I never thought that I would have labour pains.
Maybe that’s sexist, but I’m pretty sure I learned it was impossible for me to experience them at some point in high school. But for the last 145 days, there was no question I was having labour pains. Maybe not to the same extent as Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, but like millions of fans around the world, I shared their pain.
What is the cause of our pain? The thought of the second most powerful sports league in the world denying their customers who generate nearly $10 billion in revenue by worshipping what we love.
To many an amateur pundit, we wondered how these guys could be so stupid as to think they could get away with this.
This lockout could be a conspiracy. The “New Coke” of our time. Take away something we love and then give it back.
Let’s face it. What did the owners lose? Nothing. Perhaps the loyalty of a few staff who were concerned with looming pay cuts or layoffs.
What did the players lose? Not much. Some organized off-season workouts? A prolonged free agency courting? Study time with new coaches?
The hardest hit was probably the rookie class of 2011—especially the un-drafted players. The same players who are usually scrambling minutes after the selection of “Mr. Irrelevant,” to find a team who will invite them to camp and give them the chance to earn a living as a special teamer.
What did the fans lose? On the surface? One crummy exhibition game—that being the Hall of Fame Game—which is barely more than an intra-squad scrimmage. But fortunately that’s the only proposed game lost. Somehow the longest work stoppage in NFL history resulted in no regular season games lost. Look back to 1982 and 1987 and that wasn’t the case.
Also missed? Up to this point, the fun of following free agency and off-season transactions. Hours of excessive debate about the fate of Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, and Vince Young. Mountains of internet chat filled with rumours, falsehoods, and innuendo.
Yet, what was lost was innocence. There is a whole generation of fans who have never experienced NFL labour strife. Never had to sit through a 1987 replacement game starring 37-year-old, financial planner, Tony Adams playing quarterback for the Vikings. Never had to watch 89 players cross a picket line. Never had to wonder if the Super Bowl would be played or would a championship be lost, circa the 2004-2005 Stanley Cup and the 1994 World Series.
Candidly, I wonder if this wasn’t the greatest marketing ploy ever. Did the players really plan on not playing and collecting their $1.9 million average salaries? Did the owners really plan to give up their billions in ticket and sponsorship revenue? Did they really think their $4 billion TV deal would really hold up in court, if there were no games on the field?
I know I am reaching here. I’m not usually a conspiracy theorist. But the whole thing was so illogical.
Who would really want to shut down the healthiest entertainment business in the unhealthiest American economy in decades? What broadcaster would not want the most compelling TV product (28 of the top 30 in 2010 TV broadcasts were NFL games) in an era when marketers—high and low—are declaring that television is dead? What executive would want to give sponsors an opportunity to taste other properties in such a competitive sports sponsorship landscape?
Congrats NFL Inc.! Somehow, some way, the labour pain you have caused me has made me love you even more. Take something away from a child and they will want it even more. Deny a diehard what they love and their fanaticism only grows. Threaten a man’s rituals and you will see his dark side appear.
I can’t wait for the Steelers to put the franchise tag on LaMarr Woodley; send Hines Ward to rehab; teach Rashard Mendenhall some history; and set-up James Harrison on an “Anger Management” date with a Jack Nicholson like character. Not to mention marriage counselling for newlywed Ben Roethlisberger.
More importantly we need to find some pass defense and a shutdown corner, rehab Troy Polamalu, fix our offensive line and remember we are a running team. Always have been. Always will be. (Oh I wish that XLV could be replayed and Ben forbidden to throw on first down.)
Just thinking of the Black & Gold is helping calm my belly. Perhaps I have swallowed the day after pill?