Arts & Entertainment, Sports

Picking Splinters: Boring Preseason OK

Pre-season football bores me to tears. Seriously, I was sitting in front of the TV on Monday night so bored that I was sobbing like Dick Vermeil after, well, after anything really. Coaching, baking, flossing — pick one. But pre-season football can make other, much more titanic men, bawl for another reason entirely. And that reason has D.C.’s sports cognoscenti up in arms.

Tred Faylor, the spoonerized patron saint of injuries, is already making his presence felt this season. After making a tackle late in the first quarter of last weekend’s pre-season game against the Bengals, Redskins running back Clinton Portis is out with a dislocated shoulder and may miss the start of the season. Additionally, linebacker Chris Clemmons is likely done for the year and will be left off the roster, and rookie running back Kerry Carter blew out his knee as well.

In response to the slew of injuries, Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon wrote that the preseason needs to be cut, nixed, trashed, blown up and completely eradicated because the only significant events that happen during the pre-season are injuries like Portis’s.

Given my aforementioned reaction of mind-numbing boredom, you would think I’d say go ahead. Kill it. Who wants to watch Seneca Wallace throw five-yard slants to some dude who will be detailing Shaun Alexander’s ride in a month anyway? The game is never crisp and often error filled and mistake heavy. The pre-season’s only benefit to me is that it provides me with the name Peyton Manning’s back up so I can look cool at parties … okay, I go to some really lame parties.

But here’s the shocker: I don’t think the pre-season should go. And apparently I’m not the only one.

Sellout crowds await home stadiums and millions tune in religiously to follow their favorite teams and evaluate late round fantasy draft picks. The NFL Network is broadcasting every single pre-season football game during the weeks leading up to the regular season opener Sept. 11. So while I might find watching preseason football just a notch above women’s shoe shopping and crunching logarithms on my Scale of Suicide-Inducing Activities, apparently legions of fans disagree. And there’s a boatload of money to be made because of that interest.

Wilbon essentially laid the blame at the feet of the revenue-minded league for why the preseason wouldn’t get axed, implying that the money hungry league governors would never put the interest of the players in front of the interest of their collective pocket book. That analysis seems a tad short sighted and reactionary though.

Money isn’t the only factor at play in the preseason. Coaches need time to evaluate new talent and watch how other new additions mesh with team veterans. It’s also the time that players use to retrieve the feel of a full-speed game. And then there’s the bevy of undrafted free agents, for some of whom these games are the one and only highlight of an NFL career that precedes a lifetime of used car sales. These guys get about as much love as an A.C. Green groupie and so they’re relishing all the limelight they can get.

For those players, injuries are a risk that they would gladly take for an infinitesimal opportunity to make an NFL roster. For the coaches, injuries are nothing new. Joe Gibbs and the like weren’t born yesterday. They know what can happen when you step beyond the sidelines. If they don’t want their top players dinged in a fruitless match, they don’t have to play them. Still, these coaches send in their top stars for a series or two, so they must think that there is some value in that gamble.

If the preseason situation was as problematic as Wilbon believes then there really would be more of an outcry around the league from players, coaches and owners alike. The fact of the matter is though, that season-altering injuries like Portis’s are rare and coaching staffs firmly believe pre-season games are necessary. Unless a significant majority of players and coaches take a stand to make changes, about as likely as a tear-free Vermeil after a viewing of “Brian’s Song,” the system will remain. And if the league can find an audience and a way to profit off of it, all the better. The more exposure to the sport and the more it profits, the better it will be for all involved.

Further Picking: The real, and only, reason I watched the pre-season MNF game was to check out the new broadcast team of Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser.

As a huge Kornheiser fan, I figured I’d give the game a shot, even if I’ve been a little put off by his string of whiny columnettes and the Washington Post covering the event as though the articles were heralding the next pope.

The result was disappointing at best. Kornheiser can be brilliant, as fans of his talk show on Sportstalk 980 know, but he has to have room to operate. Such room was a rare commodity when Professor Theismann kept launching into 23-minute long dissertations between plays.

It was clear that ESPN’s producers saw the problem coming and let Kornheiser be the centerpiece of a mail-answering segment, which was also flat.

I’ll write off this effort to first-time jitters and inexperience, but someone needs to reign in Theismann. Though extreme, perhaps Tirico could utilize a Taser when the former QB’s rants exceed 15-seconds. Or, equally cruel and effective, maybe a producer could just flash Joe a picture of Lawrence Taylor. It wouldn’t take too much training before some good ol’ Pavlovian conditioning kicked in. Until then, better luck next time boys.