How long will fans tolerate a four-game preseason?
I still have a vivid recollection of an August night in the mid-70s, seeing a closeup Sonny Jurgensen in his burgundy helmet and single-bar facemask during one of what then was six preseason games per team and asking myself, “Why am I watching this?”
The answer matched the one that George Costanza gave to Russell Dalrymple when pitching a show about nothing. (Not to mention there were only three channels at the time, and summertime meant reruns only on the other two.) Today, there are too many other options to justify watching football that doesn’t count, especially when more and more coaches are using their best players less and less.
Not long ago, it was a given that starters would play at least half of the third preseason game. Now, that’s hardly a sure thing. Making Week Three of the preseason necessarily less interesting than it previously was.
Even with starters playing, how interesting is it? When starters are on the field, part of the reason to watch is to fight through the temptation to not watch as key players subject themselves to potential injury in meaningless games.
With players in shape 12 months of the year and with plenty of ways to prepare players without putting them in harm’s way, more and more coaches aren’t. Which keeps making Commissioner Roger Goodell’s argument for a shorter preseason stronger and stronger.
Last year, Goodell said publicly on at least three occasions that the preseason could be shortened. This year, Goodell hasn’t said it once -- possibly because he’s been nowhere to be seen since Hall of Fame weekend. Goodell surely believes even more strongly that the preseason should shrink, if it’s no longer being used by many teams to get starters ready and has become a tool for separating the bottom-of-NFL-roster slappies from the headed-for-the-AAF-or-XFL slappies.
But the NFL still won’t reduce the preseason until it can expand the regular season. And even though the NFL no longer talks about expanding the regular season, the desire to do so remains. If you watched/listened to Friday’s PFT Live, you saw/heard a discussion with Peter King regarding what could happen, eventually.
Regardless, it’s starting to feel like the preseason will shrink, inevitably. Maybe as soon as the next labor deal is done.