Super Bowl to be last NFL game until August. Unless.....

Sports labor issues can sometimes seem bewildering to fans who made a fraction of what the average player's salary is, but they are serious:  owners feel they gave away too much in the last labor agreement and want an additional $1 billion exempted from the shared-revenue pool; the league also wants to impose a rookie wage scale; and then there is the question of adding two more games to the 16-game schedule.  The NFL Players Association wants salary increases, better postcare health care and improvements in pension vesting for adding those two games.

The league is being accused of being hypocritical for their better late than never hard line attitude about now finally seeing the light on concussions and their attempt to tone down hard and dirty hits.  The hypocrisy is that they want to add two more games to the schedule.

Lots of players don't want to do that, because of the fear of increased injuries.  The coaches don't want to do because, well, they may be the only folks in the game who like having four pre-season games.  The fans who buy season tickets and are forced to pay for two extra games  at regular price but are anything but regular games, most of them loath those games.

But I've found a surprising amount of fans who side with the status quo.  Look, the owners are greedy, no doubt, are already prepared to count that extra money from the networks for adding two more regular season games. And they are hypocritical, since it'd be surprising if they were to begin a new 18-game regular season in late August, when those last two exhibition games are played, but instead push them later, ultimately putting the Super Bowl to go past Valentine's Day (the networks don't believe that they'll get as high ratings in August, when Americans are known to be on vacation, but that's ridiculous, as the ratings have soared in recent years, and folks will watch meaningful NFL games anytime of year.

Yesterday DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA's Executive Director, said the 18-game season was a "deal breaker." I would think that's simply posturing, as part of his bargaining strategy.  At least I hope so, because whether that reality actually happens, it'd be absolutely insane that this sport, by far the most popular in the country ever, would succumb to a strike or lockout because of these issues would prove that for all the talk about a business, it's really kind of a child's game after all.

This Sunday's Super Bowl features the team of the 1960's, the Green Bay Packers, vs. the team of the 70's, the Pittsburgh Steelers.  But if Pittsburgh takes home the Vince Lombardi trophy come Sunday night, they need to be recognized as the most powerful NFL franchise going, since it would their third championship in the past six years (whereas the New England Patriots, the team of the aughts, hasn't won anything since January of 2005).

These two classic franchises are two of the most popular clubs in the country, and have big followings in the Tampa Bay area.  According to Harris Interactive, the Packers are America's third favorite team, the Steelers the 4th (Dallas and Indianapolis are 1 & 2).

Although the quarterbacks get all the attention (and we're partial a bit to fellow Northern Californian Aaron Rodgers - and the discussion of a lovefest between former rivals Ben Rothlisberger and Terry Bradshaw does nothing for me), the real star power in this game is all on defensive side of the ball, where Packer fans are still smarting that Steeler ace Safety Troy Polamalu edged out Packer linebacker Clay Matthews Jr.  for NFL Defensive Player of the Year award (both USC grads).  Then again, I'm inclined to believe that for all the spectacular plays the long-haired Steeler makes, the better defensive players for the Steelers are James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.

Okay, what else do we need to know about the game, played in a toasty domed field in Arlington, Texas with Fox Joe Buck and Troy Aikman doing the broadcasting?  Well, you do have the much hyped Bill O'Reilly-Barack Obama interview scheduled.  And the Black Eyed Peas playing at halftime.  And of course, all those ads for the non-hardcore fan.

But the underlying narrative that the national sporting media in Dallas is focusing on is what happens after Sunday night, and the fact that this could be the last football game for a long time - longer than the 7 month interregnum that always take place before the pre-season begins again.  That is the fact that the NFL owners are probably going to lock the players out of all team facilities on March 4 unless a new labor agreement is reached, which seems extremely doubtful if you read about the issues that divide the two sides.

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