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NBC’s “Green Zone” Is the Ultimate Conclusion of Graphics Creep

It shows you how far the team needs to go to get a first down. Now why didn’t anyone think of that before?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

In 1998, ESPN broadcast a graphic on Sunday Night Football to make it easier for fans to tell where a team needs to advance the ball to record a first down. A tiny, computer-generated yellow line appeared at the first-down marker. I’m sure at the time people thought this was ridiculous. But fans quickly realized how useful it was, and by now, the yellow first-down line is omnipresent. It’s hard to imagine that there was once a time before the yellow line. It almost feels weird to attend live football games and not have the yellow line. The yellow line is simply a part of football.

Over the years, we have seen graphics enter every portion of the football field. Some are neat. Networks have introduced lines to show the line of scrimmage, on-field graphics that tell us the down and distance, and a line to show the extent of a kicker’s field goal range. Eventually, it became hard to come up with useful innovations. In one particularly dreadful preseason game, the NFL Network colored the entire portion of the field within the 20-yard line red, in case fans did not understand where the 20-yard line was and called it the Toyota Red Zone. (It was removed after one game.)

Now, Graphic Creep has reached its ultimate conclusion. Two decades after the introduction of a graphic to help us see where a first down is, NBC has invented … a graphic to help fans see where a first down is.

The feature was debuted in the preseason, but the world became aware of it Thursday night during the NFL season opener between the Falcons and Eagles. The world was not happy.

It’s called the “Green Zone”—not to be confused with Tom Coughlin’s alternate term for the red zone, because “green is go and red is stop.” The premise is that on third downs, NBC will color the part of the field between the line of scrimmage and the first-down marker green. Err, greener, because for all NFL games not played at Boise State, the field is already green. The other parts of the field remain the regular green, so it’s kind of a misnomer to call the Green Zone “the Green Zone,” but I’m just sticking with the terminology NBC is using here.

They’re not eliminating the yellow line, just adding an additional graphic that serves the same purpose. Viewed positively, the Green Zone alerts fans to the fact that it’s third down. Viewed negatively, the Green Zone does absolutely nothing besides tell the audience it’s too stupid to identify the first-down marker with just one on-screen graphic.

Maybe we’ll get used to the Green Zone. It’s not actively distracting. Maybe we’ll even look back on it positively when Fox replaces the entire field with a live stream of Skip Bayless yelling at Shannon Sharpe.