposed to the Anything Can Happen League, where 68.8 percent made it (22 of 32). And once again, there were many more playoff slots open in the NFL (60) than in MLB (48). Wow. These facts are cold-blooded propaganda-killers. Call the cops.
* We could go on like this pretty much all day. But it's time to wrap this up -- by talking money. And you know why we need to talk money? Because I hear from people all the time that if baseball only had a salary cap, it might be able, someday, to attain the same kind of fabulous parity the NFL has.
But in the meantime, this poor sport just can't stop those evil baseball teams with money from buying their way into the playoffs. Or at least that's what you keep telling me.
Well, thanks for your input. Just one minor fact I'd like to mention: That money thing isn't working out so hot anymore.
Did you know that of the nine teams with the highest Opening Day payrolls this year, six of them missed the playoffs?
And did you know that of the teams with the top 12 payrolls, just one (Toronto) won a postseason series?
And did you know that of the teams with the top 15 Opening Day payrolls, none played in the World Series?
And did you know that as many teams from the bottom six in payroll made the playoffs (two) as teams that were in the top six?
And did you know that the Yankees and Dodgers have laid out a combined four billion dollars in salaries since 2004 -- and it's bought them an appearance in exactly one of the past 12 World Series?
And did you know the Yankees and Dodgers spent more than half a billion bucks on player payroll just last season? Which somehow didn't stop the Kansas City Royals from winning the World Series.
Gosh, I love facts. They come in handy at times like this.
So have yourselves an awesome Super Sunday. I know I will. I'll be dipping every tortilla chip in the house in delicious parity facts. And now that I've finished up my favorite column of the year, I'm confident they'll never have tasted better.