By Nancy Armour |
Only two weeks in, and already the NFL’s grand vision for its 100th season is kaput.
Instead of a celebration of the league’s past and present, with some of the greats making one more run while the newest generation of stars cemented their status, it’s quickly becoming more like a game of “Survivor: NFL.” Andrew Luck is gone for good, retiring before the start of the season. Drew Brees won’t be seen again until November, at the earliest, while Ben Roethlisberger is done for the year.
Those lofty Super Bowl hopes in Chicago have been cut down to size, while the Miami Dolphins might have a legitimate claim to the title of worst team in NFL history. Meanwhile, that feel-good story of the Cleveland Browns ran, um, afoul of expectations in the first game.
If Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson gets hurt, this whole year is going to be a bust.
OK, maybe that’s going a little too far.
But this season started with such promise — and not that deluded optimism every fanbase has when training camp begins — that the early injuries and ineptitudes are felt even more keenly. I mean, New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold is sidelined with mononucleosis, for goodness sake! There’s not even a spot for that on the bingo card of NFL oddities.
The NFL has always been careful to market its teams rather than all but its biggest-name players. With good reason. Team loyalties in the NFL are both geographical and generational, a mixture of civic pride and rooting interests inherited from parents and grandparents. Who plays for your team isn’t as important as the simple fact they’re playing for your team — so long as they’re playing well, of course.
Football is also a violent sport, and tying one’s hopes and devotion to any one player is a risky thing.
This season, though, it seemed as if the NFL was going to have the perfect mix of compelling teams — that was supposed to be you, Chicago Bears — and captivating individual players, both young and old. The timing couldn’t have been better, with the NFL celebrating its 100th anniversary and, let’s be honest, time winding down on the careers of Brees and Tom Brady.
So far, though, it seems as if we’re seeing the NFL at its worst. This game will kick you in the teeth any number of ways, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a player, coach or fan.
The injuries to Luck, Brees, Roethlisberger and Nick Foles are a sobering reminder of just how destructive the game can be, one hit all it takes to change the course of a career or a franchise. Fans of the Bears have to be wondering how they let themselves be fooled again, and the faithful in Denver and Carolina are probably asking what they did to deserve this.
It hasn’t been all bad. Mahomes has picked up where he left off in his MVP season, a generational talent who is as mesmerizing as he is effective. Jackson is dynamic and entertaining, and he’s got a great sense of humor, too.
And while Jerry Jones’ smugness is going to be tough to take in another week or two, it’s almost worth it to watch what the Dallas Cowboys are doing. Dak Prescott is making himself a lot of money, while Ezekiel Elliott is showing he’s worth every penny he got.
It’s still early, and there is plenty of time for players and teams to surprise. But the season isn’t unfolding how anyone expected, and that’s a loss for everyone.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.