x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

American Football is a sport that never sleeps

In North America, the NFL has become a sport with no offseason – things are constantly happening, even if the teams are not playing ball.

Peyton Manning signed up for Denver Broncosduring a news conference last week.
Peyton Manning signed up for Denver Broncosduring a news conference last week.

The NFL blew up last week, and the timing was a bit curious, considering no games had been played for nearly two months and none will be for another five.

When the league's best quarterback, the face of a franchise, signs with another team, and that "another" team then kicks to the kerb the most popular player in the sport, this kerb being located in The City That Never Sleeps, and the commissioner decapitates one of his league's best teams because of a head-hunting scandal in a concussion-conscious (and litigious) age, and this all happens in a few days … it brings home the notion that "off-season" does not exist for some sports leagues, and the NFL certainly is one of them.

The avalanche of Meaningful News began with Peyton Manning, a name heretofore interchangeable with "Indianapolis Colts", descended from the clouds to join the Denver Broncos for perhaps US$95 million (Dh349m).

The Colts had released Manning earlier in the month, following the latest of his four neck surgeries, but it remains unclear whether the Indiana club are viable without him. Certainly, they are not competent without him, having been 3-13 before he arrived, in 1998, and 2-14 last season, while he convalesced - and a play-off team 11 times in 13 years between, and Super Bowl champions once.

His arrival in Denver was thought to be a brilliant move by the club's president, the former elite quarterback John Elway, as long as one overlooks the fact the Broncos franchise is now in the hands of a man whose career could be one love tap away from a sudden end, given that his neck is fused and that playing quarterback is like standing in a shooting gallery with 11 desperate men gunning for you.

His joining Denver led almost immediately to Tim Tebow going to the airport - and into exile.

It opened a discussion about the perfidy of NFL management, given that Elway only a few weeks before had declared Tebow to be the future of the Broncos, when, clearly, he was never comfortable with All Things Tebow, which include questionable passing technique as well as sterling character, deep religious faith, a 7-4 record as a starter and the best-selling jersey in the sport.

Tebow's plane delivered him to the Jets, and to New York, where everything is bigger, especially when it has to do with the NFL, and triggered a heated debate (all debates being heated, in New York) over whether the darling of Bible-hugging Middle America could be accepted in the den of inequity (and proud of it) that is Gotham. Along with, yes, a few questions about his ability to throw a football from the top of the Empire State Building and successfully hit the ground.

All of that was trumped by one of the greatest scandals in league history, the revelations that an NFL team gave cash bonuses to players who injured a member of the opposition.

The team in question was the New Orleans Saints, best known for passing pyrotechnics but soft defence; perhaps their tackling form suffered because they were more interested in maiming, and winning $1,000 for an opponent being "carted off" and $1,500 for him being knocked out.

Almost all plays in the NFL look as if someone intends to kill someone else. The mistakes the Saints coaches and officials made were 1) formalising a common NFL practice, 2) refusing to cease and desist when instructed to by their owner and the NFL, and 3) lying about all of it when the league investigated.

A team that won a Super Bowl three seasons back, and has been a prime contender since, saw their coach, Sean Payton, suspended for a year, their general manager excused for half the season and their assistant head coach exiled for six games.

Roger Goodell, the commissioner, apparently decided he had to destroy the Saints to save the NFL, which is under siege for ignoring, for most of a century, the effects of head injuries.

He couldn't have a team awarding wads of cash to linebackers who successfully targeted quarterbacks even as he tried to demonstrate his game is not a dire health risk, to its practitioners, along the lines of driving into an oak tree 16 times per year. While not wearing a seat belt.

And where does all that leave us? With Manning and his tender neck in Colorado, Tebow and his delicate sensibilities in New York, the fragile Saints picking up after Hurricane Roger and the 2012 season well and truly under way.


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