I have been a sports fan for as long as I can remember. When I was younger it was professional football and basketball that caught my attention the most but I have followed college sports, and now, golf, the Olympics, even baseball. I became a Minnesota Vikings fan around five or six years old and we have no ties to the state of Minnesota or to the football team. But I have been a fan for almost 50 years.
I played sports through high school and into college and I have seen the changes that have occurred over the years, especially with training, nutrition, and the availability of off-season activities. Back in my day we just practiced during the season and with football we maybe practiced in the spring. There would be an open gym for basketball in the summer, but we rarely had traveling teams or year-round activities. Little League baseball lasted for about a month in the summer and then there would be some All-Star teams but that was about it.
But these days if you are playing a particular sport, almost any sport, you can play year-round. There are leagues and teams not only for basketball but also for volleyball, baseball, soccer, softball, almost anything you want to play. We also understand the role of nutrition and training much better than we did 30 or 40 years ago. That has resulted in better athletes playing almost every sport. It is also resulted in increased longevity.
Just look at how many football and basketball players have professional careers that extend beyond 15 to 20 years. Kobe Bryant played in the NBA for 20 years and he was not alone. Tom Brady could be the first 40-year-old quarterback to start a Super Bowl and he is still playing at the highest level. All of this was unheard of even 10 years ago.
But, with all of the participation available, the improved training methods, better nutrition and year-round dedication to the craft, it seems that we have fewer and fewer really good players. There are a number of examples but look at the quarterback position in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers is hurt early in the season and his backup, Brent Hundley, looks like he just took up the game of football.
The Philadelphia Eagles starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, is out due to injury and his backup, Nick Foles, has people saying that the Eagles might not even make the playoffs now. I’ve watched it with the Minnesota Vikings over the last few years, this year being a very notable exception, especially with the offensive line. Injuries to starters brought in the backups, who look like somebody walked out on the street and said, “you’re kind of big. Put on this jersey and get on the field.”
Why is it that the backups on just about every team at just about every position are not very good? Maybe I’m just more aware now than I was 20 or 30 years ago; maybe the backups weren’t that good back then either. But with all of the aforementioned advantages that athletes have today, wouldn’t you expect the backup players to perform at a much higher level?
Maybe it’s because they don’t practice as much. That would be the one significant difference that I see at almost every level of sports. Practice time is limited and actual simulation of game conditions, such as hitting and tackling in football, are almost nonexistent during practice. The backups don't really get any practice time, especially in simulated game conditions, so they're not ready to perform at a high level. Maybe we've been taking it too easy on them; but now I'm sounding like the old man that screams at people to get off his lawn, so I'll stop there.