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What Should We Do About the NFL’s Calendar Creep?

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The NFL’s final slate of 2023 regular season games will unfold this weekend — and therein lies a situation that’s been bugging me.

On Monday, I will run my usual Monday Morning Uni Watch report on Sunday’s games. In keeping with the protocol I’ve used this season, the headline will refer to “2023, Week 18” — even though the games I’ll be writing about will have taken place in 2024.

This is all due to the gradual lengthening of the NFL schedule over the years, or what I’ve begun thinking of as “calendar creep.” To put it in some perspective:

  • The 1958 NFL Championship Game — the game that became mythologized as “the greatest game ever played” — took place on Dec. 28, 1958. So the entire season — pre-, regular, and post- — took place within one calendar year.
  • The first Super Bowl took place at the end of the 1966 season. The final regular season games were played on Dec. 18. The 1966 NFL Championship Game — won by the Packers, who went on to face Kansas City in Super Bowl I — took place on Jan. 1, 1967. The Supe took place on Jan. 15.
  • In 1978, the league expanded the season from 14 to 16 games, but the extra weeks were created by shortening the preseason from six games to four, so the season’s overall length remained the same. The final regular season game was played on Dec. 18 — the same as in 1966.
  • In 1982, in order to make up games that had been lost due to the strike, the final regular season games were played on Jan. 2 and 3, marking the first time the regular season spilled into the next calendar year.
  • In 1990, the league gave each team a bye week. The final regular season game was on Dec. 31. The entire “1990” postseason was played in 1991.
  • Over the next three decades, Week 17 games occasionally spilled into the next year, depending on how the calendar was set up. In 1999, for example, Week 17 games took place on Jan. 2 and 3. (Also, each team had two byes in 1993, with Week 18 taking place on Jan. 2 and 3.)
  • In 2001, the Sept. 11 attacks resulted in the entire schedule being pushed back a week. The final regular season game took place on Jan. 7 — the latest date ever for a regular season game. (This was a one-year aberration due to 9/11, however. The following year, the final regular season game took place on Dec. 30.)
  • In 2021, the league expanded the schedule from 16 to 17 games. Each team still got a bye, making the season 18 weeks long. As it happened, the Week 17 games took place on Jan. 2 and 3, with the Week 18 slate taking place on Jan. 10 — the latest date ever for regular season NFL games.

And that’s more or less where we are today. I’m not necessarily lamenting the expansion of the NFL schedule; I just think we need a new taxonomy or nomenclature for it. How can Week 18 of the 2023 season be taking place in 2024? That makes no sense!

The simplest solution, of course, is to do what the NBA and NHL have done for years: Use a hyphenated, multi-year descriptor for each season. So this would be the 2023-24 season, and this September we’d kick off the 2024-25 season, and so on. Really, we could have done this decades ago, what with the playoffs and Super Bowl extending into January and then February, but I always resisted that idea, because the multi-year format is a little clunky. I figured we could stick to referring to a season by one year as long as the regular season fit within one calendar annum. But now that the regular season routinely spills one or even two weekends into the next year, I think it’s time to reconsider.

It’s worth mentioning that this situation can also cause confusion when talking about Super Bowls. If someone refers to the “1995 Super Bowl,” for example, do they mean the one that took place on Jan. 29, 1995 (49ers over the Chargers, don’tcha know), or do they mean the one that took place on Jan. 28, 1996, crowning the champion of the “1995” season (Cowboys over Steelers)? You can see this potential confusion playing out at the top of the Wikipedia page for any Super Bowl.

I have a feeling that most people reading this will say, “Just stick with the one-year format.” Okay, if you say so, but am I really the only one who thinks it’s gonna be weird to have “2023” games being played in 2024 this weekend?

(Huge thanks to Jerry Wolper for fact-checking and correcting a few items in this post.)



ITEM! Ranking the Winter Classics

For the this week’s Uni Watch Premium article on Substack, I’ve ranked all 15 NHL Winter Classic uniform matchups (a fun idea suggested by Phil — thanks, buddy!). I was looking for uniforms that made for not just a good-looking game, but a good-looking Winter Classic game.

You can read the first part of the article here. In order to read the entire thing, you’ll need to become a paid subscriber to my Substack (which will also give you full access to my Substack archives). My thanks, as always, for your consideration.



25th-Anniversary Pint Glasses Now Available

Reader Mike Wilson asked me to create a 25th-anniversary pint glass, so that’s what I’ve done — anniversary logo on one side, the winged stirrup on the other. It’s available here.

In addition, we have anniversary patches, T-shirts (many colors), hoodies (many colors), and die-cut stickers.



Can of the Day

It is not every day that you (or at least I) see a can of louse powder!

Comments (61)

    First of all get rid of Week so and so and call it Game so and so. This also solves the problem of Weeks stretching into more or less than 7 days because of games played on other days than sundays. Call it Fall and Winter (or only Winter) instead of season. So Fall and Winter 2023 is the current season. Winter stretches out over the next year but starts in the year that gives it its name. So the Super Bowl in in 2024 is the crowning moment of Fall and Winter 2023. Just an idea.

    Except because of bye weeks, some teams play Game 10 while others are only playing Game 9 on the same day, so “Game XX” makes no sense.

    And an NFL “week” is different from a work week or a regular calendar week. The NFL week does not end until Monday. It runs Tuesday-Monday. Any games played Tuesday through the following Monday (except in the rare case of postponement as we saw during COVID) are part of that “week,” even though you and I tend to think of weeks beginning on Monday and ending on Sunday. (Even though I, myself, visualize the calendar with Sunday on the left end and Saturday on the right end.)

    Also, being a soccer fan I am very used to things like the 23-24 season. It starts in september and finishes late april. Because of the few games in the next year I do understand your aversion to the NFL 23-24 season. It looks kind of strange for the NFL.

    My first birthday was a week before Super Bowl I, and my second was just before Super Bowl II. Living in Wisconsin, those games were pretty important to Packers fans. To this day, my mother remembers how old I will be on my birthday by what Super Bowl is about to be played and not the other way around. So in a few days, I’ll turn LVIII.

    Ha! Same — except I got you by a couple days. I turned LVIII on Wednesday.

    If you were born a week before the Super Bowl I, that means you’re going to be LVII, not LVIII.
    I too was born in ’67, a few months after the game. So when a new year begins I’m Super Bowl Minus Two years old, and in a few months I’ll be Super Bowl Minus One years old.

    In a few months I’ll be able to delete my own goofs in the comments…
    Feel free to take this and the preceding two comments off the board.

    Lindane – started being restricted in the 1970s because of effects on human health, and has been completely banned since 2007. Better living through chemicals!

    Would Lindane basically be “that de-lousing $#!T” that Morgan Freeman referred to during Andy’s prison intake scenes in The Shawshank Redemption?

    Schedule creep is an issue in both European soccer and MLB as well (though they don’t have issues with the nomenclature).
    For Premier League teams, the season used to start in late August and be done by the beginning of May. Now, the first games are played on the second weekend in August, and the Champions League Final (which only affects the very best teams) is played in early June.
    What’s especially interesting in the case of England is that there are actually fewer teams in the top division now. The last season of the Football League had 24 teams, while today there are only 20 in the Premier League.

    1999 was also the year that the NFL began to start the season the weekend after Labor Day. Apparently, TV ratings aren’t as high Labor Day weekend.

    And all of this means that games get pushed into colder and colder weather in the North. However you feel about watching games in sub-freezing weather on television, they’re not much fun in person.

    As climate change continues to make our summers longer and hotter, I’ve been thinking about if there will be a tipping point when playing football outside during the day in August in September simply isn’t possible for a large part of the country.

    Many southern NFL teams play in domes, but early season SEC, Big 12, and ACC games look miserable until almost October. Early season Jaguars, Titans, and Buccaneers games look equally terrible.

    Could be far-fetched, but I could envision a confluence of worsening live attendance in the early season + milder winters in general resulting in a late September – late January regular season.

    As climate change makes watching football outside in the early weeks of CFB and the NFL increasingly miserable, I wonder if there would ever be a tipping point to start the season even later. Like a late September-January season.

    I seem to recall at some point in the early 00s the NFL decided to push the start of the regular season back away from the first weekend in September (Labor Day weekend) to the second week. I am not sure why this happened, but that also pushed the schedule and calendar back a week.
    Of course they should also just go back to a 16 game schedule. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.

    I don’t personally see this as a huge issue, but one idea would be giving every season an ordinal number just like the Super Bowl. So instead of the 2023 season for instance you’d have “Season 58” or “Season LVIII” if they really wanted to stick with the Roman numerals.

    Coming here to post just that. We’re increasingly programmed by television and now podcasts to reference by season. Sometimes multiple in a year. It just makes sense, especially in a league that already ignores the year for it’s championship.

    The NFL is over 100 years old. There have only been Super Bowls. So is this Season 104 or Season 58 (of the Super Bowl Era)? Or Season 104/58? Seems incongruous to have to refer to things 46 years apart. This makes things worse, not better.

    Most people refer to Super Bowls by the Roman numeral, not the year. I’d refer to each season by the year it started because the it only extends into the new year by less than 2 months. The NBA and NHL have major portions of their schedules in each year.

    Calendar creep is prevalent in the MLB as well. We are now seeing the regular season begin in March and the World Series end in November. I can remember the season beginning in early-mid April and ending by mid October.

    Calendar creep is prevalent in the MLB as well.

    I would argue that MLB has *season* creep, but not calendar creep, because everything still stays in one calendar year.

    Regarding the Super Bowl, I wish the media would refer to them by year, preferably the year the season began.

    But they don’t. They always refer to Super Bowl XXIV or Super Bowl XLII or Super Bowl LGBTQ or something and I guarantee you that nobody — NOBODY — stops to figure out what that number that is. We just read right over it. One, because it’s not worth the trouble and Two because the number itself is meaningless.

    So what’s the point?

    Oops, correction: ” . . . figure out what that number is.”

    Also, the media isn’t the biggest offender. The pretentious NFL itself is.

    I agree that the numbering of Superbowls has become meaningless. I guess at some point when they were first played, pre merger, it sort of made sense. Like it was a special event. But now since it is just an annual thing why are we still referring to them by numerals?
    However, whether or not you know what number Superbowl it is would be based entirely on if you know roman numerals. If you know them, it is quite easy to read. I’m 41 and I can read that like is a normal number, but I imagine curriculum has changed quite a bit since I was in school, so there is a good chance younger generations cannot read them.

    But that’s not my point. I know quite well how to read Roman numerals. It’s just that I don’t because I don’t care what the number is. Other than Super Bowl I, II, or III, the number is meaningless. Call it Super Bowl XXIV or Super Bowl 24, it doesn’t matter.

    Unfortunately, the hay has been out of the barn for a long time … and at the risk of upsetting people or giving off the impression that I’m trolling, it’s going to get worse.

    First, it was going from 12 to 14 to 16 weeks. Then bye weeks. Then Thursday night games almost weekly instead of on Thanksgiving and maybe a couple in December. Then 17 games. Add in combine weekend, the lead-up to the draft, training camp … the media consultants have successfully convinced the NFL that it can fully saturate every news cycle and have even casual fans cheering, talking about it, buying merchandise and watching games – and listening to previews, post-game wrap-ups and all sort of other overkill – all the time.

    Also, the owners are trying to corner the players into an 18th regular-season game, supposedly taking away an exhibition game. It never stops.

    Until enough of us show that going away for a while each year will cause us to bring it in closer when it returns leading up the season, it’s going to get worse. And as much as I follow the NFL and the team in my corner of the world, even I understand overkill. Enough is enough.

    As long as people keep watching (the number of people who watch the Combine and the Draft is gross), the NFL has zero incentive to change anything except to create more and more programming.

    Re: 1982 “marking the first time the regular season and the playoffs took place in distinct calendar years”; I think you mean the first time the regular season spilled over into the next calendar year.

    “The 1966 NFL Championship Game — won by the Packers, who went on to face Kansas City in Super Bowl I — took place on Jan. 1, 1967. The Supe took place on Jan. 15.” The AFL Championship Game (KC over Buffalo) also took place on Jan. 1, 1967, and there were no divisional playoffs in either league. Wouldn’t that be the first time the regular season and playoffs took place in distinct calendar years?

    For what it’s worth, Super Bowls taking place in the following calendar year compared to the season they’re related to is the EXACT REASON WHY the league decided to enumerate Super Bowls when referring to each game, instead of calling it ‘the 2023 Super Bowl’ (they chose Roman numerals instead of Arabic numerals because they looked cool, I guess?).

    Personally, I don’t think it’s a HUGE deal since >90% of the regular season still takes place in a calendar year, games spilling over into Jan 7 is way different to me than games spilling over into, like, March. Maybe if the NFL started calling it the 2024 Postseason, and giving fans time to get used to the idea that the 2024 Postseason relates to the 2023 Regular season, and so on…maybe that’d be close enough?

    The NFL SAYS that, but ( a ) that’s retconning and ( b ) it obscures the fact that the NFL can be very pretentious and adding a bit of haughtiness to add heft to the proceedings would not have been beyond them.

    Also, FWIW, the various incarnations of the Arena Football League have used Roman numerals for their Arenabowls despite them never taking place in a different calendar year.

    And calendars are just human constructs anyway. You think it’s Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, but the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendars excised several days from existence and the whole enterprise only works because we all kind of go along with it and agree that this is how it is.

    But having seen this for so long now, this season creep, it’s just part of the deal. 2023-24 is unwieldy. I am okay with a season that has the bulk of its games played in 2023 referred to as the 2023 season. YMMV.

    Then there’s the College Football National Championship which, since the CFP began, has been labeled as the year in which the game is played, not the season that had its regular season in the entirety of the prior calendar year. This really became notable to me with the 2019 season’s national championship that was played January 13th, 2020 — and the logo of the game has a big “2020” (and the logo has included the year in large font ever since). True, the *game* is played in that year, but everything outside of some New Year’s bowls and, occasionally, the CFP semifinals happened the prior calendar year.

    So, will Michigan or Washington win the 2024 championship? For the 2023 season?

    Don’t even get me started on the year labeling for Bowl Games.

    Michigan State both won and lost the 2015 Cotton Bowl.

    I was going to say exactly this. This issue has bugged me for a while in the NFL, but it’s arguably WAY worse for NCAA Bowl Games.

    This is why baseball is the superior sport. The entire season falls neatly into the same year.

    Most fantasy sports use the ending year for the season. I think the hyphenate makes sense and some media companies are starting to make that adjustment.

    I’m sure the NFL season will soon stretch to 18 games with the Super Bowl being played on Presidents’ Day weekend once that change happens.

    IMO, the NFL season should be 15 games (so there are no .500 teams) with the last regular season games played in December with the playoffs and Super Bowl taking place throughout January. It will never happen but just in case the NFL wants to think outside the box they can freely use this idea.

    I can’t fault people when there’s confusion like this, but my pet peeve is when people use the wrong year for Super Bowl championships (this year’s champ will be ’23)

    Even Washington did this when releasing a new logo link

    I’m not too bothered by the season spilling over into the next calendar year. Though I do often miss Week 1 starting Labor Day weekend. Then again I’d love it if the season started one week later than it does now and Super Bowl Weekend could be on the Sunday before President’s day, and then I’d finally get my Super Bowl Monday holiday that I’ve longed for.

    I have two major pet peeves regarding the Super Bowl. My first, and by far the biggest, is when people write it as a single word (“Superbowl”). It’s not Superbowl. It’s Super Bowl.

    The second is the issue you’ve raised about whether “2023 Super Bowl” refers to the Eagles/Chiefs game played on February 12, 2023 or to the game scheduled for February 11, 2024, which will crown the champion of the 2023 season.

    I agree that the Roman numerals don’t really help. Yes, I can figure out the Arabic equivalent if I think about it, but it still doesn’t do much for me. I’m unlikely to remember the games, or the seasons they followed, based on the number – whether it’s a Roman or an Arabic numeral. The only two I remember are SB III / SB3, because it’s the Joe Namath game and the first one actually called “Super Bowl”, and Super Bowl XVII / SB 17, because it was the John Riggins game. But was SB17 the 1982 Super Bowl or the 1983 Super Bowl?

    I’d prefer the NFL begin week 1 Labor Day weekend. Although with the NFL season ending in February, the time between NFL and MLB Spring Training is emotionally manageable.

    When I was a little kid, the last game of every season, college or pro (with the exception of the Pro Bowl and three college all-star games — the East-West Shrine Game, the North-South game, and the Blue-Gray game), was the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

    And even back then the announcers made a big deal about the sun setting over the San Gabriel mountains (it was already pitch dark in the East, of course). We would be at my grandparents’ house watching it, and the setting sun in California also meant the end of the joyful Christmas season, the end of glorious Christmas vacation, and the next day’s return to the drudgery of school in January. It was always a depressing moment.

    It’s never bothered me that we only refer to the season by the date in which it started, probably because the season is (mostly) over save for the playoffs, which are an entirely different beast.

    If someone asked me what year did the Giants take down the undefeated Patriots in the Supe, I’d instinctively know it was 2008, even though the game was technically part of the 2007 season. I also know that I turned 42 in 2008 so it had to be Supe XLII (but that’s because, like Ron, I turned one shortly before Supe I was played, so the number of the Supe always corresponded to my age.

    I’d have a harder time actually trying to tell you in what year a certain SB was played (for example, if you said SB X, between the Cowboys and Stillers, I’d know I was 10 years old when it was played; then I’d have to figure out what year it was when I turned 10). But that’s probably a very rare situation since there aren’t too many of us whose age and the Supe year are the same.

    I actually found it a bit *more* difficult with college. When I used to find photos of every game played by teams in Bowls, those who played in the previous season’s post-Dec 31 bowls would sometimes trip me up. By that I mean, if I googled “Oregon uniforms 2014” I *might* get photos from the 2014 season, but (if they played post Dec 31) I might *also* get a photo from whatever bowl they played in that year, but it was for the previous season. Obviously this affects only a few teams, but it happened, and I would always have to make sure the jersey didn’t show a photo with a Bowl patch which meant the photo was from the *year* for which I asked, but not the season.

    tl;dr: Let’s keep the nomenclature as it is, even though there are a significant chunk of games that are played in the NFL well past January.

    If Goddell gets his way, we’ll have 18 games in the season over 19 weeks, and the “championship” games will be played by third stringers that played in the UFL.

    The season is too long. And they want to make it longer…

    What about naming the season for the Super Bowl that follows it? So this week is Week 18 of NFL Season LVIII. That practice would be internally consistent as well as uniquely distinctive. Also the most self-serious, no-fun option, which makes it perfect for today’s NFL. Except it actually would be kind of fun, despite how self-seriously the league would treat the practice.

    Otherwise, the NFL absolutely should follow every other winter sport in the world and adopt the six-digit season dating practice of 2023-24.

    Anyone on board with just calling it the 2024 Super Bowl (following the 2023 season)?

    That’s exactly what it is. The 2024 SB is coming up in about 6 weeks. Hopefully Chiefs vs Lions.

    Hm. Well, sort of similarly, the IIHF Under-20 World Championship (that is, the ice hockey world juniors tournament) takes place over New Years’ every year. The round robin portion occurs the last week of December. The playoff round occurs the first week of January. The tournament is designated by the year that the playoff round is completed. So, the tournament that began 12/26/23 and ended today is the 2024 tournament.

    I’m 100% with you, especially since I think we’re heading towards an inevitability. That being, an expansion to 18 games with each team getting 2 bye weeks, and the Super Bowl taking place the Sunday of President’s Day Weekend.

    Right now, the Supe is the weekend before Prexy Day. So, if they add an 18th game, that would already put them at President’s Day weekend (and most folks will have President’s Day off), so they won’t be adding an extra bye week.

    I’m sure this is the NFL’s most immediate goal (and they’ll probably trade off another week of pre-season games to get it) during the next contract negotiations. The NFL has probably been eyeing a Super Bowl on President’s Weekend Sunday for a while now.

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