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NFL Network’s A Football Life Has Jumped the Shark 0

Posted on September 30, 2018 by Dean Hybl
NFL Network's show A Football Life debuted in 2011.

NFL Network’s show A Football Life debuted in 2011.

In case you are not familiar with the term “Jumping the Shark”, it refers to the great 1970s TV Show Happy Days. Towards the end of its run on ABC, they had an episode when “The Fonz” somehow ended up on water skis and actually jumped a shark (or at least a mechanical shark). To fans, it signaled the moment when they knew the show was out of realistic plots and was on its way towards the end.

Given that the first three episodes of season eight of A Football Life have included a pair of shows about quarterbacks with a combined total of one conference championship appearance during their careers, I think it is clear that this once great show has passed its “Jump the Shark” moment.

When A Football Life first came on the air in 2011, it provided a fresh and innovative approach for telling about the football journeys for some of the great figures in recent NFL history. Most of those highlighted were living at the time they were featured, though that has not always been the case.

After starting with a two-part episode about New England Coach Bill Belichick, they followed up with a fresh look at a pair of former teammates whose lives ended early, Reggie White & Jerome Brown. Other tales from the opening season focused on the cinema worthy stories of Kurt Warner, Walter Payton, Ed Sabol, Mike Ditka, Tom Landry and Al Davis.

Though the second season began with a nod to the “flavor of the moment” by featuring Tim Tebow, the remainder of the season was excellent with every episode telling a unique, behind the curtain, story about an NFL Legend.

As a fan of NFL history, if there has been anything significant to criticize about the choices of former players to feature, it would be that they have almost totally ignored players from the pre-Super Bowl era and in reality, have focused disproportionately on players from the 1980s to today.

The term "Jumping the Shark" refers to an episode of Happy Days where "The Fonz" jumped a shark.

The term “Jumping the Shark” refers to an episode of Happy Days where “The Fonz” jumped a shark.

Not counting shows on former players who became coaches or broadcasters, through the first seven seasons there have only been four shows featuring players whose primary years in the league occurred prior to 1970 (Jim Brown, Joe Namath, the Los Angeles Rams Fearsome Foursome and Chicago Bears greats Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus).

To me that is really a shame. I understand maybe not going back to the beginning of NFL history to feature former greats who have been gone for generations, but given that NFL Films originated in the 1960s, I cannot understand why they have basically ignored that great era of the NFL and AFL.

Off the top of my head, I can name 10-20 players who were active in the 1960s and either are still alive or were alive when the series started that would be great to feature. Players like Bart Starr and Willie Davis from the great Packer teams, the first Dallas Cowboy draft pick Bob Lilly, Sam Huff, Alex Karras, Y.A. Tittle, Sonny Jurgensen, Len Dawson, John Brodie, Lenny Moore, Hugh McElhenny, Fran Tarkenton and the recently deceased Tommy McDonald are just a few of the many players from that era that had amazing NFL journeys and would have been great to feature in the series.

Though the bias to the post-merger era has always been there, in the early years there was at least a balance with some shows featuring players from the 1970s and early 1980s.

However, in recent years, the show seems to have become more of a vehicle for current broadcasters and recently inducted Hall of Famers.

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