Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Should We Be Ready For Any Football?

By Anthony Brancato

Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial tension pandemic, maybe William Shakespeare was right when he had Falstaff say, in "Henry IV, Part I," that discretion is the better part of valor.

For the NFL, this either means canceling the 2020 season altogether — and let the trivia geeks hash it out as to whether the Super Bowl following the 2021 season should be designated Super Bowl LVI as originally planned, or bumped up a notch to Super Bowl LV — or, as previously suggested by this author, shortening the regular season to 10 games and having the East and West Division teams, and the North and South Division teams (who are playing each other in the intraconference rotation this year) in each conference grouped into four separate NBA/NHL-style "bubbles."

And the league could even get really cute about it — by not changing the dates of the games, only the number of games every team plays, turning all canceled games into byes for the teams involved, thus playing the 10-game schedule over the same 17 weeks as originally planned — and still having 17 weeks' worth of games to televise. (This would no doubt lead to a second bye week getting added to the 17-game schedule, once it is implemented, whether or not there would be a second bye week not having yet been decided upon anyway. How could either the owners or the NFLPA say no?).

That should adequately deal with the first threat. But what about the second threat?

Racial tensions — and a lot of other tensions, too — are quite literally rising exponentially with each passing day as the nation moves inexorably closer to an election which with increasing likelihood will have the same consequences as the 1860 election had — a civil war, and in this case a far more devastating one because this time around the entire country will be a battlefield, not just its southeastern quadrant like last time.

And under such conditions, even if the stadiums are left empty, the sight of players kneeling during the national anthem could touch off deadly violence against African-Americans by far-right self-styled militia groups, in turn catalyzing revenge attacks by Antifa, Black Lives Matter, etc., echoing what happened just before Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, with paramilitaries from both sides openly fighting in the streets; indeed, "Antifa" is derived from "Antifaschtische Aktion," the German leftists, who battled the Nazi "Sturmabteilung," or "Storm Troopers" — and neither of those sides then had anywhere near the firepower at their disposal (most of their clashes were mere Pier 6 brawls) that our two sides (especially the right) have now.

Besides, would the league be willing to lose billions more on top of the millions it has already lost from the canceled preseason by shortening the regular season?

The NFL is nothing if it is not about money — so the answer would appear to be a most resounding "no."

And analogies between the current situation and World War II break down quickly: Back then, the nation was united in fighting a common enemy — and the NFL carried on, even with such jerry-built modifications as the Phil-Pitt "Steagles" of 1943 (the Steelers and Eagles combining their rosters) and the following year's winless "Card-Pitt" (when the then-Chicago Cardinals and the Steelers commingled), as did Major League Baseball, giving us the 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall, the youngest MLB player of all-time.

Now, we are at each other's throats, questioning exactly how much cohesion there is going to be in locker rooms league-wide. Could the unthinkable happen, as in the non-fiction movie "Remember the Titans," and a white offensive lineman intentionally misses a block, in the hope that the team's black quarterback gets injured and his white backup would come in?

That's how bad things have gotten. Let the owners figure out how they want to do the 2021 out-of-division schedule (and it will almost certainly be a 17-game schedule, especially if the entire 2020 season does get wiped out), and the 2021 draft.

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