Do we love football more when the NFL pumps up the volume on old-school hate and jacked-up violence?
Tell me the truth, Broncos Country.
As we gather in the church of football on this fine Sunday of Raiders week, are you frothing at the mouth like Denver linebacker Bradley Chubb, or preaching kumbaya like coach Nathaniel Hackett?
Nothing roils the blood around here like Da Raid-uhs, with a history of silver-and-black villains we love to hate, from Kenny “The Snake” Stabler to that snake in the grass, new Las Vegas coach Josh McDaniels.
“I hate ’em, to be honest with you,” Chubb said. “I hate ’em. It’s only a few teams in the league I hate, and they’re one of them.”
Then again, in 2022, maybe we should take the more woke approach of Hackett.
“Can’t really hate anybody in this world,” Hackett said. “That’s too much energy … It’s another game.”
Football now preaches out of both sides of its mouth. Hate and kindness. Safety and violence.
The NFL can’t decide what it wants. Good, clean fun where we wish the best for everyone. Or gladiators on the grass, where everybody’s out for blood.
We love the car-crash sound of a big hit on the field, until somebody knocks Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the head so hard he can’t get up and has to be carted off the field after suffering head trauma in a game for the second time in five days.
Miami coach Mike McDaniel insisted he’s player friendly and would never knowingly put his quarterback in harm’s way. I believe he meant those words. But actions speak louder. So with full knowledge Tagovailoa had been hurt in a victory against Buffalo, what were the Dolphins thinking? What were they thinking, other than a quarterback needs to rub a little dirt on his noggin and get back on the field, when there’s a Thursday night game to win against Cincinnati?
“You guys should go to jail for letting him play five days after an obvious concussion you covered up,” argued Chris Nowinski, a former professional wrestler turned neuroscientist. In a now-deleted tweet, he added if Tagovailoa were to die “from second-impact syndrome, I’m pushing for murder charges.”
In the NFL, the television money is too big and the stakes for a coach who fails to win are too high to keep players out of harm’s way.
So can anyone, from the crazy-rich family that purchased a franchise in Denver for $4.65 billion to a working-class fan who cheers a bone-jarring tackle from the South Stands at Mile High, say they place a higher value on player safety than our entertainment in a league that now schedules 17 regular-season games?
While there’s much to admire about Hackett keeping his most valuable commodities on the sideline during the silly summer exhibition season, we all grouse (me included) that maybe one reason the Broncos are averaging barely 14 points per game is because they didn’t bang heads enough in preparation for real, hard-hitting football.
When I asked Hackett last month if he would advocate to eliminate the charade of August football that rips off season-ticket holders, he diplomatically declined to push for more meaningful change in the way teams train. I suspect it was because there’s simply too much money to be made from games that don’t count in the standings. Besides, who cares if a special-teams grunt blows out a knee during a preseason game, so long as that hefty $245 million investment in quarterback Russell Wilson isn’t damaged?
Oh, I know. There will be genuine lovers of football that who bash me for hating on violence in the game. No, I never played the game at a high level. But since 1983, when John Elway was a raw NFL rookie, I’ve made nice money glorifying our local gridiron heroes in The Post.
So in my own way, I’m no holier than the Dolphins on the sticky debate of what’s best for athletes who sign up for a violent sport.
We all know a cheeseburger and fries aren’t good for the heart. We all know football can damage the brain. But we like what we like too much to walk away. A guilty pleasure doesn’t cause too much guilt, so long as we don’t think about it too much.
So crack open a cold one and scream for blood against da hated Raid-uhs when the Broncos line up for the kickoff Sunday in Las Vegas.
Barely 100 hours later, the Broncos will be back banging heads in a Thursday night game against Indianapolis.
There’s no such thing as too much guilty pleasure.
The idea of a woke, gentler NFL, where violence and hate take a backseat to kumbaya kindness and flag football at the Pro Bowl?
It’s an exercise in hypocrisy.