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If timeline holds, play the Hall of Fame game

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Posted July 21, 2011 @ 1:08 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

There are few things that commissioner Roger Goodell and I have agreed upon over the past four months. But I have a feeling we see eye-to-eye on this:

If the lockout ends in the coming days as expected, and the Bears and Rams can report to camp next week, the Pro Football Hall of Fame game should be played.

With the league year set to begin, the four weeks of preseason football will be saved, but the one game that remains in limbo is the Hall of Fame game between the Bears and Rams on Aug. 7. The game has been the target of a "should they or shouldn't they" discussion, with reports of the game being canceled getting refuted by the league.

League counsel Jeff Pash said Wednesday that "it's getting pretty tight" in terms of keeping the Hall of Fame game. If there's a date the league office has in mind as a 'drop-dead' date, I understand and support that. It's possible we've already reached that date, and the league is waiting to announce the cancellation, and I won't shed many tears. But if this timeline holds and the NFL decides to keep the game as scheduled, I'm in full support. For the first time in a while, I'm in a "whatever the league says, I support it" mode, in this case, specifically about the Hall of Fame game.

Some, though, already want the game canceled, bringing up a variety of reasons on why the first thing the NFL should do when the lockout ends is cancel the first preseason game. Here are the common reasons:

1. The Bears and Rams won't have enough time to prepare for the game.

The two teams were set to begin camp this Friday. That obviously won't happen, and probably won't happen for another week. The Bears and Rams likely will have around eight days to prepare for the Hall of Fame game in Canton.

But what about the other 30 teams? The Seahawks and Chargers open their preseason slate on Aug. 11, and are set to start training camp at the end of July. Are you trying to tell me that those two teams, with 2-3 extra days of practice, will be that much more prepared to play than the Bears and Rams? What about the Bucs and Chiefs, set to play on Aug. 12? I find it hard to believe that a couple extra practices will make that much of a difference.

Heck, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz said last week that he needed only one day to prepare for the Hall of Fame game.

2. With a shorter time to prepare and no minicamp or OTAs, there is a greater risk for injuries.

Safety for the players is a legitimate concern, and I think this is the strongest argument by those who believe the game should already have been nixed. But think about how many injuries happen in training camp. If the Bears and Rams don't play on Aug. 7, they certainly will be practicing, and a torn ACL very well could occur then. Are injuries more likely to happen in a game? Sure, and that's why you won't see many starters, let alone top backups, take the field in Canton on Aug. 7. 

3. The quality of football will be very poor.

After everything that has happened in the past four months, will fans really care about the quality of the play on the field? I think they'll just be pleased to see football back. It probably will be a bunch of undrafted rookies and guys you've never heard of, but when was the last time you watched a Hall of Fame game and thought, "My, what intensity! What great football! I feel like I'm watching the Super Bowl!" If we are going to complain about the "quality" of football, you might as well have all preseason games go just 2-3 quarters.

4. The Hall of Fame game simply isn't important enough to rush the Bears and Rams into playing it.

The Hall of Fame game is symbolic. Not just for being an annual tradition after the enshrinement in Canton, but this year it holds a larger significance, as it represents the most significant potential casualty of the lockout. I have to imagine that Goodell wants more than anything for the Bears and Rams (or at least the men wearing their jerseys) to take the field on Aug. 7 to prove that despite this entire labor mess, not a single game had to be sacrificed.

Again, this is a time-sensitive situation. Should the CBA talks carry into the weekend, the Hall of Fame game will, and probably should, get axed. That's even more reason to get it done on Thursday and Friday. As PFW's Browns correspondent Tony Grossi tweeted on Wednesday evening, "NFL players should realize how (important the Hall of Fame) game is to Canton and close the CBA deal (Thursday)."

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