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Old 10-03-2010, 12:03 AM   #1
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Default Bouchette on the Steelers: What's two more games? A lot, says one prominent Steelers

Bouchette on the Steelers: What's two more games? A lot, says one prominent Steelers player
An 18-game regular season will change not only the schedule but the game as we know it
Sunday, October 03, 2010
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"The 10-year guys, you won't see anymore, except for your quarterbacks." -- Hines Ward

The 18-game schedule is a "done deal," according to Indy Colts GM Bill Polian. So, let's see what an 18-game schedule might look like in the NFL.

First, they will eliminate two preseason games. That's good for the fans who have to pay for those games in their season-ticket packages and good for the owners who do not include them in their season-ticket packages and cannot peddle a preseason ticket unless they were printed in gold (hello, Jacksonville). It's also good for NFL revenue from television because the networks will ante up more for two more real games.

Those who will suffer from eliminating two preseason games are the players, young and old. As one prominent player on the Steelers told me, the starters will play virtually all of those two preseason games to get ready for the regular season. They will play virtually as many snaps in two preseason games as they have in four. Reducing the preseason to two games will change nothing for them.

What it will reduce are the chances many of the young players get to show their talents not only in real games, but in the more intense practices of training camps. They will be shut out as coaches rush to prepare their starters to open the season. Players such as Doug Legursky, Willie Parker, Chris Hoke, James Harrison and others might never get their chances.

Coaches will have to fill out their rosters based on how players look in the spring, when there are no pads and no contact.

That is minor stuff compared to what the players face over an 18-game season. Back up the ambulances and buy stock in assisted living homes for 40-year-old NFL alumni. The wear and tear on players will be great, both over the course of the long season and the lifetime of players.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and many others in the NFL have pushed safety like no other era in the league's history. That prominent Steelers veteran asked me how the commissioner can stand so strongly for safety on one side, and push the 18-game agenda on the other because, he said, the longer schedule will lead to more injuries, more concussions, more long-term health problems to counteract the safety measures the NFL has adopted. He called it hypocrisy.

Hall of Famer Howie Long said as much on the FOX network's NFL pregame show last Sunday.

"Eleven surgeries, multiple broken bones and 17 years away from the game have given me a perspective on the price that players will pay to play in the NFL," Long said. "A perspective some NFL owners might not have. If they did, they wouldn't be pushing for an 18-game season.

"Today's players are bigger, stronger and faster, as are the collisions. Over the last three seasons, 915 players have ended up on injured reserve. I repeat, 915 players on injured reserve, many requiring surgery. If you believe what you hear, the 18-game schedule appears to be inevitable. If so, here are some things players must get for the two additional games.

"Game day rosters must expand from 45 to 55 with four of the additional 10 players designated solely for special teams. As it stands now, 'Organized Team Activities' begin in mid-March. Push that back to May 1st. There should be no team activities before that date, none.

"Finally, take each team from one bye week to two, essentially dividing the season into thirds while giving the players a much-needed second week of recovery. Some owners say the 18-game season is already a win-win -- for the doctors maybe. I'm sure the players will get their fair share of the additional revenue that two more games will generate. I just want them to be healthy enough to enjoy it when they turn 50."

Hines Ward added some sobering thoughts the past week to what an 18-game schedule will look like. Guys like him, a 13-year veteran, will not be around.

"The 10-year guys, you won't see anymore, except for your quarterbacks. The running backs, they're going to see a short lifetime span. The season is just too long. You won't see any double-digit careers anymore in the league."

Ward echoed Long's sentiments that they must expand the rosters. That sounds good, but the coaches will still play their best players each game, running the likes of Willie Parker "until the wheels come off,'' to repeat an old Mike Tomlin quote. Coaches need to win or they will be ex-coaches. They're not going to rest the Aaron Smiths of the world in order to play their backups just so Smith can lift his arms out enough to cradle his grandbabies.

The only thing the extra rosters will help, as Long suggested, would be to designate some of the younger players for special teams duties -- and for providing extra bodies when the starters peter out over the long season.

As for the games, when the playoff races get down to the nitty-gritty in those final two games, Nos. 17 and 18, many players will not be at their peak, they'll be worn down and out. Football is a violent game that takes a physical toll like no other pro sport. As that prominent Steelers veteran told me, they should be cutting back to 14 games, not moving to 18.

The game itself will have to change. Goodell floated a trial balloon last year, suggesting that offensive linemen no longer be permitted in a three-point stance, that the two-point stance be mandated (as you often see tackles stand up in obvious passing situations). That may have to become the rule. More safety measures will be added to try to eliminate some of the game's physical nature.

We could see the day when tackling the quarterback will not be permitted, and the quarterback will not be permitted to run. Perhaps other things such as no longer allowing a fullback to crash into the line as a lead blocker, no blocking allowed 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage on any play, running or passing.

Many things will have to change because the injuries will pile up as the games increase. Instead of making the sport safer, as Goodell and others have tried to do, the 18-game schedule will make it more dangerous.

There is not a player who has come out in favor of an 18-game schedule. DeMaurice Smith, the NFL Players Association executive director, should be speaking out against adding two games and fighting it hard in contract negotiations. If he is fighting it, he's done so quietly.

Instead of resisting the 18-game schedule, it sounds as if the union will use it as a chip during negotiations: Give us this, we'll give you your 18-game schedule. What it boils down to, what it always comes down to, is money. Give the players more money, and they will play more games. Adding two more games is a no-brainer for the owners, who will reap the benefits without putting their bodies on the line.

As Ward said about the players, almost in resignation, "If they get compensated more, they'll agree to it.

"If it's 18 games, we still have to go out there and play. We're not going to gripe about it that much, as long as they upgraded some of the salaries, if you add on two more paychecks and stuff like that. If it happens, it happens."

As Polian suggested, it's going to happen. So, too will the consequences for those who play the game.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10276...#ixzz11G0kluxV
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