"Goodell must be crazy!"
That's what I yelled at the TV while SportsCenter was reporting Roger Goodell's bizarre new plan to expand the NFL's regular season. Clearly gone mad with power, the commissioner has cooked up a cockamamie scheme to add a pair of regular season games to the schedule, bumping the total up to 18. Incredibly, Goodell would make room for these extra games by cutting the very best part of the season. The plan calls for—brace yourself—taking away two exhibition games. Yes, you read that right. The plan would cut in half and so virtually destroy that magical, month-long, white-knuckle thrill-ride that is the NFL Preseason.
And for what? All for the sake of two so-called "real" games—these games that supposedly "matter" just because they count in the season standings? Lunacy. For sheer excitement, not even March Madness can compete with pro football's "Awesome August." What could possibly be more gripping than the 4th quarter of a preseason game, watching a mass of nameless, undersized-but-scrappy playmakers battle for a last roster spot?
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Just look at all the incredible action we might have missed this year without the full compliment of preseason, or "proto-season" NFL games. Tim Tebow got his haircut. Eli Manning got his face cut. Matt Leinart got cut, pouting his way from backup QB in Arizona to third-stringer in Houston. We learned that Jay Cutler still throws off his back foot, and that DeAngelo Hall enjoys a good hot dog. Sam Bradford won the right to be pummeled senseless every week for the next four months—in other words, he'll be playing quarterback for the St. Louis Rams. Darrelle Revis, all by himself, kept the entire New York sports media frantic for weeks on end by sitting at home and doing absolutely nothing. Ben Roethlisberger managed to avoid even a single new sexual assault charge, and had his suspension reduced. But he wasn't elected a Steelers' team captain. Ouch.
Can you stand all this excitement and pageantry? There's more. San Diego just placed disgruntled wide-out Vincent Jackson on the league's Roster Exempt list. Now he's even less gruntled, as Jackson will have to sit out three games if he signs with a new team. But wait. The NFL Players Union may contest the designation, claiming that any trade would release automatically Jackson from exempt status. Gives you goosebumps, doesn't it?
We can never forget the most thrilling preseason drama of all—the delicious, terrible tension of wondering if your favorite team's best players will get hurt, like with Fred Jackson's broken hand, or Marques Colston's bruised kidney, or pretty much all of the backs, knees, and ankles on the New York Giants offensive line. Is there a Redskins' fan today who doesn't cringe to think of Clinton Portis and what might have been?
A final great advantage to the long preseason, as many know, is that tickets cost the same as regular season games, but players only get paid a fraction of their regular season salary. The rest goes to owners, meaning those four exhibition games are great way for fans to support their team. Winning football games takes money, folks. In buying those season tickets and a PSL, in paying those full prices to see a glorified scrimmage, fans help make sure their favorite franchise is never short of cash.
And now it could all be over. With the commissioner wanting his so-called "meaningful" games added for 2012, next year could be the last ever full-fledged NFL Preseason. Then all we would have left is the boring old regular season, kicking off Thursday night, the dumb playoffs and Super Bowl. If the league must cut two weeks from somewhere, why not take them from there, the postseason? That's when it's cold and no one wants to be outside, anyway. Just drop the wildcard games and bye weeks for top-seeds. Problem solved.
But that elegant solution will probably be ignored, of course, and our glorious, glorious NFL Preseason ruined forever. Madness. The next thing you know, they'll be telling us something really, truly, off-the-wall insane—like that Major League Baseball players don't actually need six weeks for Spring Training. Blasphemy!
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