There’s a moment in the life of every creative where true genius confronts them. Honing a craft takes years of work. It takes sleepless nights and obsession. For every hundred that try, maybe one claws to the point where a passion can earn them a living.
But when you’re just a composer, finding Mozart burns. When you’ve spent countless hours composing and some precocious upstart walks up and makes the thing sing almost on instinct, it’s a devastating blow to the ego. That’s the sort of jealous that turns your insides to ash.
That must have been how producers at NBC and ESPN felt watching Nickelodeon’s NFL Wild Card Game broadcast.
I say this without a hint of sarcasm: that Saints-Bears blowout was the most fun I’ve had watching a football game in years. Watching a potential Super Bowl champion coalesce before my eyes had nothing to do with it.
CBS and Nickelodeon managed to turn three hours of playoff football into a nationally-televised shitpost. That’s not just a work of genius, it’s pure alchemy. In a league that disappeared 50 feet up its own asshole more than a decade ago, that sort of levity is a revelation.
At a glance, the children’s programming network played its first bout of The Shield by the book. The camera setup was all standard. The mixture of play-by-play and analysis they provided came in the format we’re all used to seeing on Sundays. But beyond that, Nick cranked everything into slimy wimey third gear.
The prevalence of orange surprises no one. But holy shit, no one had a bad idea at whatever pitch meeting they had to flesh out the supplementary content that comes with football on TV. Noah Eagle, Nate Burleson, Gabrielle Nevaeh Green and Lex Lumpkin must have been getting paid by the reference. Minute after minute flew by with callbacks to classic Nick shows from an era before the imminent collapse of America was so readily apparent. Allegedly, the Trumpist mob that stormed the Capitol Building on Wednesday had people ready to take Senators hostage? How about a-“LEGENDS OF THE HIDDEN TEMPLE” REFERENCE INSTEAD BABEYYY. When the touchdown camera cut away to old “Spongebob” clips? That’s my heroin. I need more of this and I need it directly in my veins.
Kitschy references and all, the commentary was unironically fantastic. In a move to get more kids into football (which, to be fair, is evil), the broadcast actually provided explanations for parts of the sport. It might seem weird to dedicated fans, but if you can’t tell what’s going on, football just looks like a bunch of dudes in spandex slamming into each other. It’s a sport that we can easily say is too dull or complex without the right amount of information. Nick’s team actually helped provide that for people. Someone explaining what a safety is live felt like hearing somebody explain how to play Spades to a new player. I’ve literally never heard somebody do either.
Nick also made the call to get rid of most of the jockstrap sniffing comes with NFL commentary. They just gave people weird shit they’d like to hear from their favorite players. I don’t feel like I take anything away from Monday Night Football outside the game itself. But I’ll know for the rest of my life that Akiem Hicks’ favorite ice cream is chocolate. Somebody actually asked what getting tackled feels like. That’s a fantastic question, and Nickelodeon is the only network that isn’t too proud to ask.
In perhaps the most inspired decision of the night, the network decided to give fans at home the chance to vote for which player should win the novelty NVP trophy. Bears QB Mitch Trubisky was this poll’s Boaty McBoatface after throwing for 199 yards and one touchdown. Granted, the Saints dicked down the Bears 21-9. I would have made my kids forget how to read if it meant I got to see Lex Lumpkin frolic over to a despondent Bears locker room to give a probably unemployed Trubisky an orange plastic blimp. After Wednesday’s coup, Nickelodeon committing to this bit restored my faith in democracy. Say what you will about the multitudes, but it brings a tear to my eye to know that many people decided to fuck with a professional athlete in the world’s richest sports league at the same time.
The NFL made itself the city on the hill over the last 20 years. Because of that, they gave us years of paid propaganda and endless hand wringing over the brand, all while the league eats its own and grows more corrupt. The league most likely wanted to use this Nickelodeon game to market traumatic brain injuries to children. But the network took that poison pill and spattered it with buckets of room temperature slime.
This might just be a more subtle menace, but Nickelodeon managed to fart all over the most pretentious league in the country. With the effortless grace of a genius, Nick brought fun back to the No Fun League and put seasoned professionals of the sports world to shame. I thank them for their service.