First it was tight end John Carlson lying motionless on the sideline at Soldier Field before being immobilized and driven to the hospital.
Then it was cornerback Marcus Trufant apparently knocked out cold with his arms extended above his head. He, too, was taken off on a backboard to the hospital.
These were serious and frightening injuries. And I can’t remember when two players on the same team were knocked out like this in a single game.
It was the second-round of the playoffs for the Seattle Seahawks, and that made it their 18th game of the season. Ah, yes, the 18th game.
The relevance of that? NFL owners want every team to play 18 regular-season games.
On one hand, they’re changing the rules to protect players from injuries, especially concussions. On the other, they’re eager to expose them to perhaps 150 more high-speed collisions every season.
Lengthening the season will be one of the most hotly debated issues as the owners and the players’ union try to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. The incentives for the players will have to be pretty convincing because I can’t picture any player going for it at face value.
In the Seahawks’ locker room the day after the season, a few veterans were asked about the 18-game scenario.
You should have seen their faces. Absolute dread.
Safety Lawyer Milloy was asked if he could imagine the physical toll of 18 games.
“No … no … no,” he said. “Health issues are set at the highest I’ve ever seen it as far as the league really watching out if a guy is concussed … can he play the next game? (So) it doesn’t make sense. You want to add two more games to that? Two more games to the outside people may not seem like much, but if they want to know how my body feels …”
Milloy just kept shaking his head at that point. Might have been the only part that didn’t hurt. And then he made an interesting point: “Does it make our game better? I have to argue no,” he said.
The Seahawks finished the 16-game regular season with 15 players out for the season on the injured-reserve list. Of players expected to be starters, only eight made it through all 16 games … and just one of those (center Chris Spencer) was on offense. And Spencer played much of the season with a broken hand.
Will the quality of the product be enhanced? Hardly. Besides, did anybody really need to see the race for the NFC West title go an extra two weeks?
Guard Chester Pitts, the team’s player representative, ended up on IR with a concussion.
“Physically, it’s like a heavyweight fighter fighting 14 rounds; at the end of the day, we’re human,” Pitts said. “You have to ask, if you added up all the collisions, what do they equate to? For the guys in the trenches, every play I’m hitting somebody.”
The expanded season might not be so challenging for the young guys, Pitts said, but for the veteran? “For a guy who has played a long time, it would be really, really, really tough.”
The average career is less than four years as it is, Milloy pointed out.
Options tossed out there have included cutting the exhibition season from four games to two. But veteran starters generally only play two anyway, and the reduction would only limit young players’ chances to prove themselves.
An expanded roster might help a bit in practices, Pitts said, but when it comes game time, the best guys are going to play all the time, just as now.
To express concern over player health while pushing to extend the season “is talking out of both sides of your mouth,” Pitts said.
Debate over this single issue, alone, could threaten any labor agreement, as the rhetoric is already heated. Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita, on the NFLPA board, called the expanded season “completely unacceptable.” Ownership representatives considered it inevitable, however.
The players have a somewhat surprising ally. Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney voiced his opposition last week, saying, “I would rather not have the money.”
It won’t go away that easily, though.
“You think the players are being greedy? No. This is the owners’ chance to recoup the money,” Milloy said. “We want to play football; we like the direction the league is going – money is being made.
“The owners are very serious at this point,” Milloy said. “The one thing the public needs to know is that when you hear ‘lockout’ – the players want to play; it’s the owners that lock you out. That’s the message I want everybody on the outside to know. We want to play.”
Just not 18 games.