NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
To paraphrase four Liverpudlian Mop Tops, who used to get by with a little help from their friends:
Picture Yourself in a Boat on a River...
...except this time there's little in the way of psychedelic tranquility, zero tangerine trees, and not a marmalade sky in sight. All you can see now is a juggernaut splitting what we can only assume is a Gulf of oil-drenched waters; an unstoppable force taking out all in its wake, insistent on fixing a hole despite the fact that everything, from here to the horizon, looks to be getting better all the time.
The metaphor bearing down on us - and impelling Out-Takes to run up the white flag, even in the face of long-held opposition - is, of course, the Billionaire Boys Club that is "The National. Football League." (Copyright, CHRIS BERMAN, the Oprah Winfrey of ESPN.) JOHN Q. OWNER's bad idea du jour? A greedy, myopic lurch toward expanding the regular season from 16 games to 18. This, despite the fact that the Six Million Dollar Men of the NFL continue to go all Steve Austin on us, getting better, stronger, faster. This, despite the fact that concussions and their long-term effects are just now taking their first, halting steps out of the closet. This, despite the fact that injuries in general, while "easier" to recover from ("We have the technology..."), continue to pile up, a trash-heap of broken limbs and torn ACLs marked with a makeshift sign: "The Cost of Doing Business."
So, what's the point of a little-column-that-could pushing back against the Tsunami-level avarice of multimillionaire owners and their enabling Commissioner - already such über-successful world-beaters that THEY OWN PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL FRANCHISES? Good question. In the spirit of "amending from within" and "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em..." let's see what wiggle room even the staunchest anti-expansion forces (Hi!) can find in hopes of stemming the tide of massive over-saturation and fat cats intent on padding their wallets while ruining the sport that kept 'em fat in the first place.
Meet Me Halfway, Across the Sky...
First up, the things we agree on: LARGER ROSTER SIZE and PRACTICE SQUADS. Check, check. An American-based DEVELOPMENTAL LEAGUE, for players and officials - Roger that. A more flexible INJURED RESERVE SYSTEM, whereby players missing significant time would be lost not for the season, but for, say, 6 weeks. Love it. An ADDITIONAL BYE for everyone? We're on board, though when we get wind of the extra week off coming *prior *to the regular season, we start looking for lifeboats. Spread the bonus bye weeks throughout the schedule, with no breaks until October starts showing up on those Garfield "I Hate Mondays and/or Love Lasagna" tear-away calendars.
Okay. Now that we've tiptoed up to the line of demarcation, let's bull-rush the things that divide us. Moving from Mop Tops to the Chairman of the Board, allow us another musical reference:
When I was Seventeen, it was a Very Good Year
The owners are floating the notion of an 18-game regular season schedule. While we prefer staying put at 16 games, this is about compromise, so split the difference and opt for 17. Sure, that nixes the mathematical tidiness of "32 teams, 16 games, 8 home, 8 away" - the symmetry Out-Takes claims as its rightful binky - but, hey, 17 is better than 18. (For those of you getting all spastic about an odd number of games...you have our permission, mocking and judgy though it may be, to skip ahead.)
As for pre-season contests, Goodell & Friends have suggested cutting the exhibitions in half, to two, making up for the excised "live action" with an uptick in scrimmages. While we're absolutely behind the notion of additional scrimmages, we propose eliminating only one pre-season game. In our view, putting 80 men through their paces three times remains semi-necessary, no matter how poor the on-field product may sometimes be. Also, it keeps the number of pre-postseason games at twenty, as it is now. (Yes, we're willing to embrace change - we just remain staunchly whorish when it comes to mathematical tidiness.) But back to that odd number...
...seventeen? How can that possibly work? Won't AL DAVIS and RALPH WILSON get (even more) confused? Which teams will be awarded an extra home game? Whose concessionaires get to rack up double the revenue by charging quadruple for watered down moonshine and whatever iffy meat-products satisfy the legal definition of "sausage?" Good questions, all, and moot ones, as well. ROBERT KRAFT, take note...
Out-Takes' Fantastic, "You Guys Should Seriously DO THIS" Proposal
Each NFL club will play eight home games, eight away games and ONE NEUTRAL SITE GAME. Call it THE SWITZERLAND GAME. Various voices from atop the NFL Totem Pole keep leaking nonsense about a Super Bowl in London (UGH) or a foreign-based team (double UGH, try scheduling THAT.) But, going along with the league's shameless jones for blowing out their product - "expanding the brand," "extending our reach," whatever - Switzerland Games will be played in spots all around the globe, including, well...Switzerland. (ZURICH, to be precise.) There would, of course, be at least a pair of games in LONDON - aside from the draw of recent history, the Brits have air-time to fill, what with World Cup Soccer highlights becoming increasingly less relevant. Other host sites would include BERLIN, PARIS, MILAN, MEXICO CITY, BEIJING, MOSCOW, TOKYO and others. But for the pièce de résistance, we head down to...
...HAVANA. Yep, we said it. The U.S. has officially kicked off the "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" Mambo with Cuba, following decades of relatively fruitless diplomacy and the occasional pretentious offer of fancy, pseudo-hard-to-come-by boxes of Black Market cigars. Put the DOLPHINS and BUCS on a high-end Ferry, sail 'em past Gitmo and let 'em get it on before FIDEL, his seemingly always failing health, and the stylishly dressed Godfather II extras and ball-playing defectors he rules with an iron-deficient fist. Plus, an NFL game in Havana would make for some massively exciting international intrigue. (Even with Tampa in the mix!)
Obviously, not every NFL team will have such geographic proximity or so natural a connection to their neutral site, but we could see SEATTLE and if-JAX-becomes-L.A. being a regular visitor to TOKYO. The CHARGERS and COWBOYS could have an annual tilt in MEXICO CITY. (We'd look for a way to squeeze ARIZONA into a Mexico-based contest, as well, but they may be busy trying to find new people to pay under the table for taking care of their crops and children.)
NFL cities with high populations of Germans - those Lambeau Folks leap to mind - could become semi-regular tourists in Berlin; the Creole-flavored Saints fans could make an annual trek to Paris, and the Vikings could go back to OSLO, Norway, and so on... (As for that extra BYE, the teams playing on foreign soil would have the following week off - for time-zone readjustment and getting through customs.) Finally...
Got a Dream They've Come to Share, They're Coming to America...
Each year, one game will be played in a region of this country that's been hit especially hard by economic hardship. If that means NFL teams are forced to play on a college or high school field, so be it. Frankly, the league could use a little county fair meets Friday Night Lights. Of course, this would exclude down-on-their-luck cities that already have access to professional football so...not-so-fast, Detroit! (Then again, Motown's "access to professional football" is under review. We'll be under the hood for awhile on that.)
So there ya have it, sports fans, and there ya have it, Kraft Family - your website, your intellectual property. (Or, to be accurate, your anti-intellectual property.) Do with it what you will.
]()~ Not to say we told ya so, but how many of us watched TOM BRADY take (slightly) less money last time, in the spirit of saving cap room to help keep his weapons around, only to have DEION BRANCH jet off to Seattle for a #1 pick and more coin? Should we really be surprised that a world-class athlete with a pretty good head on his shoulders can remember stuff that happened five years ago? And is it so hard to believe that #12 would be a bit more malleable now if things had gone differently back then? This is a front office known for its long-term strategy; for playing chess, not checkers. But they're clearly not infallible.
~ Speaking of wide receivers and the Seahawks...according to that NFL Network Guy who pales in comparison to ADAM SCHEFTER, the Chargers' frustration with restricted free agent wideout VINCENT JACKSON might be an appealing option for PETE "Got out of Dodge in the nick of time!" CARROLL, who just took the reins in Seattle after allegedly not cheating at USC. If a trade gets worked out for Jackson, look for Branch to end up back with Brady in New England. But don't look for Deion in his old #83 jersey. Something tells us comeback kid WES WELKER owns it - now and forever.
~ File this under W for "We realize it was awhile ago, but we've been busy..." Is there a bigger jackass out there than WEEI's JOHN DENNIS? We grew up flipping from Channel 4 and BOB LOBEL to this guy at Channel 7 but, tuning into his day-after-draft "analysis" (analysis, in this case, being a stand-in for "willfully dishonest B.S."), we couldn't help wondering what on Earth happened. Look, we get that nothing gooses ratings like mind-blowingly moronic controversy, but JD's take on the Patriots #1 overall pick DEVIN MCCOURTY was as horrifying as KEVIN SMITH in cut-offs. Just because McCourty has a knack for special teams doesn't mean it's the only knack he has. The kid was a tough, versatile CB at Rutgers, who most draft experts had going in the top 40. Labeling him simply "a special teams guy" is not just unfair, it's insulting. It would be like labeling a guy with an extensive sports background or a long career in broadcasting as a moronic "Neanderthal, Palin-Fetishizing Teabagger." And we'd never do that. Honest.
~ This goes without saying, but the Out-Takes Household is on pins and needles in anticipation of VH1's upcoming Celeb-reality double-dip, Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch, and season two of The T.O. Show. Our favorite part o[
]()f the programming press-release centers on the Bengal receiver's - quote - "bracket-style dating tournament." Let the Madness begin!
~ Just when you thought STEVE SMITH breaking his arm in a flag football game was the stupidest non-Roethlisberger item you've heard this NFL off-season, along comes ALBERT HAYNESWORTH and his refusal to play for MIKE SHANAHAN and the Redskins (not to mention tens of millions of dollars) because he prefers a 4-3 front to the 3-4 being installed. Wow. Just as a PSA, we'd like to offer up this reminder, both to our readers and to Haynesworth himself:
Albert - YOU'RE THE HEAD-STOMPER GUY. Remember? So much for rehabbing your image.
~ Pssst, don't tell a soul, but Out-Takes' new gig - writing for USA Network's IN PLAIN SIGHT - will be on full display this upcoming Wednesday, June 30th, at 10 PM. (We'll pause a moment while you go set your DVRs.) Yep, we wrote the season finale, and if brand loyalty isn't incentive enough, know that the episode opens with a PRIEST STORMING INTO A STRIP CLUB, and that the network wasn't entirely successful in cutting every last bit of "Bada Bing!" from the Teaser.
So tune in Wednesday to watch "A Priest Walks into a Bar." (He runs out carrying a stripper.) You'll be glad you did - or, at least, ya know...we will.
John Cockrell is a screenwriter, whose other work has run the gamut from "Sesame Street Parents Magazine" to Playboy TV's "The Weekend Flash." (He figures everything else is pretty much in-between.)