On February 3, 2008, 97.5 million people watched the New York Giants end the New England Patriots' perfect season in Super Bowl XLII. That's 76 million more viewers than the 2007 World Series; 80 million more than the Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals; and 90 million more than Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. (That's hockey, by the way.)
The NFL is in great shape. In addition to its record ratings, the league turns casual fans into compulsive fantasy-football savants and reportedly earns $3.735 billion a year in TV revenue. But it's not perfect. There are no guaranteed contracts, rookies often outearn battle-tested veterans ("battle-scarredâ€ is probably more appropriate) and it's the one sport where superstars aren't as important as the uniform. So KING recruited our own gridiron gangâ€”five-time pro bowler LaDainian Tomlinson, 2008 pro bowler Kellen Winslow II, Marques Colston of the New Orleans Saints and ESPN analyst Marcellus Wileyâ€”to address these issues and more. Like that Favre guy.
Brett Favre's return to the NFL was the biggest story of the off season. Did you think he was coming back?
Kellen Winslow II I did think he was coming back; something told me he would try to play again. It's hard for the fans, though. [Aaron] Rodgers is an unproven guy, and Favre is a legend. If I were Rodgers, I'd be mad, because for him it has to be annoying. At the same time, I know how Favre feels. It's a tough situation.
LaDainian Tomlinson The Packers organization could have handled the whole thing different. They messed up when they said, "We aren't releasing you, and we'll welcome you back but as a backup. You have to sit on the bench, and we'll pay you $12 million because we want to protect your legacy.â€ Why is an organization worrying about his legacy? If you cared about that, then why is he on the bench? They messed up. Also, did Brett retire prematurely? Yes, he did. He should have waited until he was sure. Part of this is his fault. But he wants to play, so what do you do? ...A lot of guys feel like he's earned the right to decide to leave or for the Packers to release him. The problem is they don't want him in the same division where they have to see him twice a year.
The Favre controversy overshadowed other issues, such as commissioner Roger Goodell's comments that rookie salaries are way too high. Do you agree with him?
Tomlinson I agree with him. The money should go to guys who have proven [themselves]; rookies aren't proven. The agents and all these people and the head of the players' association talk about [how] this puts money in everybody's pocket, and maybe so, but how can a rookie be making more than your top quarterback, your top running back and your top cornerback? That's crazy. It doesn't happen in the NBA, it doesn't happen in baseball and it doesn't happen in any other league. Something definitely has to change.
Marques Colston It's touchy because I'm fresh out of the draft, so I understand wanting to get signed and get taken care of for the rest of your life on draft day. But I'm on the other side of the equation too, where I'm not really being paid for the production and the numbers that I'm putting up. I wish there was a way that guys can get paid more for their performance, but at this point, I guess there is no logical way to do that.
Marcellus Wiley There should be a rookie pool, but only if what's left after those savings goes directly to veteran players. Then I'd be OK with it. Veterans deserve it; rookies don't deserve that much money.
The system, however, is working. Right now, football is the country's most popular sport. Why?
Wiley Football is not a recreational sport: You love basketball, you go down to the park and play; you like baseball, you grab your ball, bat and the kids, and you're going down to the park to play. Football? You're watching that. You may go play catch, but throw on some shoulder pads and helmets? That's still a gladiator sport. That is a sport that you watch from a distance with awe. Then, it's a soap opera. All 32 teams live out a soap opera. Look at Green Bay: The Young and the Restless couldn't even come close to that storyline right here. You can do that with every team. The Miami Dolphins: Oh, the Tuna [Bill Parcells] is here. Oh, Jason Taylor is dancing, now he's in Washington.
Colston It's so unpredictable. You don't know what a team is going to do from year to year. I guess we were a perfect example of that if you look at our last two seasons. In any given year, your team has a chance.