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Madden: Schedule changes won't help Steelers

Saturday, September 15, 2001

First off, nothing I might write about sports could or should matter much in light of the events on Tuesday. But it's what I do, so here it goes.

The NFL has limited scheduling options regarding its decision not to play tomorrow and Monday, and most of them negatively impact the Steelers.

If the league decides to eliminate the Week 2 schedule and play a 15-game season, the Steelers see their easiest game vanish, namely their home contest against Cleveland. I originally thought the Steelers would go 9-7, putting them on the playoff bubble. A 15-game schedule -- with no game against the Browns at Heinz Field -- would likely mean 8-7 and their playoff bubble will burst.

If the NFL eliminates the wild-card playoff round to reschedule Week 2 games at the end of the regular season -- which makes the most sense financially for the entire league -- then the Steelers can kiss the postseason goodbye. The Steelers aren't going to win the AFC Central, and 9-7 (or even 10-6) won't get them the AFC's lone wild card if that's the system adopted.

The only other option is to reschedule the Week 2 games at the end of the regular season, then push all the playoff rounds back a week. That would even apply to the Super Bowl, because there's no week off between the conference championships and the Super Bowl this year. That kills this alternative, because the Super Bowl is too big an event logistically to reschedule, especially in a city such as New Orleans, which does massive convention and tourist business year-round. A Super Bowl totally dominates its host city for at least a week. There's no way to rearrange something like that.

With the latter alternative virtually impossible, I would go with the 15-game schedule and keep the playoff format intact. That just strikes me as being easiest. That also would keep the NFL from having to redo its broadcast contract, a deal that gives ABC the wild-card playoff games, that network's only playoff games this year.

So, by the time the NFL season ends, the events of Tuesday might well have screwed the Steelers, although I doubt we'll wind up seeing that as the most significant fallout.

If we're lucky, a messed-up NFL schedule and/or playoff format will be the only impact terrorism has on football. I have nightmares about a jet crashing into a packed football stadium some Sunday. The acts perpetrated Tuesday were symbolic. The terrorists hit the center of commerce and the center of the military, and they apparently meant to hit the center of the government, too. Killing 10,000 or so people at a football game would, in a way, be a direct shot at the people. I would almost guarantee that a few NFL games this fall are disrupted by bomb threats, legitimate or otherwise.

The NFL's status as the country's No. 1 sports league was certainly confirmed Thursday. Baseball was reportedly planning to resume play yesterday. A lot of major-college football games were still going to be played. Then NFL boss Paul Tagliabue canceled his contests, and every other sport followed.

I don't think there was a right or wrong decision concerning the cancellation of sporting events, but I would have played the games unless there were overwhelming security and/or travel worries, which there probably were. I don't think morality entered -- or should have entered -- into the decision-making process very much. Playing the games would have been a needed diversion for the American public, and, while the terrorists wouldn't have perceived it as an act of defiance, the great unwashed would have, and I think upping their morale should be a pretty strong consideration right now.

This war isn't even close to over. The government knows that, but I'm not sure the people do. And I'm not sure the people understand that much of this war will be waged on our home field. The world of sports has been disrupted greatly this week. I fear it's not for the last time.

You know who should decide what to do on those unfortunate occasions when war and sports intersect? Ted Williams. The former Boston Red Sox slugger is 83 and in failing health, but Teddy Ballgame is one man who knows about priorities.

Williams gave up five prime career years to fly for his country in World War II and the Korean War when he surely could have weaseled his way out of active duty. In Korea, he crash-landed his crippled jet and escaped from the flaming wreckage. When he played baseball, all he did was hit better than anybody else ever did. If Williams hadn't lost those five years to military service, his career numbers would be even more staggering. Williams might own most of baseball's significant hitting records. But if he had it to do all over again, I have a hunch Williams would do it exactly the same.

Williams is one of America's most underrated heroes, a man who excelled in sports and war. Let's see what Williams thinks about proceeding with sports. Because right now this nation can use every hero it has, both past and present.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 4 to 8 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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