The NFL’s Labor Woes: Sudden Death, No Overtime.

Back to the picket line for the players in 2011?

Are you ready for some football?  Well, that’s too bad.  You might have to wait a bit longer than usual before you see any.

After weeks of negotiation, talks broke down between the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and the league.   The key issue is the same one it usually is in these kinds of situations:  money.   The NFL wants to change the way it’s divvied up with more going to the owners and the players want to keep the things as they are.   There are other issues including a rookie pay scale, more benefits for retired players and the elimination of two pre-season games and expanding the regular season to 18 games.

“The parties have not achieved an overall achievement, federal mediator George Cohen said, “nor have they been able to resolve the strongly held competing positions that separated them on core issues.   No useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time.”

In other words, get out of my office.  You both screwed up. 

Following the breakdown in talks the NFLPA moved to decertify as a union meaning all the players are now non-union workers.   The advantage to the players is it allows them to file lawsuits against the league to prevent a lockout.   The owners of the 32 franchises would be in violation of antitrust laws if they attempted to lockout the players.  Sports Illustrated has a good breakdown of what comes next (hint: it involves a lot of lawyers getting paid).

There’s a lot of legalese involved in all the maneuvering between the NFL owners and players and nobody benefits from this mess but the attorneys.  Both sides will wage a propaganda war in the media with both blaming the other side for  the stalemate and both swearing up and down how much they love the fans and want to get this resolved so we can all get back to playing the games next fall.

Two guys fighting over how to slice up a pie.

Don’t believe a word of it.   The players want to get the best deal for themselves and the owners are the same way.  Neither one cares that much about the fans.  There are no games being played in March.   The fans are irrelevant to the labor impasse between the league and the players.

Whose side am I on?  The only side I have a rooting interest for and that’s my side as a fan of the NFL.  Like 99.9 percent of the fans, I just want to see pro football next September.  That’s all.  I don’t care  how the deal gets done as long as it gets done. 

The standard line has been this is a fight between billionaire owners and millionaire players.  Even President Obama repeated this riff when he replied to a reporter’s question, “You’ve got owners, most of whom are worth close to a billion dollars,” the president said, “You’ve got players who are making millions of dollars.  People are having to cut back, compromise, and worry about making mortgage payments…the two parties should be able to work it out without the President of the United States inventing…For an industry that’s making $9 billion a year in revenue, they can figure out  how to divide it up in a sensible way.

The thing is this isn’t a fight between billionaires and millionaires.  This is a fight between a few billionaires and a lot more millionaire owners vs. a few millionaire players and many other guys pulling down six figures.   The average NFL player makes under $1.8 million, but less than a quarter of the  1,800 players make that much and less than half make a million dollars per season.  The élite players of the leagues like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees make the millions, but that doesn’t mean every other guy in the huddle with them are.

That’s really not the point though.  Whatever the average players makes it’s still a lot more than the average fan does.   There’s probably more sympathy for the players now than the owners, but it this thing drags on into the fall with no resolution in sight, that sympathy will turn into hostility pretty quick.

The last time the NFL went on strike, while the regular players walked picket lines, the league played continued on with replacement players (a.k.a. scab football players) who wore the uniforms of the teams, but mostly played some pretty awful imitation football.   I don’t know if that is a strategy the owners will repeat to feed the habit of football starved fans, but I know I didn’t get the NFL Sunday Ticket package to watch the San Francisco Scabs vs. the St. Louis Strikebreakers.  

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice and that means I’m a damn fool and I won’t get fooled again into watching a bunch of scrubs, wannabees and washouts lumber through what’s being peddled as professional football on a Sunday afternoon.  Later for that.

From the fan’s perspective, none of this labor unrest means much.  Not now at least.  College basketball is nearing its most exciting time with March Madness, the NBA (which has even bigger looming labor problems than the NFL) is lumbering through the last few weeks of its dreary regular season with the playoffs right around the corner and their already warming up for the start of another baseball season for those of you who like that sort of thing.  Hockey?   Who gives a shit about hockey?

There’s still plenty of time for the NFLPA and the NFL to kiss and work this thing out.  Nobody’s fantasy football draft has been effected yet. But pro football is a big deal in this country.   Baseball may be the national pastime, but football is the national sport.   It’s the engine that drives a billion dollar machine and a lot of  others businesses from sports bars to bookies depend on the NFL to make a living.

There’s no pressure on either side to work out their differences quickly and they probably won’t.  But if by the time the leaves start turning brown comes around and there’s still no football in  sight, I wouldn’t be the least surprised if you don’t see Congress and even the president, making unmistakable noises to the NFL and the players, to “get a deal done or we’ll help you get a deal done.”

Standing On the Verge of the Super Bowl

A little ground and pound never hurt nobody.

…and then there were three.

Nope, I’m not talking about a Genesis album (though there is one playing as I type this).   There’s three games left in the 2010 NFL season.   The two conference championships between the Packers vs. Bears and the Jets vs. Steelers followed by the Super Bowl.   Notice I did not include the Pro Bowl that occurs between the championships and the Super Bowl.   Nobody cares about the Pro Bowl.

I’m hoping these will be some good games this  Sunday.   They could be the last we will be seeing for a while.

On the horizon is the great possibility of a lockout of the players by the owners in there’s not a new collective bargaining agreement in place by March 4.    Both the owners and the players union are dug in to their respective positions and playing the blame game.   There are no negotiations going on between the two sides.

I won’t get into the specifics because frankly I don’t much care.   There are a series of articles on the National Football Post that explains the reasons for the conflict in great detail.    For my part,   I am not choosing between the players and the owners.   I do not know which side is right or wrong.    I just want my NFL football next fall.

How I get it and who the winners and losers are is irrelevant to me.    When I’m sitting in front of my TV with a cold beverage in one hand and the remote in the other I just want to be able to kick back and chill for three hours.    Millionaires fighting with billionaires over money doesn’t hold my interest.

Some other thoughts standing on the verge of the Super Bowl:

  • It was the same old song and dance for the Winbush brothers as all three of our teams, the Browns (5-11) , 49ers (6-10) and the Raiders (8-8) finished the season in their usual positions:  out of the playoffs.   All three teams shit-canned their crappy coaches and will enter 2011 with new leadership and  high hopes for a return to respectability.     IF there is a 2011 season.
  • With the 49ers in their usual post-season place (watching from the cheap seats like everyone else), I have no rooting interest in who ends up in the Super Bowl.    I’m a little sick of the Steelers, but I find them a bit less annoying than the Jets.    No team in the league swaggers more than the Jets and has accomplished less.    So they beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in respective weeks.   Good for them.   After all the mad shit they talked leading up to the Patriots game last week it would have been an embarrassment if they had lost.  Fortunately, they did not and spared me the annoyance of the “Bill Belichick is a super genius and Tom Brady is Jesus” storyline.   Tired of it and don’t wanna hear it anymore.
  • Speaking of Brady, Belichick and the Patriots, what profits a team to go 14-2 during the regular season (with one of those losses being served up by the lowly Browns) only to get punked in their first game of the playoffs.     The Hoodie had two weeks to work his magic against the Jets, a team they had smoked 45-3 back in December.   If I were a Patriots fan I’d have to ask myself, “What in the hell is going on here?”
  • I have beau coup respect for Brady as one of the NFL’s élite quarterbacks, but I cannot stand the way the league protects him from a defensive player even looking at him cross-eyed.    One of the worst moments of the season came when Brady whined to the officials and they threw a penalty flag on the Ravens due to his goading.   Mike Freeman of CBS Sports wrote a column that nailed how protecting Brady goes beyond the five big boys on his offensive line:

It was October of last year in Foxborough. The Patriots and Baltimore Ravens were playing in one of the more-hard fought games of the year. In it, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was pummeled repeatedly, by my count, a minimum of five times. The last hit on Flacco led to a roughing penalty.

Brady was hit only twice and both times the Ravens were called for roughing the passer. One hit was borderline and the other looked legal. The penalties called on Baltimore were key because they extended both drives and led to Patriots scores.

This is the interesting part. On one of the Brady hits a game official was standing almost directly next to Brady. He watched the hit. The official did nothing … until Brady angrily expressed his displeasure to the official.

Brady claimed the hit was a penalty and then about one second after he complained the official threw the flag. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not witnessed the scene with my own two eyes. It looked clearly as if Brady’s complaining had influenced the call.

The Ravens were generally incensed over the two calls and, later specifically how Brady basically goaded the official into throwing a flag.

“Without totally going off the wall here, it is embarrassing to the game,” Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said afterward. “Brady is good enough to make his own plays, let him make the play. When you have two great teams that are going at it, let them go at it. Both of their touchdown drives had personal fouls that kept drives alive. Did that win or lose the game? No, but it got them 14 points.”

 

"Hey ref! HE'S TOUCHING ME!!! Doesn't he know I'm Tom Brady?"

 

  • Hard hits are part of the game and when you take the hitting out of it it’s just flag football.    Network executives and the fans pay big money to watch Tom Brady vs. Payton Manning, not their scrub backups,  Brian Hoyer vs. Curtis Painter.   I get that you can’t demand the big money for scrubs, but it’s getting so even knocking a quarterback down is going to get the laundry flying.   It’s not football anymore when it gets to that point.
  • I think it was a good season, but not a great one.   I saw a few exciting games, but a lot of boring ones plagued by risk-free play-calling and unimaginative offense.   Then again, I am a 49ers fan, so I should be used to that kind of thing.   The most fun game was the Browns vs. Saints game with the Brownies pulling out all the stops with trick plays and fake punts.   It was absolutely nuts, but hell, when you’re a bad football team like the Browns, do you have to be boring too?   No you do not, and if more coaches would unclench and take the leash off their players, the NFL would be a lot more exciting than it is.   Too many running plays up the middle for three yards may be safe, but it is boring as fuck to sit there and watch.

The day of the Super Bowl has become an unofficial national holiday.   President Obama says he’ll be there in Dallas to watch his beloved Bears if they beat the Packers this Sunday (sorry Mr. President, but I don’t think they will).   I’m taking the day off and plan on being armed with plenty of food and drink as I settle in to watch  a lot of  expensive commercials, an over-hyped game, and typically a putrid halftime show.  Prince dancing in high heels and playing an electric guitar in the rain was one of the best performances in recent memory while last year’s appearance by what’s left of The Who was god-awful as the two original members who haven’t dropped dead yet wheezed through a sorry-ass show.

Not that I’m expecting this year’s act , the overexposed/under talented Black Eyed Peas to be any better.   Hoping for the best.  Preparing for the worst.

Way too old to rock n' roll.