If you think the NFL’s exhibition games serve as dress rehearsals for the real season, that is exactly what the NFL wants you to think. And you would be mistaken.
The team personnel who see the most action during the extraneous games are not key players but trainers, doctors and rescue cart drivers.
The four exhibition games that drag out the month of August could also be described as useless and tedious, except that they’re not for players whose injuries end their seasons or careers before they even began.
What toll will be exacted in the Dolphins’ game at Dallas on Wednesday? Maybe none, but is the risk worth it?
Is anybody besides the coaching staff and bubble players really, truly excited to watch it? Or buy full-price tickets for it?
The Dolphins’ three previous exhibition games have been like one-star movies — the kind you exit early or fall asleep during. Starters make cameo appearances, then get replaced by free agents, draft picks and those who need further evaluation after exhaustive study by position coaches, conditioning coaches, assistant coaches, coordinators, associate head coaches and head coaches. (When they trim the player roster to 53, why not trim the coaching roster to eight, which would be better than the teacher-to-student ratio in our schools.)
The same applies to 75 percent of these “contests” that constitute a dreadfully dull advertisement for football and a waste of money for loyal season-ticket holders forced to pay for them.
Diehard fans will disagree. They want to know what is going on with the fourth-string tackle. They follow every Twinkie of John Jerry’s battle with the scale. They ardently interpret any crack from Rex Ryan regarding Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez.
Which is fine; every sport needs its hardcore base. But much roster analysis could be achieved by a couple scrimmages against opponents.
The NFL has become a 24/365 enterprise. Players — the good ones, anyway — don’t indulge in an offseason. They are working out, studying and calibrating caloric intake long before May rolls around. Coaches, who somehow take pride in the fact that it takes them 18 hours a day to get their work done, don’t have much vacation time either, what with the NFL Combine and the draft and the OTAs.
The physics of football has changed, as well. Combine bigger, faster, stronger athletes with the lost art of tackling and the result is the type of serious injuries and concussions that forced the league to add safety rules to the collective bargaining agreement last year.
Ask Michael Vick, pummeled already to the point where the MRI machine knows more about his inner feelings than his best friend on the Eagles. In 2003, Vick broke his fibula in an exhibition game and missed two-thirds of Atlanta’s 5-11 season.
Ask Bears rookie safety Brandon Hardin, who lay motionless on the field following a dangerous spear tackle, then was revived and carted away.
Ask Chargers receiver Vincent Brown, who caught a touchdown pass, then sustained a broken ankle when a defender landed on it in the end zone.
Torn pectoral muscle, lacerated spleen, shredded knee ligaments, broken collarbone — the list goes on. Recall that one of the worst injuries in NFL history occurred when Jack Tatum’s hit paralyzed Darryl Stingley — in an exhibition game.
Injuries can happen in practice, of course, or at random times. But why increase the chances?
College football doesn’t need a warm-up season, and those kids haven’t been memorizing playbooks for as long as the pros have. High school teams usually find one exhibition game adequate.
And to think there used to be six exhibition games. Talk of extending the regular season to 18 persists. It’s just a matter of time before those additional millions become irresistible.
There is something primitive about the way players with wrecked joints or traumatized brains are lifted onto the cart and hastily driven through a dark tunnel — too reminiscent of gladiators being scooped into wheelbarrows.
Exhibition games are more expendable than ever. The NFL regular season can’t get here soon enough — which makes this the irregular season. Cut it. Too much of a bad thing is a bad thing.