Twenty years from now, perhaps much sooner, there will be no exhibition season in the NFL. It will have died a richly deserved death, rendered extinct by safety concerns and common sense. Until then, we should be glad that at least one highly respected coach has a handle on things.
Speaking with reporters in the Washington Redskins’ camp this week, Mike Shanahan said that his prized quarterback, Robert Griffin III, doesn’t need even a single preseason game to get ready for the season. That’s understandable, given the fact that Griffin is coming off a serious knee injury, but here’s the punch line:
So many times, the repetition in preseason is overrated, Shanahan said. I coached college for 10 years, and we never had a preseason game. You go into the (regular) season ready to play. One of the reasons for exhibition games is to evaluate your talent. But if a player has some experience, or you can put him through a good set of practices, I think they’re more than ready to play.
And when it comes to injuries, Shanahan said, You got to judge if it’s worth it.
Consider the contrast between college football, where your first look at a team coincides with the glory of a season opener, and the NFL’s joke of an exhibition schedule. People chat all week about what we’ll learn, but in reality, you don’t learn a damn thing. You get a fleeting glance at the starters, and then it becomes an unwatchable mess. Who would be lame enough to believe you can truly size up your second-string cornerbacks, for example, when they’re not going up against first-teamers and you can’t be sure who’s fully motivated?
You can’t tell me San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, New England’s Bill Belichick or any other NFL coach would feel lost without the exhibition games. Wipe out that nonsense, and they’d get over it real fast. But it won’t be their decision; it will be made for them. The NFL is under intense scrutiny in the realm of head injuries, thanks to a torrent of lawsuits and investigative reporting, and each season brings a new set of safety-oriented rules.
Right now, a bunch of billionaire rockheads – that is to say, many of the league’s owners – place revenue over safety or anything else. They’d rather eat dirt clods for a week than give up their precious intake from exhibition games (one of the real fan rip-offs in sports, by the way). Eventually, though, they’ll be swept aside by the new reality. Safety has become the No. 1 issue at all levels of the game, and you’ll see the catalysts of change with every concussion that takes place during a meaningless sham.