TORONTO - You have to hand it to the National Football League ó it even does lockouts well.
The league that understands television, revenue sharing, gambling, fantasy sports, its enormous fan base and the symmetry of its schedule better than any other, also wins when it comes to labour stoppages.
There is a simple reason why the NFL is bigger and better than every other pro league: Itís because theyíre smarter. Which you can be when you are that filthy rich and have enough money to keep everyone involved happy.
The poor NHL goes into lockout mode ó and poof! ó there goes a full season. By the end of it, hockey fans hated Bob Goodenow, Gary Bettman, and just about every one else involved with the process.
The NBA goes into lockout mode ó and poof! ó there goes the beginning of the coming season, maybe the middle, quite possibly the end. The Raptors have so anticipated the upcoming lockout that they drafted a player, Jonas Valanciunas, who wonít play in the league this season, with the assumption being there will be no season. And just when the next NBA game will be played is anyoneís guess.
Last time, it was a half season for the NBA. This time: Who knows?
And all that the last labour interruption in baseball did was cancel the World Series. How did that work out for the first-place Montreal Expos? You have to wonder: Had the Expos won it all in 1994, would it have altered the history of the franchise? And how has that work stoppage worked out for the Blue Jays, who havenít been anywhere near the playoffs since, and have never recovered at the gate?
We now return you to your regularly scheduled NFL games with lots of rhetoric since March but nothing that factors much for the football fan.
Fans wanted an NFL Draft. They got one.
They wanted a free agency period. Now they get a frenetic one: It should be more interesting and entertaining to watch free agency done on speed ó and in this case, we donít mean drugs of any kind.
Fans donít care much for the farce that is the Hall of Fame game, so there will be no Hall of Fame game this month.
There will be pre-season games ó OK, you canít win everything ó but thatís because these exhibitions bring in $800 million US in revenue. If you missed that part, thatís $800 million in pre-season revenue. And somewhere CFL commissioner Mark Cohon has to be asking? Eight hundred million for pre-season games?
There will be fantasy football drafts and survival pools and the weekly NFL wagering, some legal, some not, and life as we know it will return to normal without ever really losing a day of normal.
Thatís the beauty of the NFL. It is the most compact of leagues. It can afford to do what the other leagues cannot. There is enough cash to keep everyone happy. Players donít have to play an onerous 18-game regular season nor will they have to suffer through two-a-days in training camp anymore. Finally, a playersí association of some kind paying more than homage to safety issues (note to Donald Fehr, itís something worth considering).
And all we do now is wait and watch ó and see what happens over the next few days and weeks. Weíll get to follow along and see where Terrell Owens is going or Santonio Holmes or Randy Moss or DeAngelo Williams and itís hard to carry on without knowing whether Paul Poslusznsy will return to the Buffalo Bills.
Weíll also find out where Donovan McNabb will play quarterback if he plays and whether Brett Favre will come back ó again, groan ó and whether there is anything left in Clinton Portis.
We have our fantasy draft scheduled to begin its 23rd season in September and this year I vow to do something Iíve never done before ó win the damn thing. (I came close once when Steve Young was my quarterback and havenít been close since.)
Frankly, I donít care much for the details that settled this lockout ó that took up three hours of American television Monday night ó only that the lockout is settled. Or as Juan Antonio Samaranch used to say: I declare the games of the 2011 season open.
Cue Faith Hill. Itís time to play some football.