The NFL faces a mad scramble now the season is on, says our man in the US, Simon Veness.
Last Updated: 26/07/11 10:26am
That huge gale-force wind currently making its way across the Atlantic from the US east coast is the pent-up exhalation of several hundred million Americans at the news they will, finally, thankfully, joyfully get their game back this year.
After 130 days of ridiculous posturing stalemate between two sides that should know better (and who have now poured countless millions of dollars into the pockets of lawyers who can't believe their luck), it is not so much 'business as usual' this week as 'business on fast forward.' And then some.
Following four-and-a-half months of football stasis - gridiron gridlock, if you like - things are now about to get very, very busy in a frenzy of free agent deals, rookie signings, training camp deadlines and playbook commotion.
But first the relief.
The actual sheer, desperate sense of reprieve and liberation throughout the sports-loving heart of the country was palpable on Monday night as media and fans everywhere digested the news of the ultimate agreement of the NFL and the players' union to the new central contract approved by the owners last Thursday.
There was the relief of the league, led by a slightly haggard-looking Roger Goodell, with even the ultra-smooth commish looking like he could do with his first good night's sleep in about two months.
There was also the relief of the players, who had started to get distinctly twitchy as the very real prospect of losing the pre-season games - and, therefore, their wages - loomed ever larger thanks to herky-jerky talks that had lurched through July like a 1970 Ford Anglia with a dodgy fuel pump.
And there was the relief of the fans, who had watched aghast as the two sides sparred from their entrenched positions for months, exchanging rhetoric that made it seem like the stalemate could continue into the next millennium.
But all that paled into insignificance compared to the relief of the media and the TV executives who were faced with autumn schedules shorn of the three magic letters, NFL.
The football reporting and screening world had been coming close to imploding at the thought of having to take the UFL seriously next month and devote more coverage to the college game.
"At last!" came the roar of the talking heads and other assorted media types (yours truly included). "Now we can get back to Peyton Manning's latest surgery, Ben Roethlisberger's marriage and the latest rumour about Brett Favre's return." (I kid you not - no sooner do we have a new season to focus on than someone, somewhere, decides the oft-retired quarterback might want to make his 99th comeback bid, this time with Philadelphia. You absolutely could not make it up).
But there is no real time for the relief to become the predominant emotion this week. It is time for The Frenzy. Or the Wild West Free Agent Show, as others have already dubbed it.
Because the timetable for getting this massive, ponderous show back on the road is so tight and urgent, we are going to see the usual two to three months of pre-season manoeuvering and team-building shoe-horned into little more than a week.
It's a bit like trying to start the Premier League football season on June 1st - no-one will be ready and everyone will be frantically trying to assemble squads, sign contracts, cut players and install new offensive or defensive schemes all at once... in triplicate in some cases (and yes Carolina, Arizona, Cincinnati, Denver, Washington, Oakland and Tennessee, I'm looking at you).
Many scribes are already convinced the teams that are well set (the likes of Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New England, Indianapolis, Atlanta and the New York Jets) are all likely to prosper further at the expense of teams that have a huge amount of housekeeping to do before they can even think about putting a team on the field (all of the teams in the previous paragraph, plus Buffalo, Houston, Dallas, Cleveland, Miami, San Francisco and Seattle).
Then there are this year's 'hopefuls,' who finished last term well or who have young teams that showed signs they finally know what they're doing in the rough, tough world of the NFL (where rough and tough refers to all the off-field action, which sets a coach up for success or failure before he even calls his first play).
The 'Please Let It Be Us' brigade in 2011 are led by Tampa and St Louis, with Detroit, Minnesota, Kansas City and Jacksonville all hot on their heels.
Of course, there is still much digesting of new contract details and pontificating on how, exactly, Life As We Know It will be affected by this 10-year agreement that, in theory, takes us up to 2021.
I say 'in theory' as the players managed to have an opt-out clause inserted into the deal at the 11th hour and 59th minute, with the clear insinuation that they trust the owners about as far as they can spit a rat, which is to say, not far at all. Some writers have even gone as far as saying the players' trust of the league is at an all-time low, but they do, at least, understand they looked immensely foolish trying to continue to claim they were being hard done by.
All this breathless preamble means, of course, we can now turn our attention to the REAL business of the NFL season, which is the Fantasy League world and how we plan to build teams to crush our respective friends this term.
In the UK Media League, the mighty Orlando Pirates (that's me, in my new permanent home here in the Sunshine State, by the way) are ready to roll like a crack Panzer battalion and make a mockery of three years of 'almost' being the team to beat.
Unlike the poor coaches in the 'real' world, we still have several weeks to assess the likely stars and duds of the campaign ahead, hence the fantasy draft next month will have much more bite and angst about it than that phony affair conducted in New York by The Commish back in April.
Actually, it just goes to make you wonder. Do we even need the players at all - and what the hell was the last four-and-a-half months really all about?