© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002
The official site of the NFL, as one of the top sports destinations in all the Internet, has the annual challenge of taking the same basic components -- teams to watch, exciting players, the intrigue of postseason hopes -- and crafting a compelling reason for fans to log on all season.
What makes it easy is, well, the NFL.
Football fans need little more than football to make them happy, which makes it easy for NFL.com to oblige. Sortable stats, player bios, schedules, standings, merchandise, polls and interactive games are all expected, demanded even. What adds to the fun are audio game broadcasts, 3-minute video highlights on each game every Sunday night and exclusive content that rivals the top media sites.
For once, the technology hasn't changed much in the past year, but the site has rolled out plenty of changes for the 2002 season:
MORE INSIDER INSIGHTS: The site added some depth to its already strong lineup of contributing experts, which has former quarterbacks Troy Aikman, Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason returning, along with former Bills coach Marv Levy and former Cowboys executive Gil Brandt.
New this fall will be former NFL coaches Bill Parcells and Art Shell, receiver-turned-analyst Cris Collinsworth and former scout and coach Pat Kirwan, who had been part of the NFL coverage at CNNSI.com.
FANTASY FOOTBALL: NFL.com had more than 1-million people sign up for its fantasy leagues with a week left before the first week of the regular season. The site is offering two new options this season with the hopes of bringing even more fans into fantasy sports.
First are team-based games, which allow you to compete against fans of your favorite team, with prizes built around team merchandise. You still pick from the whole league, but it's harder to stack your lineup with six Seahawks players if all your opponents like Seattle, too. Another new product is "NFL Touchdown," which simplifies the fantasy game for beginners. All you have to do is pick one quarterback, one running back and one receiver.
And for that extra boost to get you out of ninth place this year, the site will have a weekly hourlong fantasy football radio show, hosted at 11 a.m. Thursdays by ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski. From noon to 2 p.m. each Thursday, the site will continue its NFL.com Live radio program, which also will run across the country on 150 affiliates of Westwood One radio.
CUSTOMIZATION: In an effort to increase cross-traffic between the main league site and all 32 official team sites, NFL.com gives fans an option to "customize" its front page to include the latest headlines from your favorite team.
When you visit the site later, the site remembers your preference, with three team-specific headlines on the left-side navigation bar, along with a scrolldown menu that allows you to change your customized team.
CELEBRITIES: Anyone who stayed up to watch ESPN's 25,000th SportsCenter last month will recall the "Celebrity Moments" series in which Billy Crystal, Jon Stewart, Samuel L. Jackson and friends reminisced about their favorite moments in sports. NFL.com will offer more of the same with a weekly "Passion for the Game" feature, with stars such as Jon Bon Jovi raving about how great football is.
TID-BYTES: Look for more NFL-sponsored auctions at eBay.com, including the official ball kicked off to start the Patriots-Rams Super Bowl. ... Scary but true: one week before the regular season starts, search engine Lycos.com reported that fantasy football is its sixth-most searched topic, while the NFL is ranked seventh. Yes, more people looking for fantasy football than the real thing. For the record, college football is ranked 54th. ... Allmadden.com has a visual tour of John Madden's first season with Monday Night Football, complete with -- boom! -- candid observations on each stadium. Madden on Raymond James: "(It's) the closest thing football has to a theme park. ... They probably have more things going on here than any other stadium in the NFL. I always look forward to doing a game at Tampa Bay."
-- If you have a question or comment about the Internet or a site to suggest, e-mail staff writer Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some Web sites to bookmark for the season:
nfl.com: Official site has links to all team sites, video highlights and audio broadcasts of most games.
buccaneers.com: More original content with features and news updates, plus stadium info, player pages and fun kids section.
Superbowl.com: Still looking back on Patriots' win in New Orleans; for a look ahead to San Diego, visit superbowlxxxvii.org.
Sptimes.com/Bucs: Look for stories, pictures, message boards and more of what you read each day in this newspaper.
Profootballhof.com: The next-best thing to Canton, this site has pages for all Hall of Fame enshrinees and audio clips from induction speeches.
NFLhs.com: The league looks to high school for its future stars, with fitness tips, diagrammed plays and chats with NFL players.
nfl.kffl.com/news/hotwire: Lots of sites offer updates on everything in the NFL, but these guys seem to be on top of it all.
playfootball.com: Great site for kids, who can learn the game or just kill hours with fun video games such as Frogger ripoff "Trainer Terror."
fantasyfootball101.com: One annoying pop-up, but lots of links to cheatsheets, draft tips and more to help your team win your league.
officialpfl.com: Just to show that everything has a site. This is paper football, with the little triangle and the finger goalposts. Enjoy.