The NFL regular season wrapped up this weekend with virtually every broadcast team dancing around a debate over a possible work stoppage in the NFL in 2011.
The league and its players union will be working to reach a crucial collective bargaining agreement, and like all negotiations, both sides must be willing to meet in the middle to ensure the continued success of professional football in the U.S.
This weekend, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to football fans (via email) promising to get an agreement done that would be fair to both the owners and the players. But imagine how devastating it would be if the two sides can't come to an agreement in time to kick off the 2011 campaign.
Do you remember the 1994 World Series? No, because it was canceled when labor negotiations reached an impasse; the beginning of the 1995 Major League Baseball season was also delayed. Fans expressed their frustration by boycotting games as television ratings dropped significantly. Baseball had lost the trust of its fans, though interest did bounce back during the 1998 home run race.
In 2004, the entire NHL season was canceled due to a lockout. That must have hurt any momentum hockey had in building its national fan base. Obviously, the Penguins have recovered nicely, with a beloved owner, new arena and Stanley Cup championship.
But what would we do without the NFL? Can you imagine summer without tales of rookies reporting to training camp and the drama of high-profile holdouts? Could Steelers fans survive without their fix of spectacular Troy Polamalu plays, or the tough talk of Mike Tomlin? Wouldn't we miss the great rivalries, the trash talk and even the sport's bad boys?
Fall without NFL football would leave a huge hole on Sunday afternoons, with no game time get-togethers with friends, no Faith Hill Sunday night videos, or Hank Williams Junior "Are you ready?" and dare we even think it - no fantasy football! Our jerseys would hang unworn in closets, our remote controls flipping aimlessly through channels, maybe landing on an ESPN Classic broadcast of an NFL playoff game gone by.
Certainly, players and owners have a lot on the line (millions, and even billions of dollars). And football is so huge, that fans reaction may be that of painful withdrawal rather than anger. The NFL has grown in popularity and profit, but even they have to beware of tough economic times, so it's hard to guess what the future will bring. Goodell is looking for an 18-game season, a review of outrageous rookie salaries and more safety for players. These and other issues won't be easy to resolve.
But in the end, both sides need to find a way to get 'er done and save us from a fall without NFL football.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie@BedfordCountyChamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.