[size=13pt]Mark Craig: The game needs help, so listen up, owners[/size]

The NFL should worry less about touchdown celebrations and more about pace of play, too many penalties, TV timeouts and all that artificial and obnoxiously loud NOISE!

Mark Craig, Star Tribune
Last update: September 25, 2006 – 10:48 PM

One of the reasons NFL teams voted 29-3 to curtail excessive celebration this offseason was to speed up the game.

Pace of play has never been worse in the NFL. And it's starting to bother those of us who don't use game day to induce a drunken stupor or play scoreboard trivia with the woman who screeches to eardrum-bleeding decibels between action at the Metrodome.

The Bears' 19-16 victory over the Vikings on Sunday should have been fun to watch. But it was barely tolerable for a variety of reasons that the NFL and Vikings should be concerned about.

It was the perfect example of a good matchup that never really became fun because of an excessive amount of replay challenges, penalties, TV timeouts and probably the cheesiest scoreboard entertainment in the NFL.

As self-elected entertainment director for those who love football but don't gamble, play Fantasy Football or own a pair of horns, here are three suggestions:

1. Turn it down!!!

The Vikings claim to have the "Loudest Fans in the NFL!" Trouble is, you rarely get to hear them.

The sound system takes over before kickoff and just will not let up, blasting away as if one moment of silence will cause 63,754 fans to get up and leave. And, by the way, if the Vikings need to hawk Verizon Wireless to make a buck, or ask us who the fifth-string left guard was in 1967, it would be much appreciated if they did so WITHOUT SCREAMING!

The fans can scream as loud as they want. Blow that horn 100 times a quarter. Just get rid of everything else and trust that fans in this neck of the woods know how to act enthused at a football game.

I hereby recommend owner Zygi Wilf spend one game outside of his glass-enclosed suite. Feel our pain, Z.

2. Emphasize less emphasis

The NFL has too many "points of emphasis" for its referees, and the result is too many penalty flags. The average NFL game this season includes an average of 12.4 penalties. The Vikings and Bears combined for 18.

Penalties actually are down from last year's average, but with five TV timeouts in each quarter, as many as six coaches' replay challenges and an unlimited number of booth reviews in the final two minutes of each half, officials still need to let the smaller stuff slide.

3. A one-year replay break

In 2004, the Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals were the only teams to vote against extending instant replay through the 2008 season.

I thought they were crazy. Now, I think they might be smarter than the other 29 teams.

And because I believe all the breaks in action eventually will hurt the NFL, it would be nice to see the owners take a one-year break from replay in 2009.

Challenges are getting out of hand. Legitimate challenges at that.

On Sunday, Vikings coach Brad Childress had every right to throw his red challenge flag with 7 minutes, 3 seconds left in a scoreless first quarter. Officials on the field ruled Bears running back Thomas Jones had fumbled and that Bears tight end Desmond Clark had recovered 2 yards upfield at the Vikings 27-yard line.

After the usual boring delay, and more screaming by the scoreboard entertainment crew, Childress won the challenge -- and got his 2 yards back.

Three minutes later, the Bears' Lovie Smith threw his red flag for the first time when Vikings receiver Troy Williamson caught a 6-yard pass that converted a third down and moved the ball to the Vikings 45-yard line. The on-field ruling of a catch was upheld, after, of course, the usual boring delay and more screaming by, well, you get the idea.

Perhaps without replay to lean on or show them up, officials on the field will have more confidence to make better calls. At the very least, the rules for challenges should be narrowed so that only the most important calls are reviewable, perhaps only by booth officials.

We'll take anything to keep the action flowing on the field. And, besides, we don't really care who the fifth-string left guard was in 1967.

Mark Craig is [email protected]