First off, I'd like to thank you Sir Lockout, for finally skedaddling away from the lovely NFL.
And if you could do a thing or two about your death-grip on the NBA, we might even send you a card and fruit bouquet this Christmas.
But because you hung around the pigskin launching factory for so long, pestering the NFL with your up-for-grab billions of dollars, early consequences have been seen in this young 2011-2012 season. Yesterday, the NFL was still the NFL, but some things were definitely different. Good different and bad different. Let's go over some winners and losers.
1. Fans. For a couple reasons.
First off, how good did it feel to not have to listen to the endless Brett Farve retirement, unretirement, scandal, maybe unretiring, etc talk? How nice was it to just hear the facts about Peyton Manning's injury, rather than hearing 172 different opinions from people who have no medical evidence about his injury, explaining whether or not he would play this year. I did not pay one single molecule of attention to the NFL, as long as there were still "negotiations" going on. My mind was free to think about other things, like the galaxy and being productive.
The next consequence was a bit more psychological. Football was still football this weekend, but it somehow felt more exciting. There was no doubt that I loved watching the games this opening weekend more than any other, and I think it has a lot to do with having no idea if it was actually going to happen. Every year prior, I just assume it's gonna be there. I mean, that period of not having football would be like if you just came home one day and your girlfriend was gone. Just gone. She left a note, saying she wasn't sure whether she'd be back, and she said it was about money. Her cell number was disconnected. Her email returns error messages. You go through a couple days, not really understanding the severity of the situation, thinking "Oh, it's fine, she'll be back." Days turn to weeks. You get depressed. Weeks turn to months. You're miserable, but you kinda start to forget about her, making other plans like trying out speed dating. You know life will go on; it will just be different. I mean, you loved her more than anything. There wasn't anything wrong between you too. She was just gone, and you couldn't do anything about it. And then one day, you come home from work, and you find her cooking up a mean stir fry, wearing an apron and your favorite heels of hers, yes, those ones, and she sees you, smiles, and says "Hey, honey. How are you? Hungry?" And everything goes completely back to normal. You loved her. You never wanted her to leave. And now you don't care why she left. She's back, and it's incredible. You appreciate everything about her. You notice little lovely things about her that you had forgotten, like a smell or a look. You forget the things that ticked you off, like a smell or a look.
It was like that for me this Sunday. I wasn't annoyed by cookie-cutter announcers or dumb penalties or annoying commercials. I was just in love. Giddy. Couldn't be happier. It was the same old NFL from last season, but this year, because I didn't know if it would be there, I appreciate it more. It's a lovely game, isn't it?
2. The Packers. And I'm a Bears fan, so it's hard for me to admit this.
But the Super Bowl winning team always gets hyped up throughout the summer. The pressure builds, and usually, a hangover ensues the next season. It's just so hard to be good two years in a row with a league harnessing this much parity. But the Packers picked up right where they left off. Their team got healthy in the offseason, and they flew under the radar, because really, there was no radar. We were all worried about the lockout and whether games would be played. We didn't care about what teams were doing, because they couldn't legally do anything.
Thursday night, against the Saints, they looked good. Rogers had a day. Their run game looks improved. They have a stacked receiving core. Their d-line runs the trenches like a troll running a troll bridge. No back shall pass, even if only a yard is needed. Safe to say they are contenders once again.
3. Cam Newton. And for the same reason as the Pack. No radar equals no media to build him up just to tear him down, which normally plagues the life of a #1 pick, especially quarterbacks. He just popped in on Sunday and played some football. And by played some football, I mean he threw for an NFL-rookie record for most yards thrown for in a debut with 422 yards. Incredible. I'm looking forward to seeing him try to keep it up.
4. The owners. They got their money, barely caved on important topics, caved on the ones they didn't really care about, and nobody has decided to disown their sport. They just go back to minding their own business, raking in the Grover Clevelands (he's on the seventy-eight gajillion dollar bill, right?). It was a summer full of smart business moves made by these owners. And as greedy as it all looked from the outside peeking in, it's hard to deny them respect for their ability to get what they want and then quietly fall back to lurking into the shadows. They railed the players, and also managed to make it a long-term rail, because the deal is ten years long. Ouch. And any confidence they've gain from this win will be used in 2021.
1a. The players. See "the owners." Lost money, didn't get what they wanted. Pretty much owned. Literally.
1b. The players' muscles. I think I heard the word "cramp" more times on Sunday than a Wednesday night old-timers rec-league roundball game. Darrelle Revis, Dez Bryant, Josh Freeman, Matt Stafford, and Marcedes Lewis, among others, all left the field at one point for cramps. And I've had cramps before. Last summer, I leapt for an ultimate frisbee score and both calves cramped up mid-jump, forcing me land like a mermaid off a high dive onto concrete. They aren't fun. But they're not supposed to happen in pro sports. Occasionally, yes. But these are all top players at their position, players that need to be on the field for their teams to play at a high level. The lack of a true offseason set these guys back a couple weeks, maybe a month. It could really have a large effect their first four games, and in a league with only 16 games in the regular season and playoff hunts' tendencies to go down to the last week, every game matters. A lot. Leaving a game for cramps, which is just your body saying "You're not ready for this yet, but don't worry, you're not actually injured" is not the way a player wants to spend his Sundays.
And come to think of it, there really aren't any other losers, which is kinda the sad part. I would mention rookies, but Cam Newton was phenomenal, and many other rookies played positive roles with game-altering performances. I'd name younger teams as losing too, but it didn't seem like the lack of continuity really showed an effect on Sunday. It might in weeks to come.
So basically, the sole reason that football is football was the sole recipient of getting screwed this summer. Nobody else did. Without the owners, the players could still play football, and somehow we'd all still figure out how to watch. Without the fans, football players could still go out to the park and play football. Without owners and without fans, same thing. But without actual players, there is no football. Us fans, as well as the owners, would not have anything close to the NFL. The owners might still have a lot of money, and we'd still be able to go play football or watch other football, but it wouldn't be the same. It's sad that this is how the sport is run. America's favorite sport at that. And we could get into a discussion about how it's a business and every business is like this and yadda yadda, but this is football. As sports fans, we all had fun growing up idolizing and mimicking our favorite players, not our favorite owners.
I just hope that the players figure out a way to gain some leverage in this upcoming decade. Start a lockout fund. Make players put away 20% of their salary. Something. Because in 10 years, and it will come quickly, the players, not the fans or owners, will probably get screwed again.