To NFL Ownership, and Commissioner Roger Goodell:
We have a great game. In spite of whatever troubles or problems that arise, when we get right down to it - we all love this game of football. So as you meet in Florida this week to discuss the game's issues, keep in mind that while this game is good, and that you've been strong stewards of our true national pastime, we can make it better.
We can make it right.
1) On the issue of player safety - we're not in the 1950's anymore. Long gone are the days where we laugh at a player getting his "bell rung," or tell a player to "rub some dirt on it" after a serious injury. With the acknowledgement last week from NFL Vice President of Health and Safety Jeff Miller that a link between concussions and CTE does exist, and the further admission from one of your own - John Mara of the New York Giants - that repeated concussions can have a long term effect on players, it's time to ensure we have this game for the next generation of fans. Protocol for head injury recovery needs to be addressed. Equipment improvements need to continue to evolve. Rules can be adjusted in order to minimize injury opportunities (kick-off and punt return touchbacks at the 25, rather than the 20 yard line). Cut blocks, cutback blocks and chop blocks should be outlawed, like they are in the college game. Clearly, you've shown your desire for a game with more offense - and that's ok. But these teams and coaches, they catch up to everything. What goes around, comes around. Let the game evolve, but with an eye toward a future for all of us.
2) On the issue of pre-season football - in a word, it "stinks." Don't sell us on the fact that it's real competition, because it isn't. It's glorified practice. You know it, the players know it, and we know it. There is a proposal to be made for eliminating overtime in the pre-season (made by Washington), and your passing of that proposal would be a step in the right direction. But you need to go a bit further - reduce the pre-season to three games, instead of four, and allow for controlled scrimmages to be an option if a team wants more work in the summer. You need to make up for lost revenue? Fine, several teams already have adjusted pricing based on opponents and scheduling (called "dynamic" pricing, and the Patriots do this), so bump it back the other way to match regular-season pricing if need be. Or, keep the cuts in a goodwill gesture to fans who spend thousands on renewing their season-ticket plans each year. Lower the "bowl" seat costs, and raise the "premium" seat costs. Just don't sell us on August football that is meaningful in any way. Because it isn't.
3) Mr. Commissioner, step aside - I realize you won't do this willingly. So at the very least, I would respectfully ask you to allow the owners and the NFL Players Association to continue to work toward reducing your adjudicative powers, when it comes to disciplining players. This would be a huge conciliatory move toward the players (and ultimately getting what you want from them, like more money) and end charades like the Ray Rice debacle and the Deflategate nonsense. And while you're at it, return this year's 1st round draft pick to the Patriots. The fact that you continue to ignore science under the guise of "integrity" makes you look silly. You've extracted your pound of flesh already, through never-ending public perception of wrong-doing in New England. Think about it this way - when you pull this on another owner (and that time is coming), you may not be as lucky as you were with Mr. Kraft, who chose to take the high road in this battle. You might have another owner who will sue your (bleep) off, sue the league's (bleep) off, cost all of you money and lead a parade for your removal from office. Someone else will surely drag you - and the sport - through the mud. You can choose your legacy for this game - what would you like that to be, exactly?
Thank you for your kind consideration of the above matters. There are several additional issues to address (replay challenges, adjusting roster sizes, ejecting players for unsportsmanlike conduct, etc.) but these are at the top of my list. My hope is that they're at the top of yours, too.
Who needs a #1 pick?
Things change quickly, don't they?
With fans initially clamoring for the Patriots to "do something" in the opening hours of free-agency, it now seems as if they've done quite a bit.
Four familiar names have been added to the roster, all former 1st-rounders for their original teams? Brilliant. Maybe even a 5th one on the way, if Nick Fairley decides to join this freight train. If this happens, you can expect someone else, somewhere, to begin examining the rules in place allowing this to happen. The Patriots have a history of turning "brilliant" into "unfair."
But really, there's nothing unfair about this at all. It's simply the perception that exists here, that if these former #1's head to New England their careers will suddenly change for the better. Because if they become Patriots, they will achieve the potential they were originally branded with someplace else. Why is this? The Patriots have a history of success in this department. Veteran free agents don't always work out here (Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson and Albert Haynesworth come to mind), but there is enough of an existing track record of success to cause players to think about it.
Part of the attractiveness for former #1's is the culture, sure. Players want to win, because at the end of their careers, winners are remembered. And part of it has to be the aforementioned track record of previous successes. But here's the unwritten/unseen part - New England has always managed to build depth, so there's not as much to ask/expect of these former #1's. With less pressure, and maybe fewer reps, oftentimes better performance follows.
It isn't rocket science here, just shrewd business.
What once was, is no longer
A sad inevitability will take place before the end of this week. The St. Louis Rams will cease to exist, at least in physical form.
Seven tractor-trailers are either en route or will soon be sent to the west coast, with another 20+ trailers ready to move the remainder of the franchise operations to Los Angeles before the end of next week. Already out of Dodge is the 1999 Super Bowl trophy, ready to assume the mantle as a showpiece in a new home.
Maybe the move to Los Angeles is a good thing for the NFL? I'm one of those who believes the league should never have left in the first place more than 20 years ago, but then again, I wasn't an owner seeking to line my pockets and looking for a better return on my investment...or, trying to avoid a potential lawsuit if I blocked a move. But ask yourself this - if LA is so "hot," why did it take more than two decades to return the league to Southern California?
You know the tie that binds here, right? The Rams' franchise might never have moved to St. Louis in 1995, if James Busch Orthwein's sale of the New England Patriots to Robert Kraft had failed to materialize. The St. Louis Stallions was the proposed name of the new team, if the Patriots' moving vans had traveled west to Missouri once-upon-a-time. Who knows how history may have been altered?
Perhaps, the Los Angeles Rams might never have left in the first place. Perhaps Arizona would not have a team, or maybe Charlotte or Jacksonville would have been left out of the expansion race? The trickledown effect would have had numerous possibilities.
If you see those moving vans heading west sometime in the next week or two, be grateful. Be thankful. Be mindful of the fact there are pro football fans in St. Louis who are going through what we might have gone through two decades ago.
Change is inevitable, sure. So are death and taxes. But for pro football? Change is destiny-filtered, at best. Change is measured by its impact on those who are connected to it.
And at one time, we almost were.
*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and just completed his 23rd year as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 27 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *