The NFL's Pizza War

A skirmish over food delivery is the latest bizarre twist in a surreal football season

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Baseball's packed up its cleats and champagne goggles, and now we're left with NFL football, snoring on the couch—a sketchy cousin with a murky future but no plans to leave until February.
 Even if you're not watching, you know it's been a bizarro season for the NFL: continued protests, presidential tweets, boycott threats, ratings rockiness, ownership skirmishes, concussion worries, season-ending injuries to superstar players, Roger Goodell's spouse schooling media dingbats like me on Twitter, and now, naturally…
 Last week, the Papa John's pizza outfit let the country know it blamed some of its sales sluggishness on the NFL and the league's inability to find a resolution to its pregame protest controversy.
 What? It's strange enough that the New York Giants are 1-7 and half of the league is ignoring Colin Kaepernick and scouring for quarterbacks on Craigslist.
 Now America isn't ordering enough middling chain pizza? It's an outrage!
 It got even more delicious when Papa John's nemeses started mirthfully piling on. Both Pizza Hut and DiGiorno tweaked PaJo by announcing they haven't suffered sales losses as a result of the NFL. Zing! That's two slices with extra cheese!
 Truth: I really don't need to see another NFL game this year if pizza companies treat us to a weekly Pizza Riot.
 Still, I tried to do my part for the piqued Papa on Sunday, ordering one of his “Works Pizzas” which included pepperoni, Canadian bacon, sausage, onions, green peppers, mushrooms and black olives.
 I asked them to add sea urchin, red squirrel, rhinoceros horn, shredded pages of The Fountainhead and a jumbo Sugar Daddy, but they were fresh out of those toppings.
 It took under 40 minutes to arrive, and it cost about $982 less than an iPhone X.
 But no pizza was going to make much of a difference this NFL weekend. Only two games the entire week matched up a pair of teams with records over .500.
 Two! It was mostly a day of uninspired or one-sided mush, like the Rams giving the Giants a 51-17 wedgie at a soggy MetLife Stadium. This is a problem. Last week, the Journal reported that TV execs think the main reason behind the NFL's ratings torpor is overexposure.
 They acknowledge that some viewers are indeed turning away because of the player protests— but the broader belief is that gimmicks like Red Zone, breakfast football from London and Thursday Night Football have stretched the product thin.
 That's probably fair. After all, it's a better idea to take your cat to the movies instead of watching Thursday Night Football. And I'd rather come over to your house and rake the leaves than watch a London game.
 I don't think saturation is entirely to blame, however. If the games were routinely great, or just competitive, you wouldn't have much of a problem. But there's too much of the mush: lethargic game planning, inept offenses, and a whoole lot of punts.
 Meanwhile, it feels like there are only about six or seven people on the planet who can do a better than adequate job of quarterbacking a professional football club. Tom Brady literally seems to be a different species, and he's 92 years old. That avocado ice cream must be a wonder.
 The other day, the Houston Texans lost Deshaun Watson—a rare quarterback sensation, easily the game's most exciting rookie—to a knee injury in practice.
 It's as if someone in the NFL league office is walking under ladders. I don't want to be a killjoy. There are definitely some upbeat NFL stories.
 In Philadelphia—a city well known for its cheery sports optimism— the Eagles are 8-1 and cruising atop the NFC East. It's truly strange, not hearing Eagles fans yelling angrily about the Eagles. The aforementioned Rams have a good story to tell, even if Los Angeles still needs to wake up to it.
 Minnesota Vikings are 6-2, with a shot of playing the Super Bowl at home.
 The Browns had a bye this weekend and didn't lose.
 (I know you think I'm being extra snarky this week because Wisconsin is now 9-0 and the last undefeated team in the Big Ten and we're still going to get passed over for a top four playoff slot because all the fancy college football blowhards think we only play high schools and donkey basketball teams. To which I say: it is annoying, but it's still early November, and I look forward to stuffing my sweaty Bucky Badger socks under everyone's nose in January.)
 And the pizza? Yes, my Papa John's! I live in Brooklyn, which is probably the pizza snob capital of America—there are pizza parlors around here harder to crack than nightclubs, and I almost asked the delivery guy to deliver the PJ in an unmarked paper bag—but I'm in the shameless there's-no-such-thing-as-bad-pizza crowd.
 I'll get a slice at the airport, a hospital, or even that gas station with one slice under a heat lamp that may have been there since the Clash were together.
 That said, here's my official, one-sentence review: The pizza—and the NFL—have some work to do.

 Papa John's founder John Schnatter

 New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning reacts during a 51-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.  

By Jason Gay


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