I’ll remember this NFL season for the asterisk.
OK, fine, there’s still plenty of season left. But when Case Keenum or Blake Bortles or Nick Foles are raising the Lombardi Trophy over his head six weeks from now, how you can you look back at this season and not wonder what if? Who might’ve finished atop the football world had Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, or any of the dozens of seriously injured stars stayed healthy?
That’s a depressing way to look at the league heading into its homestretch, I know. And yes, I understand that injuries happen every year. But as we look back on how we got here, how exactly are we supposed to separate the larger season’s narrative from the devastating injuries that defined it?
The three aforementioned quarterbacks were only the tip of that serious injury iceberg. Add J.J. Watt, Andrew Luck, and Sam Bradford to the list. And what about David Johnson, Eric Berry, Richard Sherman, and Dalvin Cook? You could build a Super Bowl-winning roster from this year’s injured reserve.
I’m sure those injured players would tell you that this is part of football. But game after game, week after week, we’ve been reminded of its brutality and violence. The past two Sundays, we’ve watched Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier collide, helmet-to-helmet in a violent collision that could end his career or worse, followed shortly by Texans quarterback Tom Savage convulsing on the turf after a hit.
In an age where we’re more aware than ever about the cost of football, those images are hard to shake. This year, even the most invincible of NFL stars have been made mortal. Watching Wentz, the presumptive young MVP, hobble off the field last Sunday, towel over his head, will stick with me for a long time. I wanted to yell from the Coliseum press box. “Not him, too!”
I hope the playoffs give us something more. I hope Rodgers mounts a post-injury, run-the-table comeback or the Eagles catch fire with Nick Foles or a…