Comparing the NFL of Today to Yesterday, Pt. 1

Ken KnightCorrespondent IJanuary 20, 2009

With the recent passing of NFLPA president Gene Upshaw, much attention has been given to how his tenure has positively impacted the NFL. I actually witnessed Gene play the game. He was one of—if not the best pulling guard—ever to play the game.

I never met him, but I do believe those who did know him when they say that he is truly a classy individual. This is in no way intended to be a slight to Upshaw or his accomplishments. I just believe there is a reaction to every action. There is a negative for almost every positive and a positive for almost every negative.

Upshaw played a key part in raising NFL player salaries to the ridiculous, over-the-top amounts that they are paid today. We need to take a step back and look at how this has impacted the game for average NFL fans. I will use the term “game” loosely in this regard, as clearly the NFL is one of the biggest cash-cow businesses on the face of the earth.


Ticket prices

It is no secret today that an average, avid NFL fan earning a moderate income, can no longer afford to attend a game live—never mind if he would like to bring along his family. Just for a family of five to attend a single game today would cost more than a week's income for some. Many folks today are struggling and overwhelmed to just provide the essentials and make ends meet for their families.

It seems that these enormous player salaries have put the NFL team owners in a position to emphasize promoting and filling the luxury box seating sections of their stadiums. Many, including me, believe that many of the people filling these seats are not really avid NFL fans at all.

With the present economy crisis, I believe we will see a trend of stadiums gradually emptying. This will in turn trickle down to the owners forcing them to find ways to cut expenses. I hope the reaction to this action is NFL players being forced to eventually take a pay cut—just like many hard-working American families. Many have lost their jobs entirely causing them to lose their homes.


The way the game is played

I don’t care what anyone says, football is a game that was meant to be played full speed—no matter the situation. It was never intended for any player to take plays off. People pay large amounts of their hard earned dollars to attend NFL games. Many pay for NFL Sunday Ticket to enhance their home viewing experience or to watch their favorite out of town team. I am included in this group.

When teams who have clinched a playoff spot hold back, this seriously cheats the ticket buyers and viewers out of their entertainment dollars. It is a shame and there should be mandatory refunds.

I know some of you are asking, “What about the health of the players going forward?” I would answer that question by stating they should have considered taking up table tennis or golf. They never hold back and there are not many injuries in those sports.

I suppose there are fans who feel the same as the players on this issue. There are several examples of hungry NFL back-ups whose talents would not have been discovered had it not been for an injury. Many a back-up have gone on to NFL success in the playoffs—and yes, even the Super Bowl.


Guaranteed player salaries

This is one of my biggest peeves when it comes to today's NFL players. Playing a sport for a living is a choice. If you are intimidated by injury, then maybe you should have become an accountant—not much of an injury risk there.

What happens if the average Joe—sheet metal worker, truck driver, or construction worker—is injured on the job? Please allow me to fill you in—he gets workmen’s compensation which is usually eighty percent of his pay—unless of course he is fortunate enough to afford himself with supplemental or liability insurance. There is no such thing as guaranteed money for these types—no sir.

This poses a very valid question. Who on earth is in a better position to obtain this kind of security blanket? Is it the average Joe? Or is it the spoiled, overpaid, and pampered professional athlete? I say to hell with your guaranteed salaries and give up one of your Bentley’s or your indoor swimming pool and invest in some supplemental insurance. You surely can afford it.


Future earning potential

While I can’t place all NFL players in the same boat, many of them have no intention of getting a college education. Many only view this opportunity as their ticket to the NFL. You never know when a career-ending injury may strike. This has always been part of the game. If you would fully utilize your educational opportunity, you will have a back-up plan.

There was a time when players like Chuck Bednarik were forced to shovel coal during the offseason. It was difficult to stretch their $5,500 or so NFL salaries. By the way, Mr. Bednarik played on and excelled at both offense and defense. This meant that he faced twice as many opportunities of suffering a career ending injury.

Personally, when I’m viewing an NFL game, I only concern myself with what is transpiring on the field at the moment. I really could not care any less about where or how so-and-so will be earning their over bloated paycheck next season. This is why I love the players of yesterday. They rarely concerned themselves with future earnings and the only thing which mattered was the success of the team they were employed with at the present time.


Free agency and NFL merchandise

How many people out there have gone out and spent good money for a certain favorite player’s jersey? Then the next thing you know, this guy gets traded out of town and the jersey you had invested that chunk of change in has been rendered totally useless. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced this, for lack of a better term—phenomenon. Thank NFL free agency for this.

There was a time prior to NFL free agency when a fan could go out and buy a certain player's jersey and feel confident that he would be around long enough to enjoy it. Think about how much revenue players and the NFL earn from merchandise sales. The NFL just loves free agency—you can bet on it!

There is one aspect of free agency which I view as positive—that would be parity. I love the fact that a team can go from the bottom of their division to the top in one season. I am not a fan of dynasties. I like surprises and love when curve balls are thrown into the Vegas betting world. Save your hard earned money and pay your rent or mortgage.


Closing thoughts

I have experienced the NFL of both yesterday and today—many of you have not. I believe the two M's—money and media—have seriously impacted the NFL today. Some of the impact has had a positive effect and some has had a negative effect. I believe the negative outweighs the positive.


I will be posting a series of these articles comparing the NFL of today to the NFL of yesterday. I think you will see that due to many rule changes it is pointless to compare on field accomplishments of players from yesterday to players of today. I respect all opinions on such matters.

Ken Knight is an aspiring writer and author of a book realeased in Aug. 2008 titled "New England Bandwgon Nation".  Ken is also a contributing writer on