This weekend has a great deal of importance for me. My two favorite sports are being showcased. The Detroit Red Wings play the St. Louis Blues at home this Friday...it's the first time I recall them being in Detroit for my birthday in nearly twenty years and since the lockout cancelled the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium this game will have to suffice for now (especially since the Blues embarrassed the Wings opening night). And the other event...Ah yes, Super Sunday (since the entire world is legally bound to not mention its true name without paying a certain copyright infringement)!
This had me decorating my office the other day. The back wall is covered in Red Wing memorabilia from, championship plaques, to jersey's and even figures...and yes I have a Pavel Datsyuk one! Another wall however, I have displayed the pocket helmet collection of the NFL, and yes they are updated to include the changes made in the past few seasons. When I put the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers together, I realized that we as fans are witnessing something rarely seen in the National Football League or sports in general. I am actually not referring to the Harbaugh brothers, but a simpler less discussed topic recently...Parity!
It is something that all major sports leagues have attempted to achieve over the past few decades, but it seems to becoming much more prevalent in two leagues; the National Football League and National Hockey League. As I mentioned before these are my two favorite sports and probably account for 90% of my television watching experience, so this weekend would have had much graver implications had the NHL lockout not ended before the big game Sunday. I can't bring myself to watch that bouncing orange ball, plus the Pistons make the Lions look competent right now.
The topic of parity brings about a controversial debate. I however, love the fact that my favorite sports team of all, the NHL's Detroit Red Wings, have been a perennial cup contender for the majority of my life, but I know that they are despised by many through hockey circles for the same reason. Parity will mean that the Red Wings will eventually fall to the bottom of the league. The same could be said for a team that many fans cheered in defeat two weeks ago...the New England Patriots. I am also a Patriots fan...for two reasons; the Detroit Lions have been irrelevant for too long, and Tom Brady went to Michigan, therefore I wasn't thrilled to see the Ravens win, but it allowed a unique scenario to unfold which brought about this topic. So the question arises, which league is the Super King of Parity?
Since the NHL's lockout of 2006 here are how the two league compare:
First, how many teams have missed the playoffs every season since 2006? It should be stated that I am well aware that the NHL allows 16 playoff teams and the NFL only 12! In the NFL, four teams have not made the playoffs in this time frame. The Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams (thank you Lions 2011!). In the NHL, Only the Toronto Maple Leafs have yet to make the playoffs since 2006.
That means that almost 88% of the NFL versus almost 97% of the NHL have made the postseason...advantage NHL, however the Red Wings have made 21 straight appearances, which is impossible in the NFL (see New England Patriots 2007 and San Francisco 49ers 1991, each of which won 10+ games and missed the post season when teams from the AFC had worse records and got to play playoff games)...so advantage NONE!
Second, how many teams have played in Conference Championships since 2006? In the NFL, six teams in the AFC (Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Colts, Patriots & Chargers) and nine teams in the NFC (49ers, Falcons, Giants, Bears, Viking, Packers, Cardinals, Eagles & Saints). In the NHL, nine teams in the Western Conference (Red Wings, Kings, Coyotes, Canucks, Sharks, Blackhawks, Ducks, Oilers & Stars) and ten teams in the Eastern Conference (Rangers, Devils, Bruins, Lightning, Hurricanes, Flyers, Penguins, Senators, Sabres & Canadiens)
That means that 46% of the NFL versus 63% of the NHL have played deep into playoff action...advantage NHL
Third, how many teams have played in their championship game since 2006? In the NFL, ten teams on Super Sunday. In the NHL, twelve teams have had a chance at raising lord Stanley's Cup.
That is pretty close, but 31% of the NFL versus 40% of the NHL...advantage NHL
Fourth, how many different champions have been crowned in each league? In the NFL, this Sunday's winner between Baltimore and San Francisco will be the 6th champion in seven seasons. It also is worth noting that seven of the eight divisions have been represented including all four in the NFC in the last four seasons! In the NHL, seven different champions have been crowned. That's right a new champion has emerged each season including 2009 when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings had a rematch...I still cry myself to sleep over that game seven loss. All six divisions have been represented in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Finally, the most important event in any season is the game that decides the champion. This weekends match-up between the Ravens and 49ers should be close and if it is that would mean that every Super Sunday tilt has been close in the 4th quarter since 2006. In fact there hasn't been a blowout since the Raiders were destroyed by 'Chucky' and the Buccaneers at the end of the 2002 season. (also the last time the Raiders played a post season game...i hate the Raiders!"). I may be bias, but three of the greatest finishes the NFL have occurred since 2006; Giants (2011 & 2007) and Steelers (2009), ironically i was routing for the other team in each game! Here is where things get interesting. In the NHL, the overall league seems to have parity on lock down over the NFL, yet in the finals it hasn't been as contentious as Super Sunday. It may have to do with the best of seven format. Even though, three of the seven years the cup was clinched in a game seven, we will just look at the clinching game for each year to make it more comparable to the ultimate football game each season. The Kings (2012), Bruins (2011), Duck (2007) & Hurricanes (2006) all won games in relative ease to clinch their championships. Even the Blackhawks (2010) won in what was the most anticlimactic finish of any sporting event I have ever witnessed as it took nearly five minutes to declare the series clinching goal in overtime. Ironically, only the two Red Wings series versus the Penguins had stellar finishes with flurries of action right until the final buzzer.
Don't get me wrong, I love both leagues, and the NFL may be king of media, television, beer advertisements and cheerleaders (though the ice girls in Carolina are amazing), but the National Hockey League may have cornered the market on league parity, now they just have to live up to the big dog in the final show...another grand finish in this weekends clash and the NFL may just claim this crown as well, but for now the NHL is the king of parity.
Find More Writings From Author Christopher M. Purrett