BOB EDWARDS, host:
The National Football League season opens on Sunday with the following
mandate for game officials: Get it right the first time. Televised instant replay will not be around this year to overrule or confirm questionable calls by the officials. NFL owners voted last spring to do away with the technology, but many believe advocates will prevail and return instant replay to the professional game.
Several player comebacks also highlight this new season. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham is running and throwing again after sitting out last year with a knee injury. San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana says he's ready to test his surgically repaired elbow, but the 49ers are not as confident and have put Montana on the injured reserved list. That means the soonest he can play is in five weeks. Many lesser-known players will be back to test their newly repaired bodies, but not Rick Bryan of the Atlanta Falcons. Bryan's retirement did not make national headlines, but it did make his teammate, commentator Tim Green, think about the fragile life of an NFL player.
TIM GREEN REPORTING:
At 28 they begin to call you old in the NFL. Some players last until their 30s or until their knees turn to goulash. Others know when to get out. There were three of us old guys on the Atlanta Falcons' defensive line at the beginning of training camp. We're all good friends, and we've been through a lot together. There are only two of us left now, but not the two you'd think. The one you thought who might not last was Mike, who had his fifth and sixth vertebrae surgically fused together last fall. I just tested the hell out of it, and it's OK, he assured me, after the first head-snapping scrimmage of training camp.
No, it's Rick who's gone, and even though he was 30 and you'd have tough time saying which was twisted up worse, his fingers or his toes, he still appeared to have a few good years left in him. But he took a hit in the head that left his arms numb for a few hours. They told him it might happen again, only for good, and maybe it was time. But they didn't have to tell him anything. His bags were already packed. `I want to be able to hold my kids,' he explained to me.
Some of us old guys slipped out of training camp to have a last meal with
our teammate and friend. No one mentioned our excitement about the season, about playing two Monday night games while the whole world watches, about the circus-like atmosphere inspired by head coach Jerry Glanville and a sideline cast of celebrity fans that includes M.C. Hammer, Evander Holyfield and Kris Kristofferson. There was no mention of the glory of winning, the new Georgia dome, the fame, the money, the excitement. Instead, we talked about how lucky he was to be able to go fishing all fall and miss out on the hell that makes up part of a football season. `Just think,' we said, `no more aching bones and tired muscles and, best of all, no more long, hot month of training camp when the locker room begins to stink from sweat and when every night's sleep is fitful and marked by moans of discomfort; just golf and fishing and spending time with the family.'
When it was time to go, we kidded Rick about his pension, which he'll begin to collect at age 55. That's two years after the life-expectancy of an average NFL player. `You'll never make it,' someone said. We talked about a fishing trip in the off-season. `Maybe we'll drive all the way to Alaska.' `Can you do that?' someone asked. When I said goodbye, I shook hands and gave Rick a hug. I didn't look him directly in the eye, and I didn't mention the fishing trip. I'm no good at making
plans I know I won't keep.
Back at the locker room, I checked my protective neck padding and pumped some extra air into the padding of my helmet. Like a gypsy gazing into a crystal ball, I looked at my own distorted reflection in the glossy black surface of my helmet. The smile let me know I was glad to be there, but there was nothing I could see that told me how long it would last.
EDWARDS: The comments of Tim Green, a defensive lineman with the Atlanta Falcons.