I Told You So: NFL Back in Business

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The New York tabloids gave it that, "This is the most miraculous thing ever,'' approach, but, hey, understatement is not their style.

"Christmas in July,'' was the headline fromon the Daily News. Be interesting to see their assessment of Christmas in December.

Look. I don't want to say I told you, but - an apology for the self-promotion - I told you, Right there back in March.

"So that's settled,'' your Nostradamus of a journalist wrote, "there will be an NFL season. Guaranteed.''

And as you knew along, despite the rhetoric, despite Roger Goodell taking it to the streets, despite players hinting they would play in Europe - oh, sorry, that's the NBA - for your favorite professional sporting organization it will be business as usual.

Well, almost as usual, the Hall of Fame Game a victim of all this brinksmanship. But a small price to pay, if you don't spend months in Canton working on the project as do the great people back there.

Otherwise, the camps are opening in July, as they always open in July, and in a few months we'll never even know there was a lockout, except in the cities where the local franchise gets off to a lousy start and a local columnist will write something like, "If the NFL hadn't settled, we'd have been much better off.''

The NFL, as promised four months ago, had to settle. Too many people and too much money were involved, not necessarily in that order.

For a start, there was that figure of $9 billion, which would have been lost without an NFL season. Governments may snigger at $9 billion, but those involved directly or indirectly with sports leagues do not.

The owners needed a season. The players needed a season. The networks needed a season. Jay Leno needed a season. How many one-liners are there about Marc Anthony and J-Lo?

Already, without a single pass being thrown or free agent being signed, Monday night Leno found the NFL more than adequate subject matter.

"The crisis is over,'' Leno told his NBC audience. "We're going to have football! Pacman Jones is so happy he punched his parole officer in the face. It was that classic battle between the haves and the really haves. Some of the linemen appeared to be X-ing sections of the contract. Turns out they were just trying to sign their names.''

A little nasty, but if you can't take joke, you shouldn't get involved in a labor crisis.

The guess here was the two sides might hold on to their positions a couple more weeks, and with the byes and the extra week between the championship games and Super Bowl arrangements would be made to play the entire schedule.

But the internal clocks were ticking for both athletes and owners. To them - and to the fans and gamblers, if not one and the same - it wouldn't be right to go into August without the obligatory rumors about Brett Favre making a comeback.

The stories are the players got what they wanted, if by a small margin. In truth, America got what it wanted, the interest and excitement the NFL provides.

Say what you will about the nation being better off with Sundays (and Mondays and Thursdays) available for pruning rose bushes. We're creatures of habit, and there's no substitute for pro football.

Which, once again, is why one could be certain the games would be played, even when as bargaining tactics both sides kept insisting that was all but impossible. Suddenly, or was it gradually, Goodell, The Commish, and DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association are pals, not too many weeks after all those threats.

What matters is that they negotiated intensely for their side but in the end took into account the other side, which is how labor disputes invariably are settled. Both of the leaders, along with individuals such as Bob Kraft and Jeffrey Lurie, understood the effects of their game, financially and socially.

The phrase "little people,'' kept arising, as well it should have. If the owners are at the least multi-millionaires and at best billionaires, and the elite players earning in the millions, it was the concessionaires, the parking lot attendants, the ticket takers, the ushers, the restaurants in the region who would have been hurt the most.

In the Oakland suburb of San Leandro, Ricky's Sports Theatre and Grill, with its dozens of TV sets, satellite dishes and Raiders memorabilia, would have been virtually empty on Sundays and Monday nights, resulting in loss of income for the servers and cooks, among others.

No less significant, are the good vibes, bonhomie if you will, which fill the place, and other sports hangouts, on game days. "All we are,'' the late commissioner Pete Rozelle said of the NFL, "is just a little entertainment.''

You are about to be entertained. As promised.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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