When/if the games of business end and the National Football League returns to the business of games, there will be joy beyond measure for everyone. Very likely, the NFL never has been hammered from so many sides so intently for so long. Al Davis has attacked its authority; Don Reese has chipped away some of its credibility; the players are grabbing for its collective wallet.
For fans whose minds have been inundated by lawsuits, drug charges and collective nonbargaining these last few months, a brief review of the vital NFL essentials seems in order: it's still 11 to a side, nobody plays much defense any more and you must wager $110 to get back $100.
Davis so far has successfully raided Los Angeles; Reese could wind up in jail for probation violation, that being a potential penalty for his being so candid in that confessional he authored for Sports Illustrated.
One by one, team by team, players trotted off for rehabilitation after Reese's revelations. Until management and players offer some sort of drug testing procedure, fans are going to be suspicious. Let them, the players yell. As long as we do our jobs on the field, why should what we do off it be of great concern? When congressmen submit to urinalysis, so will we.
What the players fail to realize, of course, is that the NFL is infinitely more vital than Congress. A guy from Pennsylvania might not know his two senators, but he sure as Danderoo knows the guards for both his state's NFL teams.
Players have talked grandly about supporting clinics for colleagues with drug problems. That's to be applauded. But an occasional urinalysis might well keep recreational drug use from becoming a problem, in addition to being a helpful check to see who is vulnerable to point-shaving gamblers.
What the NFL lords and serfs have done precious little of off the field lately -- negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement -- has fans especially frustrated. If the owners could find backs as skilled at avoiding tacklers as they have been in ducking the players, their teams would score on every possession.
If the players' demand -- 55 percent of the gross -- offends the senses, the owners' failure to be close to generous with all those new television billions has been galling. Nobody pays $20 eight Sundays to watch Jack Kent Cooke strut in his box in RFK Stadium.
Even the most casual NFL fan saw the solution to the labor fuss long ago: binding arbitration. That, or locking the Management Council and NFL Players Association in a large room, sending them nothing but water and spinach salad and not letting them out until the matter had been resolved.
We cannot assume such a reasonable way out of this impasse. But let's pretend that some sort of compromise is struck, and that the season starts on time and continues without major disruption. Let's go for some on-the-field whimsy.
Gimme San Diego and San Francisco in the Super Bowl.
Gimme the Chargers and the Jets for the AFC title; gimme the Cowboys and Niners again in the NFC.
Gimme Baltimore and New Orleans as the most improved teams in the league, the Colts straining under Frank Kush's whip to close to .500 and the Saints bumming beers from Bum Phillips while winning eight games, or twice as many as last season.
Gimme the Redskins at 8-8, plus or minus a game.
Once a team gets started on a roll in the NFL, it usually stays at, or very close to, the top for several years. Paul Brown's teams experienced that in the '50s, as did Vince Lombardi's Packers in the '60s and Chuck Noll's Steelers and Don Shula's Dolphins in the '70s.
And the Cowboys, damn 'em, never seem to slip from the heights.
The 49ers are legit. Their coach, Bill Walsh, is a tactical genius, the Tom Landry of offense. And they accomplished the close-to-impossible feat of having a spectacular draft despite choosing last in the opening round. Bold and imaginative, they maneuvered for a wondrous tight end, Russ Francis, and two rookies with raw but enormous potential, offensive tackle Bubba Paris and wide receiver Renaldo (Skeets) Nehemiah.
Since defense has been all but legislated out the league, Walsh's wisdom and ability to select and motivate players should keep the 49ers sailing. That and another relatively injury-free season.
Dallas is Dallas, and will be until Tony Dorsett, Randy White, Too Tall Jones and one or two lesser stars begin to fade.
It might be wise to let this next sentence filter in slowly: the . . . Chargers . . . can . . . play . . . some . . . defense. By the playoffs, a very good new defensive coach, Tom Bass, who replaced a very good defensive coach, Jack Pardee, will have a scheme that actually will give Kellen Winslow and his pals a few seconds to catch their breath instead of staggering immediately back onto the field to catch passes.
The Jets are solid just about everywhere, and should have enough playoff experience and motivation to keep rising. When was the last time the New York area had two teams expected to win 10 games each? Two seasons ago, the Jets and Giants together could win just eight games. The Giants just might be good enough to slide by the Eagles in the NFC East.
I'm going to hitch up to the Colts before a bandwagon even forms. The most successful coaches in the NFL almost always have won quickly in seemingly impossible situations, and Kush arrives with enormous respect among NFL insiders.
He also has terrific young players and imaginative assistants. If one of the rookie quarterbacks, Art Schlichter or Mike Pagel, matures quickly, the Colts will be the surprise of the season.
Barring injury, the Redskins ought to be better than last season, although their schedule might make them seem worse. While the 49ers and Saints were scurrying for trade and free-agent shortcuts to the playoffs, the Redskins stayed on the traditional no-risk path.
Should they not find anyone who can rush the passer any better than last season's wooden indians at defensive end, the cheer from Washingtonians during most games will be the one fans throughout the country have been chanting for the last few months now: "Two, four, six, eight, let's sit down and negotiate."