My dog is still afraid to go outside for fear of facing 100-degree heat, but one of the surest signs of fall and eventual cooler weather is already here.
Football is back.
Are you ready for some football?
I don't mean that in the sense of rah-rah, let's hit the man cave, pop some punch-top cans of Miller Lite with junior's epinephrine auto-injector, and watch the Red Zone Channel.
I mean, really, do you care that football's off-season is over?
I ask because in 2012, the sport of football as a whole has had a worse off-season than it would seem possible for a single sport to have.
The "bounty scandal" has raised concerns about not only a remarkably ugly side of what is at its core a very violent sport, it's also brought into legitimate question the extent to which the commissioner is able to wield judge and jury power over a business responsible for billions of dollars in annual revenue.
The continued risks and long-term effects of concussions and head injuries all too common in football has resulted in a lawsuit filed against the NFL on behalf of more than 3,000 of its former players.
Kurt Warner, whose journey from grocery store stock boy to Super Bowl MVP made him the embodiment of the NFL dream factory more than any other player in league history, said this spring that because of increased fears of head injuries, he'd rather that his sons not play football.
Preamble to Warner's comments was the death by suicide of Junior Seau, one of the most dominant linebackers in history. His passing led many to postulate that he was suffering from the same type of concussion-related brain trauma that led Bears safety Dave Duerson to shoot himself in 2011.
The NFL still hasn't come to terms with the NFL Referees Association, a contract dispute that is forcing the league to resort to "scab" referees, who immediately went to work by botching the coin toss in this week's annual Hall of Fame game. If this mess continues to linger, fans can count on a dizzying number of head-scratching calls and infuriating game delays as rusty refs effort to implement the sporting world's most confusing rulebook.
NFL training camps are turning into fight clubs. Over 30 active NFL players have been arrested so far in 2012, with over half of the charges involving drugs and alcohol.
Oh, and Penn State, one of the most storied programs in collegiate football history, was rocked with a horrifying child molestation scandal that will forever tarnish the legacy of the university, its athletic department, and particularly head coach Joe Paterno, who was previously one of the most beloved figures associated with the game on any level.
Football's reputation has gotten so bad that former players such as Troy Aikman and sportscasters such as Tony Kornheiser have lamented that the sport as fans have known and loved it for so many years is in effect over and that football's long-running status as the nation's number one pastime is in danger.
So, I'll ask it again: Are you ready for some football?
Of course you are.
Look, there can be no argument that football has had a disastrous off-season. And surely if the link between brain damage and playing football continues to get stronger, there will be a negative impact on the sport's long-term growth.
But there will always be parents willing to let their kids play football. There will always be kids who want to play football. Hey, if my high school friends and I had enough money to start a legitimate-sounding football league in which ball carriers could either be tackled, tasered, or tarted up in women's lingerie and defenders could be thwarted by the release of killer wasps, we'd get thousands of eager applicants.
Football has a stranglehold on this country's love and affection and has for decades. My Minnesotan mother couldn't possibly name more than three active NBA players but I'll bet she could name three of the four quarterbacks on the Minnesota Vikings' current roster.
Football games, even preseason ones, are events. Baseball and basketball games, by the very nature of their frequency, are too easily ignored and taken for granted.
And, as always seems to happen, this year's football season, on both the collegiate and pro levels, bring with it some fascinating storylines for even the most casual fan.
Will Peyton Manning find success with the Denver Broncos? Will Tim Tebow's exile to the New York Jets signal the end of Mark Sanchez or the end of Tim Tebow? Can Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson bounce back from devastating knee injuries? Can a depleted Penn State program win any games? Can Wisconsin catch lightning in a bottle again with transfer quarterback Danny O'Brien? Can Randy Moss and Terrell Owens torch opposing defenses like it's 1999? Can Cam Newton do it again? Can Andrew Luck do it at all?
It sounds wildly uncaring, but it will take more than a tragic death, a leader with an insatiable appetite for power, and the most despicable scandal in the history of American institutions of higher education to seriously derail football.
The Packers kick off their preseason schedule Thursday night.
I might not feel as gung-ho about it as some years, but yes, I am ready for some football. Who's with me?
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