The NFL has always been a self-promoting entity of the highest order, or at least since Pete Rozelle's groundbreaking tenure as commissioner.
But now the league seems to be intent upon taking self-promotion into the realm of the exclusive, which is why we've had to wait until sometime later tonight to learn when the Patriots will be playing their games against their 2014 opponents.
The NFL usually sets the schedule for the upcoming season in mid-April, and we're already a touch beyond that. Rumors abounded last week that Tuesday was going to be the date, but that came and went and we were still guessing when the blessed event would take place. Even the folks in the Patriots' media relations department were uncertain Tuesday morning, as the whole process appeared to hinge upon when the NFL Network could carve out a block of prime-time programming to make a super-sized shindig out of the whole thing.
That finally came to pass late Tuesday afternoon; both the NFL Network and ESPN2 will announce the 2014 schedule at 8 o'clock tonight.
Rozelle, a former publicist, had the right idea decades ago when he decided to make his league media-friendly. He courted the television networks and embraced the other various forms of media of his time, stripping away the separation between football and its fans and allowing the audience to join in the creation of new legends.
Of course, there have been both subtle and sledge-hammer changes to that philosophy in modern times, but the intent is still the same - to expose the league as much as possible to an eager fan base. The NFL just does it differently now.
The league was again a pioneer a decade ago when it created its own network and expanded its reach to 24/7/365 levels, exerting a greater level of control over the message along the way. Sure, the NFL still tolerates traditional print and broadcast media, preferring to keep them in the loop instead of turning over their credentials to the millions of Mom's Basement bloggers that have sprouted across the landscape during this digital revolution, but it's now a message that often gets funneled first through the NFL's own media outlets.
These days, the NFL employs a cadre of journalists formerly affiliated with traditional print and broadcast outlets. Their labors are prominently displayed on NFL.com and on the network, and there's little evidence to suggest that their reporting is sanitized.
When it comes to some of the more mundane aspects of NFL reporting, however, the league has stepped in with a heavy emphasis on glitz and glamor - and tonight's announcement of the yearly schedule of a classic example.
Time was, we'd simply get a press release that simply announced dates and times for the schedules that are created by a formula that rotates the opponents every eight years or so. We'd write it, you'd read it, and the rotation of the earth would continue uninterrupted.
But now, it's a production number. Like the week before the Super Bowl, or the NFL Draft, or even the scouting combine workouts, the schedule announcement is another shining touch of showtime that has to be orchestrated and dispensed as if it's an "event," and not just a piece of annual bookkeeping
We've known who the Patriots will be playing since the end of the 2013 season. At home, they'll entertain the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions. On the road, they'll visit the Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings.
Aside from the Denver game (a rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game), the home schedule is a little bit of a dud. I'm far more intrigued by the road games against the Packers, Colts and Chiefs - the latter being the second career game for North Attleboro's Anthony Sherman against the Patriots, and he's 1-0 against them.
But we won't know until 8 tonight how many Sunday-at-1 games are among them, or Sunday nights, Monday nights, Thursday nights, 4:20 p.m. starts, consecutive road trips, holiday schedules, short weeks, and so on.
The good thing is that the NFL still sends out those press releases with the basic information we all need to know about the schedule. We just have to wait until the prime-time spectacular starts to share them with you. I'll try my best to get that out to you ASAP via the blog or social media, and I'll definitely explain it all a little better in print Thursday morning.
But if you don't mind, I won't pass that info along to you to the tune of "Hooray for Hollywood." It may be an earth-shaking event to the NFL, but to me, it's still just a schedule.