What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called The Jeff Bridges Blog-A-Thon being hosted by Thoughts All Sorts. She’s had me in several of her events, and hopefully that will continue because she’s always coming up with great topics.
To see all the contributions to this blog-a-thon, click here.
There’s two ways to look at the rise and fall of Preston Tucker. One is that Tucker was simply ahead of his time; the other was his innovations posed a threat to the powers-that-be at the time. Either way, it’s hard to say those reason weren’t intertwined.
“Tucker: The Man The Man And His Dreams” is a 1988 Francis ford Coppola bio-pic starring Jeff Bridges in the title role. Preston Tucker was a guy who wanted to build cars since his childhood. As an engineer, he designed an armored car for the Army during World War II and made money building gun turrets for aircraft in a small shop next to his home in Ypsilanti, Michigan. But as the war is coming to an end, Tucker looks back to his dream of building cars.
Tucker creates the “Torpedo,” a car full of revolutionary innovations. These included disc brakes, seat belts, a pop out windshield, and head lights which swiveled to follow the direction in which the car was being steered. To get things moving, Tucker hires a talented young designer and arranges a New York financier to pump in the operating capital. The newly-formed Tucker Corporation launches a spectacular roll-out of “the car of tomorrow,” but as with any true innovator, he draws the ire of the “powers-that-be,” namely the existing “Big Three” American auto-makers and their willing thrall in the form of a U.S. Senator from Michigan…which just so happens to be the home of the American auto industry.
On top of that, Tucker faced challenges from within his own organization who want to make the “torpedo” a more conventional car. As such, the Tucker Corporation board of directors sends him on a publicity campaign and while he’s gone, they change the design of the “Torpedo” and eliminate the safety and engineering advances Tucker had been advertising.
Tucker finds ways around the internal mutiny, but then finds himself facing allegations of stock fraud, led by the aforementioned Senator from Michigan who has managed to have an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission launched. Simultaneously, the “yellow journalists” of the day start trashing Tucker’s public image, likely at the behest of the Big Three auto makers,
Tucker breaks the case against him by parading the entire production run of 50 Tucker Torpedoes in order to show he has in fact reached full production status. He follows this with an impassioned argument to the jury on how capitalism in the United States is harmed by efforts of large corporations against small entrepreneurs like himself. Eventually, Tucker is acquitted on all charges, but by this point the originally bullish investors have run for cover, causing the Tucker Corporation to succumb to bankruptcy.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
There’s two ways to look at the rise and fall of the Alliance of American Football (AAF). One is that the AAF was simply ahead of its time; the other was its innovations posed a threat to the powers-that-be at the time. But in the case of the AAF, those reasons were clearly intertwined.
Originally conceived as a developmental league and as a laboratory for various experiments, the AAF offered such promise investors across the board were ready to toss in up to three-quarters of a billion dollars over five years to get the league off the ground. Part of what made the AAF attractive to investors was its unique position to capitalize on the U.S. Supreme Court’s expansion of legal sports gambling. Part of what made the AAF attractive to viewers was its incorporation of radical rule changes designed to streamline games to fit in a two-and-a-half hour television window rather than the bloated three-hour-plus of the National Football League.
Some of those on-field changes included eliminating kick-offs by having teams start the ensuing possession after a score at the 25-yard line; as if the kickoff resulted in a touch-back. To address the issue of on-side kicks, the AAF replaced the on-side kick by giving the “kicking” team a chance to convert one fourth-and-12 from their own 28-yard line. In short, if a team could gain 12 or more yards on that one play, they kept the ball wherever that play ended. If they failed, the other team took over at the spot where that play ended.
Understanding that the kicking game represents one of the biggest eaters of time in the NFL game, the AAF eliminated the one-point kick for a conversion after a touchdown. Teams successfully finding the end-zone were forced to find it again for a two-point conversion.
The AAF also took one move toward protecting quarterbacks and opening up the offensive end of the game with one stroke. The AAF will restricted defenses. Only defensive five players were allowed to rush the passer, and all five had to be within two yards of the line at the snap. This was also intended to allow a league of a developmental nature show who could slip a block and get to the quarterback without gimmicks; conversely it showed which offensive linemen could hold their own in one-on-one blocking scenarios.
This league also took care of two major issues with overtime, both designed to eliminate the waste of time and hasten an outcome. Each team will got the ball on the opposing 10-yard line in a “1st-and-goal” situation; they had four downs to put the ball in the end-zone. Field goals were not allowed, the offensive team could only get a first-down through a defensive penalty. There were only two possessions per team; if the game was still tied after that, it ended in a tie.
The most interesting thing the AAF did was to add transparency to video review by putting microphones on all parties involved. Personally, I don’t think the NFL has the onions to do that.
But it was in the gambling arena where the AAF really looked to be a game-changer. Its original draw for investors was based largely on developing technology that would help gamblers bet on quicker, shorter plays. Such technology would be fast enough to allow gamblers to bet on the next play in a football game with a variety of options through an application on their mobile phones. Will the next play be a run or a pass? Will the next play result in a first down? The possibilities were endless.
Originally, investors were bullish on the AAF, including Silicon Valley venture capitalists and MGM Resorts International, one of the biggest casino companies in the world. The AAF made it clear they were dead serious about the technology end of this venture by hiring a head engineer who had previously worked with Tesla and Lockheed Martin.
Then, halfway through it’s inaugural season, the AAF’s wheels started coming off. Granted, the ticket sales and the TV ratings were’t what they had hoped for, but they weren’t terrible either. Besides, the AAF’s business model wasn’t solely based on those things. Unlike a traditional sports league, it was all about setting itself up to cash in on newly-legalized sports gambling. Just like the on-field product, the key was all about innovation. By streamlining the process of placing bets and increasing wagering opportunities, the AAF’s goal was to prove the marriage of technology and legalized gambling would intensify viewer interest in more games, thus boosting revenues for all involved parties.
That all depends on how you want to look at it. As much as the AAF could say it wasn’t depending entirely on ticket sales and TV ratings, it wasn’t hard to see the in-person attendance at the games wasn’t great. The AAF was regular weekend viewing at my house, so my so that Mrs. J-Dub and I cruised the AAF’s website looking for purchase some “merch” to support a league we enjoyed watching. While we enjoyed the AAF, we didn’t enjoy it to the tune of $90 for a golf shirt with an AAF team logo on it. Similar NFL-licensed stuff doesn’t even cost that much.
While it likely wasn’t my lack of willingness to pony up the better part of a Franklin for some gear, in any event, it was clear that at some point, the originally-bullish investors got cold feet. That makes the million-dollar question what scared them off?
That brings us to the other way to look at it. What if I told you the NFL only pretends to not be interested in gambling? What if I told you that there are big-time owners in the NFL who are also invested in daily-gambling sites like DraftKings? Those things are both true, and once you accept those facts, it isn’t a big leap to understand how the NFL might not want competition when it comes to getting a slice of the burgeoning gambling pie.
After all, was it a coincidence there was originally supposed to be a developmental relationship between the NFL and the AAF, then all of a sudden the NFL shut off access to practice squad players? Was it a coincidence that midway through the season, the NFL stopped showing AAF games on the NFL Network? And, was it a coincidence that the minute the NFL cooled it’s relationship with the AAF that the suddenly the previously-bullish investors headed for the tall grass?
Let’s fire up the video review on that…but I want microphones on everybody.
The Moral of The Story:
Eventually, nothing stops the tide of innovation, but money certainly helps or hinders the timing of it’s advent.
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