We know your heart is ready for some football! Now what about your stomach?
That’s the gist of what this gridiron dinosaur took away from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s letter to fans on the eve of training camps opening Tuesday.
Roger, of course, checked Box No. 1 by assuring us, again, that safety is the league’s No. 1 priority. Gotcha.
Then he told us the league’s COVID-19 game plan was crafted by the nation’s leading experts. That won’t make a Canadian feel any better, but OK, cool.
Then the commish used a deft touch of corporate varnish to subtly shift gears and suggest y’all might need to brace yourselves for some seriously unpleasant stuff as long as Da Boss, COVID-19, is in a bad mood.
“Adaptability and flexibility will be needed for the foreseeable future,” Goodell wrote. “After all, even the best game plan changes as new challenges arise.”
That’s Skipper code for, “Hang on, Gilligan. There’s a storm brewin’.”
Can the NFL adapt and plow through a crisis of attrition, grabbing bodies off the street to fill rosters looking for the ninth next man up? Sure. In 1987, it played three replacement games on short notice using beer-league quarterbacks and tackles on temporary leave from driving trucks.
But will the public be able to stomach the lengths to which the NFL might have to go to outpunch a pandemic? The Magic 8 Ball here says, “Don’t count on it, bub.”
And if the public turns its ire on the NFL for being insensitive, the pressure to suspend operations until 2021 will intensify. Then, well, goodbye, 2020.
No one wants to be wrong on this more than the schlub who’s been covering this league since Brett Favre’s rookie season. But, for now, let’s just say some of us need to see to believe.
The news is going to get worse before it gets better. On the same day Goodell was writing to fans, Major League Baseball — another sport trying to operate outside a “bubble” — was jolted by a COVID-19 outbreak among the Miami Marlins.
Meanwhile, the Vikings were announcing that Eric Sugarman, the team’s head athletic trainer and COVID-19 prevention czar, tested positive for the virus. Ouch. Soon after, five rookies, including first-round draft pick Justin Jefferson, were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Tuesday arrived. Camps “opened.”
In the old days, this meant stashing your beer in some ice at the Mankato Fairfield before baking in the sun outside Gage Hall until Randy Moss’ Hummer arrived 10 seconds before the reporting deadline. There were crowds, handshakes, sweat going everywhere, nary a mask in sight and a good time had by all.
This year, the Purple’s reporting day did nothing but bring news that Michael Pierce, the team’s prized free agent signing and new defensive line anchor, chose to join the growing list of players opting out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns.
Don’t curse the big man. It’s his negotiated right, he’s at high risk because of asthma, and his primary job is to wrestle two sweaty, heavy-breathing O-linemen every time the ball is snapped.
This is the kind of decision an NFL fan will just have to stomach, accept and move on from.
Same goes for things like six Patriots opting out, including Dont’a Hightower, a star linebacker who chose family over football after becoming a dad on July 16.
“Me and my fiancée are just more concerned with the health of our family than football — especially the new addition to our family,” Hightower told NFL Network.
Now fast forward a month and a half, and assume the season has begun.
What happens if Tom Brady or some other superstar tests positive and has to miss a game or more? Or what if an entire offensive line tests positive on a Friday before a game? Will games be postponed? Canceled and forfeits awarded?
We know your fan’s heart is ready to start this journey. But is your stomach prepared to let the NFL do what it takes to try and finish it?
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org