CANTON, Ohio — As the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens prepared to kick off the 2018 NFL season in the Hall Of Fame Game at Tom Benson Hall Of Fame Stadium, the two biggest questions on most fans' minds had almost nothing to do with the two teams.
One big question was how the officiating crew, led by 30-year NFL veteran Walt Coleman, would interpret the league’s new lowering-the-helmet, catch and kickoff rules after Coleman acknowledged in a meeting with Chicago-area media at Bears training camp a week earlier there were a few nuances even the stripes were uncertain about as the league was still working on finalizing some of the details.
The second question, which was certain to yield a more definitive answer, was what Bears and Ravens players might do during the playing of the national anthem for the first time this NFL preseason.
The league announced a new policy in May, which gave each player a choice between staying in the locker room while the anthem played or being on the field, but all players on the field would be required to stand with their hands on their hearts or risk disciplinary action against their team from the league office.
Then, just as most training camps were opening, the NFL and the NFL Players Association issued a joint statement saying they were in the process of negotiating a new policy, that the policy announced in May is now on hold and they’d have no further comment until they reached some mutual agreement.
So as kickoff and the playing of the Anthem approached, most eyes in the press box and many in the stands and at home were trained on the two teams’ sidelines and the tunnels leading to their locker rooms to see which players would choose to do what.
As the first strains of “Oh say can you see ..." rang through the stadium, with almost 180 players on the two teams' rosters, it was impossible to do an exact audit of every single player's actions and body language.
But short of anything hidden from view, it appeared that every member of both clubs was on the field and none chose to take a knee or sit.
The Bears' sideline was a bit more orderly as the players all stood toes on the sideline with arms linked, while a number of Ravens players chose to stand a bit farther back than the bulk of their teammates, but there were no visible signs of protest.
Clearly, the NFL is nowhere near out of the woods on the Anthem issue as there are 30 teams that have yet to be tested and it seems unlikely that regardless of what they all chose to do, there is no way Donald Trump, Jerry Jones, Chris Johnson and others are going to let this controversy die easy.
But for one night the Ravens and Bears chose to make sure the focus stayed on the seven HOF Inductees on the field with them and did nothing to add to the debate that will most likely be picked up again next week and rage on for the foreseeable future.