So, the NFL owners ratified the proposed collective bargaining agreement on Thursday afternoon. Instead of following up that approval with a brief, measured statement from commissioner Roger Goodell (an appropriate follow-up since the deal is not done until the players approve it), the owners followed up with what felt like every owner in the league taking a turn speaking on their approval of the proposal.
You know those wedding rehearsal dinners that spin wildly out of control with practically everyone proposing a toast? That was yesterday's owners' meeting aftermath. Mara, Hunt, Rooney, Richardson, and the coup de gras, a teary eyed Wayne Weaver.
This premature celebration pissed the players off. Hell, it pissed me off. That's where we pick up today's saga.
The NFL Players Association sent out an email this afternoon informing their constituency to hang tight and wait till Monday for their next marching orders. ESPN.com's Adam Schefter obtained a copy of the email:
"Guys, To keep you abreast of the latest developments, we are reviewing the latest proposal for a settlement. Because of the passing of Myra Kraft in Boston, the NFLPA will not be making any public statements in honor of the Kraft family. Our recommendation is for everyone to stay put and keep doing what you are doing where you are doing it. We will meet again on Monday to discuss our options and the direction we want to go. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us. Thanks for your patience. Your Player Reps."
So now it's the players' turn to execute their chess move, and their response to the owners popping champagne on a deal that the players hadn't signed yet is to wait, and make the owners twist a little bit. Unfortunately, it's making fans twist, too, which could result in the owners' desired side effect after their ratification Thursday -- putting the P.R. heat on the players.
In the meantime, I found the biggest example of premature "lockout ending celebra-culation" today, bigger than Bob McNair's crowing about a ten year agreement in his conference call yesterday.
The Cincinnati Bengals took it a step further and decided to reach out to all of their fans with a letter declaring the lockout over, labor peace at hand, and the Bengals ready to dominate! Of course, none of these things are true (and one will never be):
We are excited to let you know that the NFL has reached a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows the entire NFL season to be played this year.
The NFL is the most popular sport in America. Our games are intense, unifying and meaningful to fans in the stadium and to those watching at home. We are thrilled to have a labor deal in place that will provide fans with a decade of certainty and that will allow us to focus all our energies where they ought to be - on the playing field. The upcoming 2011 season will surely be exciting, and football work will begin shortly. Our coaches will begin meeting with players, and the Club will welcome back talented veterans along with exciting rookies from the April NFL Draft, like top picks A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. Whether all of that will take place in Cincinnati or Georgetown, Kentucky, will be decided shortly once we receive the NFL's operating schedule.
Two years ago, our football team swept the AFC North--one of the toughest divisions in football--and many key components of that team remain, including defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and a defense that ranked in the top half of the NFL for three straight seasons. The area of the team that will change the most will be the offense with a new direction under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and new faces at quarterback and wide receiver. The mix of veterans and rookies should return our offense to the top level we need, and we are excited by the challenge.
This year--like others before it--we will focus our energies on returning to the Super Bowl again. That's what we want and that's what our fans want, and our franchise has been blessed with great support from fans for decades. Last season we reached a record-setting 57th straight sellout--a string we hope to restart soon--and our games have been the most-watched television program in the local market for the last applicable 96 ratings weeks. This is great football country, and incredibly: 95% of the Cincinnati population watched an NFL game during the 2009 season (third highest ranking among NFL markets).
We are very grateful to our fans, we thank you for your patience during the labor stoppage, and now we look forward to a great season together. Who Dey!
My favorite parts about this letter:
1. "The NFL has reached a new Collective Bargaining Agreement." With whom? That first sentence is so emphatic about the lockout being over that it almost makes McNair's definitive Thursday statements look wishy-washy by comparison.
2. "Our games are intense, unifying and meaningful to fans in the stadium and to those watching at home." I read this sentence and had to double check and make sure this letter was coming from the Bengals and not the Packers. Also, Texan fans would like to thank the Bengals for their "intensity" in that lay down job against the Jets in the final game of 2009 that kept the Texans out of the playoffs. Treated it like a very "meaningful" game. Thanks. Assholes.
3. "We are thrilled to have a labor deal in place..." I mean....seriously....wow.
4. "Our coaches will begin meeting with players, and the Club will welcome back talented veterans along with exciting rookies from the April NFL Draft, like top picks A.J. Green and Andy Dalton." Can I get a list of those talented veterans? Also, the mention of Andy Dalton and omission of Carson Palmer are both pretty telling. Can we find out how much Palmer jerseys are discounted by right now in the Bengal store?
5. "Two years ago, our football team swept the AFC North--one of the toughest divisions in football--..." Sign of a Loser #3189: Touting accomplishments from more than one season ago in your promotional material.
6. "...and many key components of that team remain, including defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and a defense that ranked in the top half of the NFL for three straight seasons." I would make fun of a team for having the defensive coordinator at the center of its "let's get fired up" letter, but the Texans are one step away from renaming Budweiser Plaza "Wade's World." So I'll stand down.
7. The area of the team that will change the most will be the offense with a new direction under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden... I'd like to pass a rule that you are only allowed to use the name "Gruden" to get people excited about your team if it refers to Jon Gruden. Jay Gruden? It's going to be funny when the forgotten Gruden brother is coaching the forgotten Palmer brother (Carson's brother, Jordan, also a Bengal) at quarterback.
8. ...and new faces at quarterback and wide receiver. Bye bye, Carson. Bye bye, Ochocinco.
9. This year--like others before it--we will focus our energies on returning to the Super Bowl again. Awesome. I love how this sentence makes the Bengals sound like they're the Steelers. "Returning to the Super Bowl again." FUN FACT: Andy Dalton was not even two years old the last time the Bengals were in the Super Bowl. Awesome.
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10. Last season we reached a record-setting 57th straight sellout. Proof positive business is good in the NFL. The BENGALS sold out their 57th straight game last season. The GODDAMN BENGALS.
And just as I finish up this post crushing the Bengals, I get an email forwarded to me from the Texans telling Amy that her tickets are on their way. Tickets to a season's worth of games in which the players have yet to agree to play.
Premature "celebra-culation" fever! Catch it!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on Sporting News Radio (Sirius 94, XM 208) and 1560 The Game, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.