I was going to shelve this particular topic and save it for a rainy day down the road—you know, just in case. But there’s no time like the present when you’re in a total sports shutdown and speculation on how various seasons will play out continue to pop up on a daily basis.
The three major sports leagues that are supposed to be in action right now—MLB, NBA and NHL—all face the prospects of having abbreviated seasons. Logistically, there doesn’t appear to be a realistic way to avoid it for any of them.
How would you feel about a World Series winner being crowned after an 82-game regular season that included only regional play so as to avoid excess travel amid the ongoing pandemic? At least Major League Baseball has had a chance to plan for that. What about an NBA or NHL champion coming on the heels of a regular season that was literally marked “incomplete” and a postseason that was perhaps a bit gimmicky—expanded or contracted field, shortened “best of” series, etc.?
When it comes to the gimmicky part, as far as Nashville Predators player Mark Duchene is concerned, he’d rather not have a ‘Covid Cup,’ if it meant winning it during a postseason that strays too far from the 16-team field, four-best of seven series tournament Stanley Cup winners must survive in order to hoist Lord Stanley at the end of each season.
“You don’t want to have a ‘COVID Cup,’ and I’m worried that if we come back and try and force this thing and it’s a little gimmicky and it’s not quite right, whoever wins the Cup is going to have people try and take it away from them their whole lives. And they don’t deserve that … Our game is one of the games that has the most integrity in the world and I know our guys are going to want this to mean something if we do come back.”
That quote from Duchene is courtesy of an article published in the Nashville Post on Tuesday.
Before I go any further, I think it’s fair to point out that Duchene, first and foremost, expressed concern for the health and safety of anyone involved in a possible Stanley Cup playoff tournament that may or may not be gimmicky due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But that obviously goes without saying. If there’s too much of a risk for the players, coaches, trainers and everyone tasked with working during any regular season or postseason, it’s simply not worth it.
However, in a hypothetical sense, where safety is about as close to a guarantee as it can get with this virus still a major concern around the world, isn’t Duchene being a little too dramatic with his worry over how history will view the winner of the 2019/2020 Stanley Cup?
With all due respect to Duchene, hockey players and their very die-hard fans, they didn’t trademark integrity. Other sports have plenty of it, as well.
I’d like to think the league I love the most—the National Football League—has plenty of it, including a rich history of champions and dynasties.
The Redskins of the early-’80s to the early-’90s were a mini-dynasty, appearing in four Super Bowls and winning three of them between 1982-1991. Two of those Lombardi trophies were obtained after regular seasons that were compromised by player strikes.
The Redskins clinched their first Lombardi trophy in franchise history thanks to a 27-17 victory over the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII.
Just how badly did the players strike compromise the 1982 regular season? It shortened it to just nine games. Also, the NFL postseason field was expanded to 16 teams—eight per conference. I often forget about that; when I think of that season’s Super Bowl, I recall Dolphins quarterback David Woodley connecting with receiver Jimmy Cefalo on a 76-yard touchdown pass early in the game. I remember Miami’s Fulton Walker’s 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. And, of course, the most iconic play from Super Bowl XVII: Running back John Riggin’s 43-yard fourth-quarter touchdown on fourth and one that put the Redskins ahead for good.
As for the Redskins’ second Lombardi trophy, that came on the heels of the strike-compromised 1987 campaign. Was the schedule truly compromised? Not really and yes. While the season was only shortened by one week, three of those weeks included games played by scabs who were signed by teams after the regular players walked out early in the year.
However, just like with the ‘82 Redskins, nobody talks much about the ‘87 strike and those replacement players when discussing Washington’s Super Bowl XXII championship.
Instead, people remember Broncos quarterback John Elway, the future Hall of Famer, coming up small in the Big Game for the second straight season. They talk about the Redskins falling behind, 10-0, before exploding for 35 second-quarter points on the way to a 42-10 victory. And, of course, they celebrate Doug Williams, the first African American quarterback to start a Super Bowl, win a Super Bowl and be named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Obviously, the 1980s were a time when the Internet and social media did not exist. Sports talk radio wasn’t nearly the industry that it is today. Things weren’t THINGS back then—they just happened. Legacies weren’t as important as they are in the modern era.
And when it comes to that last part—the legacy part—perhaps Duchene has a point.
But maybe not.
The NFL still has a few months left to see how things continue to unfold with the pandemic. Will the league be able to get a full season in? What happens if it’s delayed? How many regular season games will be trimmed from the schedule? How will the NFL figure out division winners and a postseason field and format?
I can tell you this: If the Steelers win Super Bowl LV on the heels of a 2020 regular season that only includes nine games, I won’t care. If the Steelers win the Super Bowl after a postseason in-which they have to play three “road” games in stadiums that don’t include fans, I won’t care.
I believe history would look at such an accomplishment in the same way it views the 1982 and 1987 Redskins championships. Naive? Perhaps. But to quote the Beatles: “I believe in yesterday.”
If you’re a player or fan of a team that is lucky enough to win a championship during this pandemic, cherish it, anyway—regardless of the circumstances or “gimmicks.”
It will still count in the record books.
The legacies of the gimmicky ones from yesterday are doing just fine today.