Drama in the NFL is not reserved for the field.
During a season played in the shadow of a potential labor stoppage — yes, folks, possibly no pro football in 2011 — the headlines have shifted from the sports sections to the gossip pages and even to the police blotters.
Placed in the spotlight as much for news away from the games as for what they could and would do playing were such big names as Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre, Randy Moss and Braylon Edwards.
Any season has its plots and subplots, but this season’s story lines have ranged from unsettling to bizarre to bewildering:
The two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback was suspended from the Pittsburgh Steelers for six games in April by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell following allegations that Roethlisberger sexually assaulted a Georgia college student in March. The case brought no criminal charges against him, and Roethlisberger proclaimed his innocence.
Just before the season, Goodell shortened Roethlisberger’s ban to four games, citing the quarterback’s new commitment to making good decisions.
Before the season, the common wisdom was that the Steelers would be lucky to be 2-2 when he returned. Surprise, surprise. Pittsburgh went an impressive 3-1 without their quarterback and currently looks as strong as any team.
First, there were three Vikings players being dispatched to Mississippi during training camp to recruit Favre. They succeeded, and he returned to Minnesota for his 20th season in the league and second with the team.
Next, the Vikes plummeted toward the bottom of the standings while Favre searched for a deep threat with wide receiver Sidney Rice sidelined. Then came a Deadspin report that Favre, while playing for the Jets in 2008, sent lewd photos and inappropriate text messages to Jenn Sterger, a game hostess for the team.
Already bothered by tendinitis in his right elbow, Favre then suffered two fractures in his left foot against his other former team, the Packers. That led to a week of speculation whether he could play at New England and extend his incredible record of consecutive starts to 292. He played, of course — only to leave midway through the fourth quarter with a gash in his chin that required 10 stitches.
Oh yeah, Favre’s streak is at 293 and Minnesota got his deep threat, which leads us to …
For now, Randy Moss is in Tennessee. He began the season with New England, for which he was more decoy than dominator, making only nine receptions. The Vikings coughed up a third-round draft pick and traded for him, but all they seemingly got was his lanky frame. Moss’ heart and soul weren’t in it — even Favre admitted Moss didn’t go hard on every down. Moss apparently even said he wouldn’t feed his dog the food a caterer supplied last Friday after Minnesota’s practice.
Then, Moss’ soliloquy of praise for the Patriots and Bill Belichick while criticizing Vikings coaches after Minnesota’s loss on Oct. 31 led coach Brad Childress to waive Moss two days later.
SIT DOWN DONOVAN
In the final 2 minutes of their loss at Detroit, the Redskins benched Donovan McNabb, the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback they paid dearly to acquire from Philadelphia in the offseason. Coach Mike Shanahan said immediately after the game that backup Rex Grossman had a better understanding of the 2-minute offense. The following day, the coach changed his explanation to nagging hamstring injuries kept McNabb from practicing at full speed and created doubts about his "cardiovascular endurance."
Left unanswered: How do you bench anyone for Rex Grossman?
From Rex Ryan’s cursing on "Hard Knocks" to All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis’ holdout to wide receiver Braylon Edwards’ arrest for DUI and subsequent one-quarter benching, the Jets have been a tabloid’s dream. Especially when a TV Azteca female reporter said she felt uncomfortable in the team’s locker room, which led to the league developing a workplace conduct program.
RAMPING UP PUNISHMENT
After a particularly brutal Week 6, Goodell and chief assistant Ray Anderson clamped down on illegal hits and flagrant fouls, threatening suspensions to offenders. No one has been banned yet — a helmet hit by Green Bay’s Nick Collins drew a $50,000 fine yesterday — and the league has handed down a bevy of fines, including $175,000 to three players for such hits on Oct. 17: Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison ($75,000), who briefly contemplated retirement; Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson and Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather ($50,000 each).
The most common complaint from players was succinctly voiced by Cowboys LB Bradie James:
"We’re going to be playing flag football in about five years."