All is Good With the NFL—For Now

by John Furgele

Football is America’s game and it has been since the mid-1970s, when the Super Bowls really started to become a big deal.  As a kid, the first Super Bowl I remember vividly was Super Bowl 10 when Pittsburgh beat Dallas 21-17 to win their second straight NFL title.  The game has become so big that many think the Monday after the Super Bowl should be a national holiday.

The NFL is the one league that can literally do anything it wants.  The term “print money,” is overused, but for the NFL it is an accurate statement.  Commissioner Roger Goodell has been roughed up a bit the past few years, but will make about $45 million in salary this year because he does what his bosses (the owners)demand and that is make them money.

It doesn’t really matter that the city of St. Louis lost its second NFL franchise.  Things have changed in these, the modern times.  When my favorite team (as a kid); the Baltimore Colts left in their Mayflower moving fans and headed to Indianapolis in 1984, many across the country were outraged.  When the Cleveland Browns left—ironically—for Baltimore—in 1995, people couldn’t believe that a passionate football town was losing its beloved team.  When the Rams—who believe it or not moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles—moved back to Los Angeles a few weeks ago, America was sad for about half-a-day and by mid-week, nobody seemed to care.

The league likes to trumpet and thank its fans, but if these fans in their respective cities don’t give the teams and their owners what they want, they will leave in what can be referred to as a “New York Minute.”  On the surface, Goodell states that he wants to find a way to keep the Chargers in San Diego and the Raiders in Oakland, but if these cities don’t placate the owners, they too, will be gone.  And, again, both the Chargers and Raiders once called Los Angeles home, so moving back there wouldn’t even be a major headline.

Eventually, teams like Buffalo and Jacksonville might have to move.  Buffalo has great fans and great history.  They were a charter member of the AFL where they won back-to-back titles in 1964 and 1965 and in the 1990s, went to and lost four straight Super Bowls.  Their new owner, billionaire fracker Terry Pegula says that a new stadium is not a high priority, but Ralph Wilson Stadium in suburban Orchard Park is 43 years-old and someday, the owner is going to ask for $600 million—or more—for a new playpen.  If the taxpayers can’t deliver, somebody else will; maybe even St. Louis.

Yes, the NFL sure loves it fans, but they will do what they have to do to keep making money.  This isn’t really a knock, it’s just business.  The Rams owner knows he can make more money in Los Angeles than he can in St. Louis, so he moves his business.  Businesses do this all the time.  If a clock manufacturer in Connecticut gets lured by a town in Alabama, they will move to help the bottom line.  The only difference is that the clock manufacturer doesn’t have 60,000 fans come to the factory on Friday to cheer on the work of its employees.

The NFL is envied by all the other sports leagues.  The NBA, MLB and NHL all have their moments when America pays attention, but the NFL has their moments every week they play games.  The machine just keeps on humming.

The NFL is good for many reasons and one of those reasons is how they can control things.  But, the one thing they can’t control is head trauma.  They are trying very hard to make the game the safer, but in the end, they can’t really do enough.  The players certainly know the risks of playing the game, and most play because they love it and they want to “get paid.”  The same goes for Auto Racing.  It’s a sport that has inherited risks and despite all precautions, drivers die in races and in practices.  Dale Earnhardt, the King of the Sport, died in what looked like just another crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001.  You can try to make the sport safer, but you can’t control it and the NFL hates the fact that this is something that they can’t control.

Personally, I never cared about CTE and the players that play football.  My adage was “they know the risks and they’re making the choice to play the sport.”  Most Americans feel the same way and I would have no problem with my son playing football in high school.  After that, I would worry because the game at the college level gets more violent.  By and large, Americans love the hitting, the war in the trenches and of course, the highlight reel plays.

But I am starting to become concerned about the head trauma and when you read about players like recently named Hall of Famer Ken “Snake” Stabler suffering from CTE related symptoms for over a decade, it does make you wonder if you should be enjoying the game as much as you do.  I watched Stabler play from 1976 until he retired in 1984 and he never seemed to “get crushed,” in his games, but what we’re learning is that even a love tap to the head does damage.  The old saying that one can be pin-pricked to death might, in fact, be true.

The NFL is the King, right.  Its long-term survival is not in doubt or is it?  Will there come a time where the fans turn their collective backs on the league like they have for boxing and other sports?  What will be the breaking point?  The league certainly has great staying power.  Daryl Stingley was paralyzed in a pre-season game back in 1978; Mike Utley was paralyzed in November, 1991, yet the game moved on with nary a hiccup.  Would a player have to die on the field for fans to begin to question their allegiance to the sport?

Today, the NFL celebrates 50 years of Super Bowls.  The innocence of the 1967 game, played before thousands of empty seats is over.  The game is more than a spectacle.  It is the most watched event in America and nothing is a close second.  But, when Roger Goodell and his braintrust gather behind closed doors, I wonder how nervous and concerned they really are about the game’s long-term survival?  They will be long gone before the NFL is, but do they think about its future at all, or are they too busy buying second homes and investing their monies?

The “first 50,” have been great for “The Shield,” but what will the future hold for the next 50?  Will there be a Super Bowl 100?  What will Super Bowl 75 look like?

No need to speculate right now.  Fans are too busy getting their dips in order and gamblers are deciding to bet heads or tails on the coin flip while others wonder if Lady Gaga will be over or under 2 minutes 20 seconds on the national anthem.

Today, the King is alive, but Kings don’t last forever.

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