Championship Weekend proved the NFL is TV’s best drama

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I used to think the NBA was the sports world’s version of a soap opera.

From an eclectic cast of characters to, at times, unreasonable drama — the Clippers-Rockets locker room skirmish of 2018 first comes to mind — the NBA has been just as much of a wacky reality T.V. show as it has been a renowned professional sports league.

Yet, one major on-court concept has been missing throughout most of the NBA’s 76-year history: parity.

Parity is one of sports fans’ most frequently used buzzwords.

It’s often used to describe sports like the NBA and college football where, more often than not, the championship contenders and winners typically have very little variety.

For example, the NBA had four straight seasons, 2015-2018, with a Finals matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. In total, Golden State made five consecutive appearances.

That’s the total opposite of parity.

In recent years, however, the NBA has shown that it can, in fact, be a bit more versatile.

Last year, the Phoenix Suns (last Finals appearance: 1993) and Milwaukee Bucks (1974) faced off for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, with the Bucks earning their first title since the 1970s.

But after this past weekend — and an entire parity-filled season — the NFL may just be making a move to snatch the soap-opera crown from the NBA.

And it all started on Saturday with a tweet heard ‘round the world.

The GOAT in limbo

My Saturday afternoon workflow was rudely interrupted when my phone buzzed with a Twitter notification from esteemed ESPN insider Adam Schefter that set the world ablaze.

“Tom Brady is retiring from football after 22 extraordinary seasons, multiple sources tell @JeffDarlington and me,” the tweet read, accompanied by a “BREAKING NEWS” graphic.

From there, the tweet — and the news — blew up. (As of Tuesday morning, the tweet had 143,500 retweets and 271,900 likes.)

Other NFL reporters began confirming the reports, adding their own insight and things they’ve heard around the league. As it stood, the G.O.A.T. was hanging it up.

On social media, there was an emotional outpouring from fans — ranging from Patriots and Buccaneers fans thanking him for the memories to fans tweeting “ding dong the witch is dead” to signify their relief that he won’t be crushing their team’s Super Bowl dreams any longer — and tributes from other sports teams, prominent figures, his teammates and even the NFL itself, which posted multiple graphics with #ThankYouTom attached.

But as the hours passed, there was one notable person missing from the discussion: Tom Brady himself.

Throughout it all, Tom remained silent.

And not long after the news broke, more information came out to muddy the water.

At 4 p.m., a report from Michael Silver claimed that Brady had contacted the Buccaneers’ general manager, Jason Licht, to say that he “has not yet made a final decision on retirement.”

Then, 51 minutes later, a tweet from NFL Network’s Mike Silver read: “Checked in with Tom Brady Sr. who tells me, and I quote, ‘This story Mike is total conjecture. Tommy has not made a final decision one way or the other and anybody else that says that he has is absolutely wrong.’”

Schefter has since doubled down on his original report, stating that Brady has indeed made his decision, creating a standoff between some of the NFL’s biggest media members and Brady’s camp.

But, on Tuesday morning, just before the News + Record went to press, Brady made his official announcement via his Instagram page in a lengthy, eight-slide statement (which garnered nearly 3 million likes in 4 hours), part of which read:

“This is difficult for me to write, but here it goes: I am not going to make that competitive commitment anymore. I have loved my NFL career, and now it is time to focus my time and energy on other things that require my attention.”

The NFL simply isn’t going to be the same without Brady in it, having spent the last 22 years as one of the faces of the most popular sports league in the country.

And as a 24-year-old sports fan, I’ve never watched an NFL season without Brady in it (aside from the 2008 season in which Brady tore his ACL).

Next year is going to be ... strange, to say the least.

But, whether it was the unexpected standoff between Brady and NFL reporters or his emotional final goodbye, I was living for the drama surrounding this story all weekend — and early week — long.

Who could’ve scripted this?

As interesting as Saturday’s Brady-related spectacle was, Sunday’s conference championship games were even more action-packed.

To start, Joe Burrow and the No. 4 Cincinnati Bengals conquered the NFL’s biggest villain, the No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs, on the road in the AFC Championship Game to advance to the team’s first Super Bowl since 1988 after a miraculous 18-point comeback.

After being down 21-3 in the first half, the Bengals went on to win in overtime, 27-24, after picking off a deep pass from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in OT and relying on a 31-yard field goal from rookie kicker Evan “Shooter” McPherson to walk it off.

According to Axios, entering Sunday, teams down by 18-plus points this season were a combined 1-115.

Now, they’re 2-115.

Then, in the evening slot, the No. 4 Los Angeles Rams overcame a 17-7 fourth-quarter deficit to break the hearts of the No. 6 San Francisco 49ers, 20-17, after a last-second interception by the Rams’ defense, snapping the team’s six-game losing streak to its division rival.

It was the eighth game this postseason decided by one possession and the fifth in the last two weeks decided by 3 points or fewer.

With the Bengals’ upset and the Rams’ homestand, this marks the first time in NFL history that both teams in the Super Bowl are seeded 4th or lower — a testament to just how wild and upset-filled this postseason has been.

Conversely, the NBA has never had a matchup of two No. 4 seeds or lower. Score one for the NFL in the drama department.

Aside from Super Wild Card Weekend — which was mostly a snooze fest — this has been one of the most exciting NFL postseasons we’ve ever seen, jam-packed with last-second finishes, the toppling of top seeds and plenty of unexpected drama.

And, with the two teams we have left, just about anything could happen in Super Bowl LVI.

So, on Feb. 13, decide who you’re rooting for, grab your popcorn and prepare to watch one of television’s best dramas at work for one final time this season.

You’re almost guaranteed to be entertained.

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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