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What Could the N.F.L. Learn From the World Cup?

The World Cup final was both predictable (Italy’s comeback and eventual triumph after the early French goal) and bizarre (Zinedine Zidane’s farewell head-butt). Not a great game but not bad.

The consolation match on Saturday, between Germany and Portugal, wasn’t much more exciting — except for the hometown German fans, who saw their young team secure third place in the tournament with a 3-1 victory.

But even if you weren’t a Germany fan, it was nice to have one extra game after getting hooked on all this soccer over the past few weeks.

Which led me to think: why doesn’t the N.F.L. have a consolation game?

It could be held the Saturday afternoon before the Super Bowl, presumably in the same stadium. Imagine the N.F.L. held such a game this year. It would have matched the losers of the conference championship games, the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers. Not the most exciting matchup imaginable — but, as with the World Cup, with a nation of TV fans having followed the teams through the regular season and playoffs, I’d imagine there would be plenty of interest. And plenty of money to be made for the N.F.L. and the many other people who have a piece of the football pie.

You could surely object to this idea on the grounds that the Broncos and Panthers, having lost in the conference championships, just want to go home and couldn’t work up the vigor to play another game. But hey: this is the league that sends its all-stars to a Pro Bowl after the season, in Hawaii, a game that absolutely nobody watches. And yet they still go, and they still play it.

The N.C.A.A. used to hold a consolation game during its Final Four weekend, but I believe it was abandoned it in the early 1980’s. I think the N.F.L. would do a good enough job with a Consolation Bowl that it would become part of the fabric of what has become Super Bowl weekend. And by creating a 3rd and 4th place finisher in the N.F.L., the Consolation Bowl would make 2nd place — i.e., the Super Bowl loser — a bit more meaningful, whereas now everyone complains that no one ever remembers the loser of a Super Bowl.

Considering how adept the N.F.L. is at maximizing profits, goodwill, and opportunity, I’m guessing this idea has already come up for conversation at league HQ plenty of times. Here’s hoping that Paul Tagliabue, the forward-thinking outgoing N.F.L. boss, watched enough World Cup to think that it might be worth giving it a try.