NFL’s show must go on despite COVID-19 pandemic

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SPORTS DIGEST

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

The NBA managed to finish its regular season and go through the entire playoffs in a bubble in Orlando, Florida, without too many problems with the coronavirus pandemic.

After a rough start involving players from a few teams who didn’t take the precautions they should have, Major League Baseball got through a shortened, 60-game schedule and the playoffs.

Both leagues were able to crown a Los Angeles team as champion for seasons that will always carry an asterisk for everyone but fans of the Lakers and Dodgers.

Local football fans won’t have to worry about that. It’s doubtful that the Rams will be playing for a championship at the end of this season, if the season ends at all.

The NFL, the league all the other sports leagues in this country aspire to be, may not last through the pandemic.

As the coronavirus numbers continue to rise in this second surge, the NFL is having trouble getting its games played.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens were supposed to play Dec. 2 (the day after this was written), six days after the game was originally scheduled. It was postponed from prime time Thanksgiving night Nov. 26 to Nov. 30, then Dec. 1 and then Dec. 2.

That has forced the NFL to reschedule the games the Steelers and Ravens were scheduled to play Dec. 6, affecting two more teams. That will probably have a snowball effect for the week of Dec. 13, with four teams now having to reschedule games.

College football has gotten it right. If a team doesn’t have enough players because of coronavirus considerations, the games are simply canceled. That’s what happened to the USC Trojans Nov. 27, when their game with Colorado was canceled because the Trojans didn’t have enough offensive linemen on scholarship available to play.

And college football teams have larger rosters than NFL teams.

The NFL has always marched to its own drum, arrogantly so in many cases.

Almost 60 years ago, the league refused to cancel its schedule of games two days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The whole country shut down for four days until after JFK’s funeral, but not the NFL.

Moving the Steelers-Ravens game around three different times isn’t even the worst thing the NFL has done in regards to the growing spread of the coronavirus.

The league allowed the Denver Broncos to take the field Nov. 29 with a wide receiver from the practice squad at quarterback after four quarterbacks on the Broncos roster were placed in quarantine because of coronavirus protocols.

Kendall Hilton hadn’t played quarterback since he was at Wake Forest a year ago. He went undrafted and was signed as an undrafted free agent wide receiver by the Broncos, who put him on the practice squad.

But because a Bronco quarterback tested positive for coronavirus and the other three quarterbacks had spent time in close proximity to him in meetings, the league left Denver had no other choices.

The Broncos tried to add quality control coach Rob Calabrese to the active roster (he played quarterback at Central Florida from 2008 to 2012) but the NFL wouldn’t let them.

So Hilton was fed to the New Orleans Saints, who were playing with their backup quarterback because Drew Brees is out with broken ribs.

In a game that set the NFL back about 80 years, the Saints and Broncos combined for 10 completions in 25 passing attempts for 91 yards. That would be a bad quarter for Patrick Mahomes. Hilton completed one of nine passes for 13 yards and was intercepted twice.

The Broncos used running backs in the wildcat formation 19 times during the game in addition to Hilton.

The Saints walloped the Broncos 31-3. It wasn’t close and the game should not have been played, but the NFL isn’t going to let doctors or politicians tell them what to do.

The San Francisco 49ers will have to play their last two home games this season in Arizona because Santa Clara County, where the 49ers play, has banned contact sports due to the coronavirus.

The 49ers will spend the next five weeks in their own little bubble in Phoenix.

And the league will continue on its merry way, knowing that television revenues will pay most of the bills for this season.

The league has always had a callous attitude regarding injuries. Players know that they are one play away from serious injury at any given time and the league makes rule changes designed to protect some players, but ultimately doesn’t care.

Back at the turn of the 20th century, when Teddy Roosevelt was president, college football had to make rule changes to make the game safer after the president threatened to outlaw the game.

The arrogant NFL would have kept on playing the game the same way back then. And it isn’t about to let a silly old pandemic get in the way of the 2020 season.

ODDS AND ENDS: USC is expected to return to action against Washington State at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 6. Yes, the game has been pushed back to Sunday to give the Trojans one more day to get healthy.

The Trojans can’t afford any more cancellations. The UCLA game is Dec. 12. …

Speaking of the Trojans, JT Daniels, who used to start at quarterback for USC until he blew out his knee in the season opener in 2019, is winning games for the University of Georgia.

Bulldog faithful are probably wishing coach Kirby Smart started him earlier in the season. Daniels is 2-0 as a starter, the Bulldogs are 6-2 on the season and need help to make it to the Southeastern Conference championship game, where they would probably face Alabama again. Alabama won 41-24 in the first meeting, before Daniels was the starting quarterback. …

The UCLA Bruins are 2-2 after scoring a convincing win over Arizona, 27-10, Nov. 28. The Bruins did it with Chase Griffin at quarterback.

The Bruins could miss this week’s game against Arizona State. The Sun Devils haven’t played since they lost to USC in the season opener Nov. 7 because of the coronavirus. …

I like Anthony Lynn, the Los Angeles Chargers head coach, but he isn’t long for his job. The Chargers fell to 3-8 Nov. 28 with a 27-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills, despite taking the ball away from the Bills three times in the fourth quarter. The three turnovers netted the Chargers exactly three points.

Lynn or his rookie quarterback Justin Herbert mismanaged the clock in the final minute, also. Since Herbert is a rookie, Lynn will get the blame for that mistake.

The Chargers can’t seem to win a close game, a sign of a bad team. Good teams manage to find ways to win close games. The Chargers always manage to lose them.

Apparently, it wasn’t all Philip Rivers’ fault. …

Speaking of blame, Rams quarterback Jared Goff is taking some heat after the Rams lost to the 49ers Nov. 28. Goff threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball away once. Earlier this season, he had four turnovers in a loss to the Miami Dolphins.

On the season he has thrown 10 interceptions and fumbled seven times. That’s too many mistakes for a franchise quarterback to make and head coach Sean McVay put much of the blame for the loss on Goff.

The Rams have two games with the Arizona Cardinals in the last five weeks and home games against the New York Jets and New England Patriots, who have five wins between them. They also have to travel to Seattle, a game that could determine the NFC Western Division.

Goff needs to do a better job of holding on to the football and to quit throwing interceptions if the Rams are going to go far in the playoffs.