You know the old joke:
I was watching an NFL playoff game and a kid's TV show broke out.
That's what happened on Sunday in the Wild Card playoff showdown between the Bears and the Saints. Unlike your standard issue NFL game however, this one was different. WAY different.
It was produced, packaged, and presented by Nick At Nite. And it was positively brilliant.
I was not the target viewer – not even close. This warped, stylized version of what could have been another nondescript, forgettable NFL game on TV was aimed at kids, but enjoyable to their parents (and grandparents).
It was unadulterated FUN to watch a treatment of an NFL game through the green slime lens of Nick, especially a contest that wasn't particularly entertaining in the first place. It was positively transformative.
Thanks to the team at Nick, they animated an otherwise drab, crowdless affair and made it fun and interesting. You wondered how they would manage to dream up their own treatments of NFL traditions and rules. And to their credit, Nick At Nite's animation crew didn't miss a trick, as you can see by the array of screen caps below:
Oddly enough, I wrote about this game last week because several publications promoted it as streaming only (Amazon Prime and Twitch) with no broadcast coverage. But when I sought the game out on my Xfinity X1 remote, CBS and Nick At Nite both popped up as options. Nick was on top, and I was curious, so I immediately tried the oddest choice for an NFL playoff game.
And it was the best – by far. Several times, I flipped back to CBS's “normal” coverage. Compared to Nick, it was like watching the game in black and white. You forget just how mundane the average football game has become. And how exciting they can be with some production, lots of flash, imagination, and jettisoning musty old traditions.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one who came away with that impression. UPROXX's Ryan Nagelhout summed it up this way:
“What Nickelodeon aired on Sunday was a legitimately entertaining broadcast of a pretty underwhelming playoff football game.”
SB Nation's James Dator had a similar impression:
“The youth-focused presentation of the game made it not only perfect for kids, but anyone who wants to enjoy football without the grand seriousness of traditional commentary.”
And that was part of why it worked. The “announcing crew” was comprised of former NFL star Nate Burleson (left below), play-by-play guy Noah Eagle (son of CBS announcer Ian Eagle, right below), and young Gabrielle Nevaeh Green (middle) who brought the naivete of someone watching her second football game. And Nick star, Lex Lumpkin (pictured above right) roamed the sidelines, had fun, and even did a Barack Obama impression.
Burleson rocked it, bringing smart analysis, with enough of the remedial info to keep kids engaged, while impressing us grizzled vets.
And while you might not want to see Nick handle an entire season of NFL games, this was a refreshing change of pace, especially during this COVID-tainted season. And it made me wonder how other aspects of pop culture would take on the challenge of presenting a pro football contest.
A music version might include Dave Grohl and Ozzy Osbourne (play-by-play and color respectively), aided by Beyonce and Jay-Z handling pre- and post-game duties, with Billie Eilish roaming the sidelines.
But I digress…
The fact is, the NFL is onto something here. In much the same boat as other “mature” entertainment verticals (are you listening, radio?) a sharp effort to engage teens is a strategically smart idea. Given population shifts – younger and more ethnic, as we saw once again during this political season – the NFL, MLB, the PGA, and other sports leagues need to undertake serious self-analysis and some attention-getting tactics to ensure their fan base doesn't morph into communities of AARP members.
Kudos to NFL commish Roger Goodell and his team for drawing up this risky-on-paper play, and to the Nick At Nite posse for reimagining NFL football in ways that even made penalties entertaining (and cross-promoted their Young Sheldon franchise):
Young Sheldon explaining NFL rules. Nickelodeon you sly fox you
— George Jarjour (@GeorgeOnTap) January 10, 2021