NFL fans may have to wait a while

Jeremiah Davis

In the wake of Super Bowl XLV and a return of the Vince Lombardi trophy to Titletown, NFL fans are left wondering, “What’s next?”

The impending lockout of the players by the NFL owners now hangs like a black cloud over the sports universe. We read on Twitter and various Internet sources about the players’ firm stance and the owners’ stubbornness.

We also read and hear from commissioner Roger Goodell how optimistic he is that a deal will get done and that there will be a season in 2011.

But can the fans, players and owners trust him when he says that?

So far, we’ve heard from Goodell all about how the safety of the players is the primary concern of the league. He says that in one breath, then in another pushes for a new 18-game schedule. He also threatened the players with taking away health coverage if they didn’t give in to the owners’ demands.

If Goodell needs proof that a longer season will lead to more injuries, he can take a look at the sport’s biggest game. Three key, impact players for the Packers were hurt — added to the 17 players they have on IR already.

Charles Woodson, Sam Shields and Donald Driver all suffered game-ending injuries. While it gave way to Jordy Nelson getting some unexpected spotlight, it also made the on-the-field product lesser for the stars not being there.

So when Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers get hurt in week 18 or 19 and the games are less entertaining, people will stop watching. And shouldn’t that be a fear for Goodell?

When asked questions publicly, he gives the same, PR answers every time, toeing the league line that spews optimism and good thoughts.

Don’t be fooled.

One thing is driving all of this, and it should be no surprise that it’s money. Money can’t buy happiness, as they say, but it sure can get you a lot in life. It can also cost you a lot. A lust for money could cost millions of fans across the country a season — or more — of their favorite sport.

Make no mistake, football is easily the most popular sport in the United States, hands down. Not baseball and certainly not basketball. Baseball may have been America’s pastime years ago, but football is now.

Why? Because the NFL had a formula that works. Each regular season game matters, and to make the playoffs teams have to be either good, lucky or both.

I’m actually surprised that the networks haven’t gotten involved in the negotiations. CBS, FOX, NBC and ESPN all have a major stake in what happens with the NFL, and if there isn’t a season next year, they stand to take a big hit in ratings and revenue.

Can you imagine ESPN trying to do Sports Center from January to March with only NBA and college basketball highlights as their major draws? They’d be scrambling.

So why change?

I learned an adage from my uncle as a kid. He told me, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

I’m sure you’ve heard that in some form or another, but it’s absolutely true. If it’s working and people are loving it, why the hell would someone mess with it?

Oh, right — money.

I won’t pretend to know what’s going on inside the meetings between the NFL Players Association and the team owners, but I do know that whatever is happening is going at a snail’s pace. Both sides are digging in their heels, and everyone should expect things to get ugly.

It will play out in social media and on ESPN, and it’s very likely the public will be bombarded with news, or lack thereof, about the impending lockout right up until an agreement is reached. Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen will have their Twitter followers refreshing their feeds constantly, begging for news.

Ultimately, I seriously doubt the NFL will be gone for long, if at all. There’s too much money to be made, and more importantly to be lost. Someone will give in in some way.

I just hope, whatever it is, it really is in the best interests of player safety and at the same time not forgetting what made the NFL what it is:

The fans.