Although seven hours of labor-negotiation talks between owners and players representatives were seen as fruitless and meatless Tuesday, the NFL went ahead and released its 2011 schedule.
If there’s a lesson to be gleaned from the league’s insistence on revealing a 17-week slate of tentative games, it is this: If at first you don’t succeed, try to pretend that all is hunky-dory.
“We know it’s important for fans to start looking forward to the season,” commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters. “We have every intention of playing a full schedule.”
Or as The Great Oz would’ve put it: “Pay no attention to that federal mediator behind the curtain! The National Football League has spoken!”
As for the Seahawks’ schedule, the first thing that comes to mind is, well, the first thing that came to mind when Jim Harbaugh announced he was leaving Stanford to take over as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. When the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll was a frantic bundle of energy pacing the sidelines at USC, he and Harbaugh developed a rivalry best remembered for the indifferent handshake they exchanged after Stanford ran up 55 points on the Trojans in 2009.
“What’s your deal?” Carroll asked Harbaugh. “What’s your deal?”
Responded Harbaugh: “What’s your deal?”
It’s fortunate the coaches weren’t slinging guns when they met on the middle of the field, because three “what’s your deals?” during a nine-word conversation is the stuff of a high-noon duel.
Anyway, the history between Carroll and Harbaugh figures to dominate the pregame story line of Week 1, which finds the Hawks opening on the road – assuming they open at all.
Then it’s on to Pittsburgh, where the Seahawks will face two challenges they’ve met with little success in recent years: an AFC road opponent – they’ve lost eight straight since beating Denver in 2006 – and a 1 p.m. Eastern time zone kickoff, which translates into 10 a.m. on the apparently stubborn biological clocks of the Seattle players.
After the Qwest Field opener against Arizona on Sept. 25, the Hawks will take on a brutal combination punch of the Falcons at home and the Giants at New York.
It’s possible the Seahawks could break training camp with more depth and talent than the 7-9 team, which took best-of-show honors last season in the kennel club otherwise known as the NFC West, and still limp into their Oct. 16 bye date with a losing record through five games.
And if they stumble out of the gate at San Francisco, a 1-4 start isn’t out of the question.
The remainder of the schedule will be highlighted by the Seahawks’ return to prime time: a Dec. 1 Thursday night game against the Eagles, followed by a Dec. 12 Monday night game against the Rams – both at Qwest Field.
If there’s a heart of the artichoke to the 2011 schedule, it’s those back-to-back opportunities for the 12th Man to make a difference on national TV, with 10 days between the games for fans to soothe their vocal cords.
The approach to the finish line isn’t daunting – the 49ers at home, on Christmas Eve; the Cardinals at Arizona, on New Year’s Day – but those winnable holiday-season matchups might not mean anything if the Seahawks don’t survive that imposing early-season trek preceding their bye week.
Here’s something to consider amid speculation that owners and players won’t agree on the collective-bargaining agreement, preventing training camps from opening until, say, the middle of August. In that case, the NFL either will cancel the first two weeks of the season – reverting back to the 14-game schedule that was the norm between 1960 and 1977 – or postpone the first two weeks, with the idea of repositioning them on the back end of the season.
The league has the flexibility to do this. It could eliminate the week off between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl (at the expense of a Pro Bowl nobody cares about), then move the Super Bowl from Feb. 5 to Feb. 12. Instead of beginning the season with road games at San Francisco and Pittsburgh, in other words, the Seahawks could end the season with road games at San Francisco and Pittsburgh.
How much would this mean? If Pittsburgh already has clinched a playoff spot before the rescheduled season finale, it would mean a lot.
It would mean a lot, too, for the Seahawks to open with home games against the Cardinals and Falcons, and build a semblance of momentum, before taking their cross-country trip to play the Giants.
Don’t get me wrong: A settlement that averts a truncated season, or schedule restructuring, is in best interest of anybody who follows the NFL. But if the league’s labor pains persist until the edge of Labor Day? Take heart, Seahawks fans. The schedule requiring Seattle to open 2011 with two road games was not written in stone.
It was written in pencil.