Tracee Hamilton - Sports Columnist

Fans Are About to Reenter the Matrix That Is the NFL Season

By Tracee Hamilton
Friday, July 31, 2009

Crazy quarterback rumors? Check.

Blistering heat and humidity? Check.

Unfettered and unreasonable expectations? Check.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to reenter the Matrix that is the NFL season. Thank God.

Poor Rachel Nichols of ESPN has become our Capistrano swallow, our Punxsutawney Phil. If Rachel sees her shadow in Hattiesburg, Miss., in July, it's time to break out the jerseys and plant ourselves in the Barcalounger for the next half-year or so.

How did the NFL become such an intrinsic part of our lives, so indispensable to our basic happiness that we sink into a withdrawal every February so mighty that its worst victims actually watch the Pro Bowl? How? Because the league convinced us it is the truth. Sort of like the Matrix. (I realize this means Roger Goodell is Morpheus, but hear me out.)

The NFL is slowly taking over the calendar of our lives. It used to be a five-month enterprise at most, with a draft that barely raised eyebrows each spring.

Now there are minicamps and something mysterious called OTAs and of course the combine, where young NFL hopefuls gather each spring to cut wheat. Or perhaps it's a different combine. Then there is training camp, where Thursday hundreds of fans were already lined up to get into Redskins Park when I arrived at 7 a.m. There is no way most of them could see much more than the burgundy-and-gold jersey in front of them, and yet they stood and yelled encouragement to their favorites . . . during stretching drills.

Tell me they're not in the Matrix.

It's all part of the larger pattern. The draft had already become a two-day extravaganza of hype and fashion, and now it's seeping like an antique septic tank. Next year, Round 1 will be in prime time on a Thursday night, starting at 7:30. At 10 minutes a team per pick, that means the final choice will be made well after midnight. The second and third rounds will be Friday and the fourth through seventh Saturday. Sunday will be reserved for aspirin and emetics to recover from the three-day Mel Kiper bacchanalia.

A few years ago, the Super Bowl oozed into February. No one was alarmed. Now the league is eyeing the Presidents' Day weekend. Why not have a season that spans Labor Day through Presidents' Day, and acknowledge the Super Bowl for what is has become: a national holiday? The league hasn't decided what it wants to use to leaven the season to an extra week. A second bye week? A 17- or 18-game season? Fewer preseason games? Whatever it decides, the league will have to get approval from the players' union. Like that's ever a problem. Being in the Matrix would go a long way to explaining why the players' union puts up so little resistance to . . . anything.

The league knows it can get away with a February encroachment. Baseball season is just starting. College hoops are heating up, but not at a boil. Every four years the Winter Olympics will be in the way, but in a battle of behemoths, I like the NFL's chances against the IOC.

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