Archive for September, 2010


Why the NFL can survive without its players

Last week I was privelaged to hear a spirited debate about the possible labor stoppage in the NFL next season between the always opinionated Skip Bayless, and former Vikings running back and current college football analyst Robert Smith. On the ESPN morning show “First Take”┬áSmith and Bayless debated the merits of a new CBA (collective bargaining agreement) which most of the owners want next year, and why many players won’t go for it.

Robert Smith, who was a great leader on the nineties Vikings teams and a player representative waxed nostalgic about the struggles players have with injuries, h0w they are grossly underpaid compared to other leagues players and even coaxed Bayless into bashing former Cowboys players Tony Dorsett and Randy White who crossed the picket line early in the 1983 season during the last NFL labor stoppage. Smith argued passionately for strong player union support and reminded many of what players have gone through to get to where they are today. If you listen to his comments, combined with the players protests this season, (many uniting before games and raising their hands towards the owners box in unison) you get just how passionate this debate has become, and how difficult it will be for both sides to come together next year on an agreement. If you are a real football fan then you must be scared to see a possible end to your sport, however brief it may be.

Two quick points before I underscore why the players are wrong in this case, and why ultimately public sympathy will not be with them. First off, if there is a strike, in this case it will have been caused by the owners not the players. It is the owners who are opting out of the current agreement, not the players. It is the owners who are demanding a new rookie wage scale (something I believe is sorely needed) and an eighteen game season (something that is questionable). So although the first instinct is to blame players for work stoppages, in this case that is only half the story. Secon point: the NFL is not the NHL. Unlike the NHL which killed itself five years ago with a work stoppage, the NFL and its players will survive a work stoppage. Fans will be upset but they will come back. Football is far too popular to die an easy death. Whatever happens next season I expect I will be watching NFL games with my grandson some time in the 2050 season.

Okay, now why the players are wrong, and why ultimately, they are always wrong in these situations. Jerry Seinfeld once joked that today fans are basically rooting for laundry, and sadly, there is truth to this. When T.O. played for the Eagles I hated him, when he came to Dallas I kind of liked him. Now I hate him again. T.O. has always been the same guy, but if he plays on your team and you are winning you get used to him. I never considered Deion a true Cowboy when Dallas acquired him in 1995, but when you saw him play and win Superbowls you couldn’t help but love him.

In today’s sports we rarely see a core team stay together for very long. The Yankees come closest to this. They still have Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettite, and Mariano Rivera left over from their nineties teams, even manager Joe Girardi is a former Yankee, but when you can afford to keep everyone that makes it a lot easier. In the NFL their is a hard salary cap and if you have good players at some point you have to let them go. You simply can not keep everyone. So every year in the NFL players we know and love leave and they are replaced with new guys, sometimes fan favorites go and this is truly sad. I didn’t like seeing Flozell Adams and Patrick Crayton leave the Cowboys this off-season, but as a fan you get used to it. These things happen. And when they happen few fans stop loving their teams. Their is too much time, love and devotion spent watching a team year in and year out to be mad when one or two guys leave. I have heard fans say they wouldn’t suppor the Rangers after Pudge left, hell I was one of them, but with the Rangers back in the playoffs this year, you haven’t heard too many people mention Pudge’s names. Players and teams move on.

The NFL is unique from baseball, hockey, and basketball, because unlike those sports you can’t build a franchise on a few talented players alone, and rarely can you “buy” the best team. There is no Boston “Three Party” in the NFL. No “Miami Thrice.” No “Evil Empire” that buys up every good baseball player on the planet. And even if the NFL didn’t have a salary cap you couldn’t buy a dynasty with one or two good players. Even if you could buy Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson you would still need a good offensive line, good receivers, and a good coaching staff, and that’s not even talking about the defense. Good teams are built in the NFL not just with talent but with chemistry and good coaching. So many things have to go right to win a Superbowl, and so little of it is determined simply by talent. Even a really talented NFL team has a limited shelf-life to be great, usually four or five years.

So when I think about a possible work stoppage, I think about what goes into building a great team, and realize that no matter what, what I really want is to see football. I don’t necessarily care who I’m watching, I just want to see my team win. If the Cowboys and Redskins line up on Sunday I don’t much care if its Tony Romo throwing passes or some dude from NFL Europe or the arena legues, just as long is the game is in HD and my team is winning.

I know a lot of people, media critics escpecially will discount this, say I’m full of it, but think about it really. NFL fans drive miles to watch training camp, they watch pre-season football when no one of importance plays. They discuss backups at key positions knowing guys are going to get injured. Sure, I’d rather see Jason Witten and Miles Austin out there catching passes, but if you take away Randy Moss and Wes Welker, all is fair again, and my football fix will be cured. And even if I don’t like the NFL there are dozens of college football games on weekly, there is Canadian football, Mark Cuban’s football league, High School football, Arena football. Some football will be played in some environment no matter what. I love football, the game, not the players, not the hype.

I would love to see NFL players get paid more money, and I hope the NFL continues exactly as it is. But if it doesn’t I hardly think it will be the deathknell for football so many experts are predicting. NFL players are lucky to earn the salaries they get paid, and they should be careful to remember that they get paid because of fans, and because of the love of their sport, not because of their own athletic abilities. I don’t want to see a player strike, but if players think the fans will be on their side, they are fooling themselves.

The NFL will be around for years to come, whether the current players are in it or not is entirely up to them. Something to think about this off-season.


Jack B.