This has to stop. It may not be this season. It may not be next season. But eventually, if star players keep getting hurt in meaningless preseason games, the NFL owners and players union will have to come to this realization: Four preseason games is two too many.
Ask Falcons coach Dan Reeves, who saw Michael Vick go down with a broken leg and will miss four to six weeks. Ask Jets coach Herman Edwards, who saw quarterback Chad Pennington break his wrist and lose 12 weeks to rehabilitation. Ask Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis, who saw starting cornerback Duane Starks and defensive tackle Kyle Vanden Bosch blow out knees and end their seasons.
They'll tell you.
"It's going to get talked about," Edwards told reporters. "Good players have always gotten hurt in preseason games, but now some of our stars are getting hurt and that's drawing more attention to it."
Want more? Ask Bucs coach Jon Gruden, who saw tight end Rickey Dudley suffer a severe ankle injury that likely will put him on the shelf for about two months. How about Rams coach Mike Martz? Safety/cornerback Kim Herring's broken arm will keep him out about eight weeks.
"I think it's out of line," Martz said. "I think it puts this league in jeopardy. I think it does affect the product that you put on the field during the season. (Herring's injury) is our seventh surgery in the preseason as opposed to one last year. You don't need four games to get ready."
The NFL always has believed that four preseason games are essential for teams to get a good look at all the players fighting for roster spots. Of course, they also are cash cows as season-ticket holders are compelled to buy two preseason games with the eight-game regular-season package.
But injuries are mounting and players publicly voice their disdain for the grueling schedule. Many point to the fact that, due to rigorous offseason conditioning and limited spots on the roster, teams no longer need that length of time to get things straight.
"This is a way for the owners to make a little money," Dolphins defensive end Jay Williams told the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale. "But with the way professional athletes are today, we can come to camp and do two preseason games and maybe two scrimmages with other teams. We don't have to have four preseason games."
Naturally, some think this is all hooey.
"That's the game we play, there's always that possibility," Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "If you go out there and play the game trying not to get hurt, that's usually when something happens. You go out there and play as hard as you can, you run around and have fun doing it. You hope nothing happens, but there's always that possibility whether it's preseason or the regular season."
SPEAKING OF VICK: From the Twilight Zone comes this Vick quote given to the Denver Post before his injury: "I'm not (scrambling and putting myself in danger). Fans don't have to take those hits, I do. The guys in this league will try to hurt you. Their objective is to get you out of the game. ... I won't do any running in the preseason, I promise you that. My thing now is just to protect myself, stay healthy."
MAMA'S BOY: Dolphins running back Ricky Williams won't have to compete with any of his teammates for playing time, but his Web site, run-ricky-run.com, will go toe to toe with an intriguing competitor.
Williams' mother, Sandy Williams, will write a weekly column for phinzone.com, starting Sept. 7. She will offer analysis on a game-by-game basis.
"I'll give my prediction of the score and write four or five lines about what my thoughts are for the game," Williams told the Sun-Sentinel. "There is one thing I will not be doing: I know I'm Ricky's mother, but I won't be guessing his yardage. The column won't be totally about Ricky. I'm going to be doing this as a fan talking about the team."
MONEY ON THE BENCH: Looking for an explanation for why the Cowboys have a long road ahead? Consider this, with a base salary of $4.85-million and a salary-cap hit of about $6.6-million this season, receiver Joey Galloway is the second-highest paid player on the team and isn't guaranteed a starting job. Galloway is in a battle with Terry Glenn and Antonio Bryant.
"Not much has looked good for me," Galloway told the Forth Worth Star-Telegram. "A lot of negative things have happened. A lot of negative things have been said. But I don't look at it as a negative. We are as deep a group of receivers as any I have been around. Both (Glenn and Bryant) are playmakers and very good athletes. That's the coach's decision. All I control is how I play."
DON'T CALL ME: Heard about the Sports Illustrated jinx? The magazine, which has seen cover figures' fortunes change, has reached new heights. SI apparently had scheduled Vick for its NFL season preview edition. When Vick went down, the SI crew scrambled for a last-minute replacement and chose Pennington. Rams quarterback Kurt Warner appears on the cover.
- Information from other news organizations was used in the report.