NFL Reshaped by Commissioner, Firm Coaches The National Football League begins its regular season next week following a pre-season dominated by the troubles of Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback who pleaded guilty to a federal dogfighting charge. Stable leadership should keep leading teams in tact.

NFL Reshaped by Commissioner, Firm Coaches

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Well, the National Football League begins its regular season next week. And for some that may be a relief. The preseason has been dominated by Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback who pleaded guilty to a federal dogfighting charge. Vick will not be around for the start of the season. He's been suspended. But we still had this question for former NFL player and ESPN analyst Bill Curry.

How much is this season's beginning going to be overshadowed by the developments with Michael Vick?

Mr. BILL CURRY (Former NFL Player; ESPN Football Analyst): I think that's a really good question at this time. And the reason that it's different from any other situation that I've seen in all my years of being in and around the NFL is that it incorporates almost a perfect storm of all the variables that are so big in the public's mind in this day and time of what is cruelty, the fact that Michael Vick being among the highest paid players in the history of the game, the arrests all around the NFL, and a new commissioner. So when you bring all those factors together, I think it's going to be bigger than it ordinarily would be.

INSKEEP: Well, tell me. Has this issue, the behavior of players off the field, a serious problem that the NFL has not dealt within past years?

Mr. CURRY: I think so. When I played, the idea that we were all choir boys is hilarious to me. We had some thugs. We had every kind of human being on our teams, from the finest human beings to the worst adjusted. Except that the sportswriters never wrote about bar fights. They never wrote about DUIs.

Today, you get a traffic ticket and it's on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

INSKEEP: Is there something about the sport that encourages people to be violent off the field?

Mr. CURRY: Well, of course, it is. Who do you think that is playing out there, Steve? Do you think that all of us are just well adjusted human beings because we go smash our face into 300-pound people for 20 years? We all grew up maybe in some difficult circumstances or had a little bit of inferiority complex. Every individual that plays football for a long, long time is somebody that's got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. Football has drawn the most aggressive males, and so you're going to get the most aggressive behavior.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk a little bit about on-field or sanctioned violence, if you will. The Indianapolis Colts, the Super Bowl champions, are they in position to repeat?

Mr. CURRY: I think what happens is that the best teams really do continue to win even at the highest, most jaded levels. If we look at professional basketball with the San Antonio Spurs or a couple of years ago with the Chicago White Sox, those teams are not the ones with the most dominant, superstar-named players. Those are the teams who care about each other and who worked together.

So the New England Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts, the Chicago Bears will continue to be there because they have stable leadership. They have powerful organizations. They have solid head coaches that are not screamers and yellers. They're just solid. And I think those are the kinds of teams that will continue to win. So the answer to your question is yes, they can repeat.

INSKEEP: Can you just speak from experience about what this moment in the season feels like? When you, you know, you've been out, you've been practicing, you've done some preseason games and you're about to step out for the real thing for the season.

Mr. CURRY: Well, we tease about players being fully adjusted or being too violent or what have you, and not all teasing. But this is the moment that is the most fun of all. The only thing that's more fun than this is getting ready to play in a Super Bowl. And I was privileged to play in a bunch of them because I was on great teams. But getting ready for that first league game, you're not hitting each other. You're not playing exhibitions. It's going to be real. The stands are going to be full. And it's so exciting to go out there with your team. This is the golden moment in players' careers. They never forget them.

INSKEEP: Well, Bill Curry of ESPN, it's great talking with you again.

Mr. CURRY: Great talking with you, Steve. Thanks.

INSKEEP: Bill Curry is a former NFL player and a football analyst for ESPN.

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