Whatever was left of the argument that preseason games matter was picked up by a finger and a thumb and disposed of Saturday.
Bears coach Matt Nagy rested his starters and anyone else he was concerned might get injured against the Chiefs. If a third-stringer couldn’t shake the feeling that his knees, brain, shoulders, kidneys and soul were expendable, there was probably a good reason for it.
It was the second-from-last game of the preseason, historically the one in which NFL starters play at least a half. It’s considered the final tune-up for the regular season. Starters almost always sit out the final preseason game because the charade is officially over at that point.
I’m guessing that the league office didn’t throw a party after Nagy and the Bears chose to expose the fiction of exhibition games. Next thing you know, the team will send out a press release announcing that playing football can lead to permanent brain trauma.
But all Nagy did was pull back a see-through curtain. Preseason games were put on earth so owners could have two more games in which to shake down fans. Everybody knows it. Bears season-ticket holders are obligated to buy tickets for the two home preseason games. That means they had to pony up to watch career backup quarterback Chase Daniel start Saturday in place of Mitch Trubisky, who is young and inexperienced and also the entire franchise. Lucky them.
It’s possible to think that the very raw Trubisky should have played Saturday and still think that preseason games are an NFL money grab. I do.
It’s also possible to disagree with Nagy’s decision and admire his boldness in making it. Ditto.
You would think that NFL owners would be more concerned about one of their star players getting hurt in a preseason game than making money off a meaningless game. But if there’s one thing that owners know, it’s that stars come and go. Fans, on the other hand, will continue to buy tickets. So the choice between preseason games/injury risk and no preseason games/no injury risk/no profits is no choice at all for owners.
It’s all about money. We can lobby for a reduction in preseason games from four to two, but owners would insist on two more regular-season games to recoup their money. The NFL Players Association doesn’t want it, rightly predicting an increase in injuries and the shortening of careers.
Money has always come before health in the NFL. It’s why the league has been so slow to acknowledge that the game doesn’t lend itself to healthy brain tissue.
There is a simple solution to the preseason problem, one that would stick it to the fans because, league sources say, that’s why fans were put on earth. Get rid of preseason games, keep the 16-game regular-season schedule and jack up ticket prices to compensate for the loss of revenue from exhibition games. If there’s one thing that owners can count on, it’s the public’s insatiable interest in all things NFL.
Please understand: I’m not championing higher ticket prices. I’m championing the end of games that don’t matter. If teams are worried that their players won’t see any live action before the regular season, they can do more hitting and tackling during training camp. Or they can schedule practices with other teams, the way the Bears and the Broncos did this year.
There were 17,456 no-shows for the Bears-Chiefs game. It wouldn’t be a leap to suggest that those tickets went unused because Trubisky and 33 other players rested. It wouldn’t be a leap to suggest that the fans who did show up were questioning the meaning of life by the third quarter.
Nagy said he decided to rest his starters because the Bears played an extra preseason game this season and some of his players were tired. He also said there was a chance it was a one-time decision and that next year could be different.
It won’t be surprising next season if others follow Nagy’s lead. Coaches prefer that their starters stay healthy. But it would be shocking if the league shortens the preseason without being financially compensated for the loss of ticket sales. An NFL owner who has taken a pay cut has not yet been discovered on the planet.
There is merit on either side of the debate. Although Trubisky would benefit from any game snaps he can get at this stage of his career, there are many more players who don’t need to play and further risk injury. The scales are tipping heavily in favor of the idea that the best kind of preseason game is no preseason game at all.