Welcome to the Monday debut of Week Under Review. If you’re new to this column, the goal here can summed up in two words: conversation starter. We run the gamut, whether it be proposing a 22-week season, a conversation with Ray Rice or an academic passion project like recasting Hamilton with NFL figures.
The column was strategically moved from Sunday to Monday today, given how the Hall of Fame Game typically alters how we redefine a week’s beginning and end until February. But alas…
What cruel irony that a preseason game, the first of five for the Colts and Packers, was canceled for player safety reasons. More details of the poor field conditions at Tom Benson Stadium in Canton are still coming out, but in a nutshell, the grounds crew wasn’t prepared for paint melting into the new rubber base, which created a tar-like environment within the midfield logo and the end zones. There was no choice but to cancel. Embarrassed Hall of Fame president David Baker put on his best (though understandably sweaty), face when addressing both ESPN and the crowd at hand. Baker’s position was certainly not enviable, but it was nothing compared to fans that traveled near and far, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to attend the season’s kickoff game.
DJ Bowers, a diehard Packers fan came from Ashtabula, Ohio, 102 miles northeast of Canton, says he was “extremely pumped” to see Aaron Rodgers’s backups & Co. take on the Colts. He found out about the cancellation by overhearing a woman in front of him discussing it on her phone. At first he was in disbelief, but word of mouth traveled fast, well before Baker made the announcement to the crowd after 8 p.m. ET.
“Everyone was unbelievably angry, me being part of that crowd,” Bowers said. “There were widespread boos and tons of pissed off people yelling.”
Bowers will (hopefully) get a refund, and NFL life will move forward, especially once Hard Knocks debuts Tuesday and the preseason finally kicks off Thursday. But we shouldn’t just accept another misstep, being outraged for two minutes and then pivoting to the intense search for the best image to overlay a Crying Jordan. The frequency of egregious errors is far too high for a league that is banking $12 billion a year in revenue. It’s all getting old fast.
Sunday night was far from the first time we’ve seen an imperfect field. It’s not even the first time this week. The Bears lost their starting center Hroniss Grasu this weekend when he tore his ACL during the Bears’ “Family Fest” at Soldier Field. Grasu’s injury was non-contact, and while anyone can injure anything on any surface, Soldier Field could easily be renamed Shoddy Field given its reputation. Given the many ways NFL players can have careers shortened, they shouldn’t have to be taken down by an unkempt field.
Of course, poor field conditions extend far and wide. The 49ers had to cut short a preseason practice at Levi’s Stadium last year amid mass divots, and its surface remained a storyline through the Super Bowl. Last season running back Reggie Bush suffered a season-ending injury after he slipped on concrete that surrounded the field at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
Then there’s the Superdome blackout of Super Bowl XLVII (which will forever overshadow an intensely compelling game), faulty tablets that coaches rely on and headset issues throughout the league. Mistakes happen in any company, no matter the size, but the frequency with which they occur in a league with never-ending resources is embarrassing and not acceptable. While league revenue has doubled in the 10 years Roger Goodell has been commissioner, we have seen no uptick in operational fluidity.
Add in the fact that a routine part of NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino’s job is to explain officiating mistakes to the public—not to mention the league’s more serious issues surrounding its own culpability on concussions and safety of playing this game—and it just all feels a little hollow.
Some human error is normal, but the NFL has a frequency of botches not matched by many entities. The players, the fans and the employees all deserve so much better.
RG3’s second coming
The Browns’ decision to name Robert Griffin III the starting quarterback was hardly a surprise, as Griffin has spent the preponderance of time under center with the first-team during training camp. But what an intriguing storyline.
Griffin is still in project mode, having to overcome injuries and off-field drama that led to his departure from Washington after a glorious rookie campaign that revitalized the franchise. But quarterback whisperer turned head coach Hue Jackson and the Browns are so smart to try. At his best, Griffin is like a taller, more athletic version of Russell Wilson: strong-armed, capable of quickly reading the field and precise, with a side of magic dust.
Side-by-side, backup Josh McCown is the safer bet for collecting wins in 2016, but his ceiling is nowhere near that of Griffin’s. There is nothing like a great comeback story, and RG3’s has made Cleveland an instant must-watch, particularly on Oct. 2 when they head to Washington.
Social media slip-up of the week
She has a name (Corey Codgell), she plays a sport (trap shooting) and she just earned a bronze medal in the world’s most important sporting event. I know the obsession with anyone donning an NFL jersey runs deep, particularly in Chicago, but c’mon, Tribune social media person, get with the times.
Party of Five: When does the NFL season really start?
I took this question to Twitter over the weekend, and the responses varied widely. The truth is there is no right answer, only the one that best fits your priorities as an NFL fan. Here are the five most popular options, presented in chronological order.
The first episode of Hard Knocks (Aug. 9): For those who love football drill montages, ice tubs and that one gritty assistant coach who has no qualms rattling off f-bombs. It’s well-produced reality TV that captures the drama of the NFL season much better than the actual preseason games. The only problem is the exchanges now seem so scripted, they have no basis in reality.
The actual start of the preseason, take two (Aug. 11): Everyone knows these games are glorified practices designed to squeeze every last bit of revenue from season ticket holders. But for degenerate gamblers, the opportunity to experience a cover of the Redskins -4 with Colt McCoy leading a last minute touchdown is basically Christmas in August.
Your first fantasy draft (mid-August to Week 1): This is when the bulk of NFL fans get into the season. Most fans don’t really pay attention to training camp until you have to find that sleeper in the 10th round. Then it’s like cramming for your high school finals (fortunately, there’s a cheat sheet).
Thursday Night Football kickoff, Panthers at Broncos (Sept. 8): This is real football, supposedly the signal of a new season. The game is played at full speed and it counts. Yet between the hoopla, including a kickoff concert, and the two teams on the field, this game typically feels more like an homage to last season than the sign of a turned page. Not this year, though, as the Broncos’ Super Bowl good vibes may be wiped away the moment probable starting QB Mark Sanchez takes the field.
Sunday of Week 1 (Sept. 11): There is a clear shock to the system when an entire day of the week transforms from a blank easel to being embedded on your couch for 12 straight hours trying to keep up with the emotions of 13 games. Exhilarating and exhausting at once.