— We’re getting close enough to Valentine’s Day to smell the ink on the Hallmark envelopes or make a down payment on a dozen overpriced flowers.
For me, that particular calendar square makes me think less about love and more about the still-smoldering wreckage of my past relationships, the ones that exploded shortly after we exchanged sap-tacular cards and caramel-filled candies.
I’ve always been on the business end of those breakups, whether they detonated like Michael Bay outtakes or were quietly deflated with the worst phrase ever: “We need a break.”
I can’t think of a more awful collection of four words, except maybe “Paula Deen sex tape.” Or “side effects include diarrhea.” Or “impending NFL work stoppage.” We’re less than a week into the NFL offseason but it feels like we’re on the verge of a breakup, like we’re waiting for Roger Goodell to sit beside us on a fraying duvet, pulling a loose thread and quietly telling us that things just aren’t working out.
That break — the lockout — could start March 4, when the existing collective bargaining agreement expires. If the league and the players association haven’t saved a new Word document by then, we could lose part — or all — of the 2011-12 season.
What makes this situation even worse is that, at least to this fan, we’re coming off one of the most all-around entertaining seasons, starting with HBO’s Jets-posé, "Hard Knocks" and continuing through Sunday’s riveting finale. The Packers' Lombardi-earning win over the Steelers was seen by an estimated 111 million viewers, making Super Bowl XLV the most-watched American television program ever.
But after the last Doritos commercial ended, after Christina Aguilera picked up her Star Spangled lyrics sheet from the Lost & Found, we’re left with ... what, exactly? Aaron Rodgers shouting about Disney World, fresh chili stains on the sofa and the most unsettling, uncertain offseason in NFL history.
In the past 29 years, the NFL has had two significant work stoppages: a 57-day strike in 1982 and a 24-day strike in 1987. In both cases, the existing season was interrupted and play resumed after both sides reached an agreement. (We’re ignoring the games on "Replacement Sunday ’87," partially because scabs and scrubs don’t count and partially because I block out any event that inspires a Keanu Reeves movie).
There’s never been a disruption like this one before, one that puts question marks on every team’s dayplanners where the mandatory workouts and training camps and preseason games should be.
Right now, we’re collectively bracing ourselves for the worst, worrying about the extinction of the season and pacing the floor like expectant family members in a surgeon’s waiting room. Publications online and off are tripping over the ends of their sentences as they debate who will be the biggest loser.
Some argue for the players, some for the owners. Geek site Gamasutra says it could be Electronic Arts, the publisher of the multi-platform Madden video game series. Business Insider suggests that it’s DirecTV, who will owe the league a Dr. Evil-worthy $1 billion dollars to broadcast out-of-market games, even if those games only exist in their imaginations.
Maybe it’s selfish, myopic or otherwise unfair, but I think the biggest losers will be the fans like us, the ones who live for division standing and quarterback ratings, who shove our heads into oversized foam cheese wedges, who spend every Sunday wearing other people’s last names stitched across our backs. In some ways, we need the league as much as they need us.
Yes, there are other sports out there. There are some marquee-snagging events that should be enough to keep us off the roof ledges or from pressing sharp objects into our skin. Within the next two months, we have the NCAA basketball tournament, MLB’s opening day and the annual dip dyeing of Easter eggs and Mike Krzyzewski’s hair. But it’s not football, it’s not enough and YOU’RE NOT MY REAL MOM, NBA.
“At this point, what I hear from the fans is that they just want football,” Goodell said during his state of the NFL address. “They don’t care about the details (of a new agreement). They just want to make sure that their football is going to appear on Sundays and Mondays and Thursdays.”
You’re right, Rog. And we hope those Sunday and Mondays and Thursdays games will be in their regularly scheduled slots on the calendar. Otherwise, you might want to send someone to collect our belts, our shoelaces and our last shards of hope.
If you want to take a break, fine. But I'm starting to wonder whether we'll be here when you get back.