The lyrics to Monday Night Football's opening theme include the legendary refrain: "Are you ready for some football?" They do not include the lyrics: "Are you ready for some football — that doesn't really count, but can be nonetheless equally dangerous to high-profile, highly paid players and the hopes their franchises have pinned on them?"
Yet, that is the nature of the NFL preseason: games with no meaning that, for the injured, can have equally high stakes as, um, "real" games. And after the recent injuries of Washington's Robert Griffin III and Jordy Nelson of the Green Bay Packers, some are wondering: Why do we do this again?
Of course, not every preseason injury is a season — or career-ender. RG III, who suffered a concussion last week, quickly returned to practice. But as the Washington Post's Cindy Boren reported, Nelson — who signed a four-year, $39 million contract with the Packers last year — now has a torn anterior cruciate ligament that may take him off the field for the rest of the year.
As Boren put it: "The preseason game ... may have been meaningless, but that doesn't mean it was without consequence."
NFL football is a war. In the era when the dangers of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — the illness that San Diego Charger Junior Seau was suffering from when he killed himself in 2012 — are well known, does it really make sense to have a warm-up to the war that can be as dangerous as the war itself?
Yet, the four-game preseason persists. It's not for nothing — the preseason does give players on the margin the chance to strut their stuff.
"You won't find many people who say they enjoy the preseason from an entertainment standpoint, but it's hard to imagine the (players' union) getting behind a move that will provide fringe players less opportunity to prove themselves," Dan Hanzus of Around the NFL wrote in 2012.
If a little blood is left on the field, that's just the way the football bounces.
"The ability to try out schemes, personnel combinations and evaluate unproven players in a game setting can't be replicated in practice, especially when it comes to filling out the second half of a 53-man roster," Chris Strauss of USA Today wrote in 2013 — advocating that the preseason be shrunk from four to three games.
Yet, what can be learned from the preseason is open to question.
"Football fans, always looking for some clue to the future successes of their teams, try and glean some information from the silly season in August, when the stars usually sit and benchwarmers dominate," Chris Chase of USA Today wrote this month.
"We know we shouldn't. We say it's meaningless, yet every season we try to convince ourself that it does."
Chase, in an intricate analysis of what information about the actual season can be gleaned from preseason analysis, offered a damning conclusion: "Only a little, and only if you look real hard."
For Nelson, the costs of this little bit of information may prove devastating. Some predicted the Packers' playoff hopes are still alive.
But a good man may be gone for awhile for no good reason.
As Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told ESPN: "It's difficult to lose a guy like that in a meaningless game."
— Washington Post