Former Bay Area sportscaster and Detroit Lions linebacker Wayne Walker once joked that it cost him $50 to play in an exhibition game. Walker’s ejection and fine for fighting actually exceeded his $100 game day paycheck.
Today’s players still earn blue-collar wages for preseason games that have become increasingly problematic for the league.
Fan indifference combined with the growing risk of injuries (Eli Manning, Larry Fitzgerald, Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson were all hurt in their preseason openers) make exhibition games more trouble than they’re worth. Unless you’re a team owner.
Lacking the small-town charm of baseball’s spring training in the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues, the NFL force-feeds its glorified scrimmages to season-ticket holders at full price. Since teams do not share this revenue with the players, the league will only consider cutting the preseason from four to two games if the union approves the expansion of the regular season from 16 games to 18.
Roger Goodell says the so-called “enhanced season” plan has a lot of appeal. To whom? At recent league meetings, Tom Brady and Ray Lewis both said they are concerned about player safety with an already long and grueling season, not to mention offseasons now packed with mini-camps and OTAs.
The NFL countered by offering to add a second bye week, expand rosters and change the injured reserve rule allowing players to return to action during the season.
The commissioner is also talking about starting a developmental league with all the teams based in Florida. The NFLPA’s new executive director DeMaurice Smith will certainly look favorably upon an increase in jobs.
But when the collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2010 season, a bigger concern will be keeping the rank and file in one piece, without further sacrificing the quality of play or quality of life when their careers are over.
Keeps on ticking
Laugh all you want about Brett Favre’s latest soap opera comeback, but great players rarely go quietly or willingly into retirement.
The very passion and commitment that drove the likes of Willie Mays, Michael Jordan and Jerry Rice to such great heights also blinded them to their inevitable declines. Favre hasn’t hit the skids yet and in all likelihood will probably have to be told he physically can’t play anymore before choosing to walk away.
Steve Young once told me he didn’t retire because of multiple concussions, as was thought a decade ago. Steve said he would have returned to football in 2000 if the 49ers had a chance to win a championship.
Then again, if running back Lawrence Phillips knew how to pick up a blitzing safety, Young probably would have tried to keep playing until he was 50.
KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.