And as we discussed last night with Peter Brown of Sporting News Radio, there’s something pure and admirable in the dedication that hockey players have for their chosen sport. After watching the American upset of Canada’s national team, a game for which the players will not receive a dime of salary, we’re now convinced that most if not all of the men who play hockey for money would play the game even if they were being paid nothing.
How many pro football players would do that?
We’re not saying they should. The men who play pro football (and pro hockey) entertain millions of people, and the players deserve to reap as much of the reward as anyone, especially since they are compromising their future quality of life.
We now hear a lot about the plight of the Conrad Doblers of the world, and the topic had been ignored for far too long. But plenty of hockey players have similar problems in their later years. When my brother-in-law and I went to a Rangers-Penguins playoff game in May 2008, there was a former Pittsburgh player sitting at the end of our row (we were the only two people in the section who didn’t know who he was), and we cringed as we watched him hobble out of Mellon Arena on a leg that would not longer bend at the knee.
Though it’s assumed that football exerts the biggest physical toll on its participants, NHL players don flimsy motorcycle-style helmets with little or no face protection and attach oversized steak knives to their feet 82 times per year. Then comes a grueling playoff season, with up to 28 more games — a few of which feature from time to time another entire game’s worth of overtime action.
Remember all the complaints about Astroturf? As hard as it might have been, it ain’t as hard as ice.
Then there are the flimsy pads and the sticks and the boards and the glass and the steel goal assembly and the small black missile that only gets more lethal when it’s frozen solid — and that any of them would throw their bodies in front of, even in an exhibition game.
Are you reading this, Antonio Cromartie?
Our point isn’t that football players should be willing to play for little or no money or that football players aren’t as tough as hockey players. It’s that more football players should have the kind of genuine love for their game that every hockey player seems to possess.
As scouts and coaches begin to gather in Indianapolis to pick over the next crop of would-be gridiron greats, they’re all searching for men with true passion for football. The NFL teams that accumulate the most of them will be in the best position to achieve year-in and year-out success.