Unless you enjoy watching men in suits bang heads to hold the line on revenue sharing or move it one yard back, the only way to extract any fun from the NFL labor impasse is to imagine what could take place over the next six months if the lockout continues. Consider the following a fantasy calendar of a pro-football-free future.
Less than a week before the NFL draft, more than 20 projected first-round picks announce they will not attend the event in New York City. They say they're following the advice of leaders of the decertified union, who urged the prospects to think carefully about participating in the league's showcase. They were told also to think carefully about the possibility that, when play resumes, linebackers Ray Lewis and James Harrison would personally greet any rookie who attended by reaching down his throat, ripping out his vital organs and playing punt, pass and kick with his pancreas. "That particular scenario sort of crystallized my thinking," says one anonymous draftee.
The players' legal team decides it must remove Colts quarterback Peyton Manning from the list of plaintiffs in their antitrust lawsuit against the league. With no game tapes to review, Manning had spent countless hours studying the NFL lawyers on film, then attempted to install a new legal game plan. The final straw came during depositions, when Manning repeatedly interrupted NFLPA lawyers to suggest they audible to a different question.
The owners finally agree to the players' request to see the teams' financial statements. To avoid the public embarrassment that Dodgers owner Frank McCourt suffered when, through divorce court records, he was found to have two sons on the payroll for a combined $600,000—even though one reportedly was in business school at Stanford and the other worked for Goldman Sachs—the NFL owners edit their books before opening them. An owner who used team funds to finance his wife's three-week trip to Paris for the new fall fashions reenters the expense under SCOUTING. The look at the ledgers doesn't lead to progress in the talks, but it does earn the owners a glowing mention in The New Yorker as "exciting new voices in contemporary American fiction."
Disgusted with the glacial pace of negotiations, wide receiver Terrell Owens signs with the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL as an enforcer. The contract is voided, however, when Canadiens officials realize that stories written about Owens by U.S. news outlets have not been properly translated into French, and that the oft-used phrase about his "throwing people under the bus" is merely a figure of speech.
A member of Cleveland's Dawg Pound makes good on his vow to spend more time with his family during the lockout when he and five of his fellow Browns fans attend his 12-year-old daughter's piano recital. After tailgating in the parking lot, they arrive shirtless, with their torsos painted, wearing dog masks. When his daughter finishes her performance, dad and friends chest-bump, then begin woofing, pounding on their chairs and making the choke sign when the other children sit down to play. The next day, the daughter starts a Facebook campaign joined by thousands of other kids, desperately urging players and owners to settle the labor dispute so their fathers will go back to neglecting them.
Faced with a projected $500 million loss in NFL betting industry-wide and also hoping to slake a public thirst for more football wagering, a Las Vegas sports book establishes the Palo Alto (Calif.) Vikings as 7-to-5 favorites to win the Pop Warner championship, Junior Pee-Wee division. Within an hour the casino receives more than $20 million in wagers before authorities shut the betting down. Meanwhile, fans in Buffalo and Carolina discover that the tykes play far more entertaining football than the Bills or the Panthers.
ESPN tries to get some use out of the 597 former players and coaches on its payroll as NFL analysts by airing its usual pregame and postgame shows, even though there are no games. Each week Mike Ditka tells America that the Steelers "are a good football team with a fine football coach and they know how to play their best football when the time comes to win football games." Ron Jaworski breaks down the way Tom Brady takes a five-step drop and gets the ball out on time. Matt Millen, Cris Carter and Herm Edwards inform everyone that the team committing the fewest turnovers is likely to win. The ratings are identical to those of 2010.
The owners and players finally come to an agreement, with the players giving the owners a slightly larger share of the $9 billion in profits, and the owners dropping their request to extend the season to 18 games. It is a resolution that could have been reached months earlier, causing some disillusioned fans to vow never to give the NFL another dollar. Both sides regain the public's affection, however, by donating a percentage of the season's profits to the stadium workers, waiters and waitresses, bartenders and team office staff who missed much-needed paychecks during the lockout. No, scratch that last part. It's just too much of a fantasy.
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With no game tapes to review, Peyton Manning spends hours studying the NFL lawyers on film and then calls for audibles during depositions.