Florida football fans: It's hockey to the rescue!

"Football is king in Florida" - virtually every sports pundit in the world"We stink" - virtually every football fan in Florida in Fall of 2011
Football fans in the state of Florida have not had a very enjoyable autumn, with perennial winning programs under-performing and in some cases, failing to meet even the lowest expectations of excellence. If not for all the intense scrutiny football gets, people might take notice that it's the two NHL teams that are currently doing the best job of representing the Sunshine State in the world of sports. And not just by default.

Granted, when it comes to football, the standards have been inflated by years of success and achievements of the highest order: three Super Bowl wins in the pros and 10 national championships at the collegiate level. As a result, the definitions of "success" and "failure" are skewed. But still, a glance at the records of the Division I and NFL teams paints an at-best mediocre picture overall:

Florida International Golden Panthers 8 4 .667
Florida State Seminoles 8 4 .667
Florida Gators 6 6 .500
Miami Hurricanes 6 6 .500
Central Florida Knights 5 7 .417
South Florida Bulls 5 7 .417
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4 7 .364
Jacksonville Jaguars 3 8 .273
Miami Dolphins 3 8 .273
Florida Atlantic Owls 1 10 .091

Congratulations, fans of the Division II schools (Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M and Jacksonville); your schools combined for a record of 22-11 (.667) which isn't bad at all. But for you D1 and pro fans, you're looking at a combined record of 49-67 (.422). That translates to a couple of mostly insignificant college bowl appearances and in all likelihood, nobody making the NFL playoffs. Woof.

Avert your eyes from that ugliness and check out what's happening in the NHL...

Florida Panthers 13 7 4 30 pts 1st place (Southeast Division)
Tampa Bay Lightning 11 11 2 24 pts 3rd place (Southeast Division

That's a .500 winning percentage, which is nothing to crow about. But in the NHL, it's points and not winning percentage that matters. The Panthers are division leaders and the Lightning are two points (or one game) out of a playoff spot. The Panthers appear to be a legitimate playoff contender right now. And although the Lightning are currently on the fringe of teams trying to play their way into contention, their last four games have been among the best they've played this season (in spite of losing two of those games, to two of the best teams in the league). So it's certainly reasonable to expect them to be in the hunt as the season progresses.

Ultimately, it would not be even a minor upset for both of the state's NHL teams to make the playoffs and mount legitimate challenges for the Stanley Cup championship, while not one Florida team is even a remote factor in determining a football title.

Performance is one thing, popularity is another. Or is it? The Lightning are averaging 16,944 (85.8% of capacity) in attendance so far (10 home games) while the Panthers are averaging 15,967 (81.8%), which ranks them 22nd and 24th respectively in the league in terms of percentage of seats sold. That's not a terribly impressive stat within the context of the NHL, but remember that we're talking about the sport of ice hockey in Florida. And note that the Lightning have sold out six of their 10 home games this season, in a market where the Buccaneers will likely end this season having only sold out twice (and only once in advance of the league-mandated 72-hour "blackout" deadline).

Take all of this into consideration with the oft-discussed attendance woes of the Miami (nee Florida) Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays in baseball, and the relatively low profile of basketball in the state (especially in the wake of the recent NBA lockout), and one could come to an obvious conclusion...

Hockey is king in Florida.