Donovan McNabb to Redskins

Early last week, QB Donovan McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins, a divisional rival, and this question popped up, “Who are the superstar players in the NFL?” If the face and franchise quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles can so easily be traded away to a division rival for a couple of draft picks, then clearly no one player in the NFL is that important. Everyone is expendable.

If there is one thing I learned from the McNabb trade, it’s that unlike any other sport, today’s NFL is clearly not defined by a single player, a single name, a single face. As a matter of fact, I am not sure the NFL has ever been defined by a single player. Players in the NFL wear helmets, and that alone makes it nearly impossible to identify the player by the two eyes peeking out from behind the facemask. If you can’t see the player, how can he represent the NFL?

The NBA had Magic, Bird and Jordan and currently boasts Kobe and LeBron. MLB had The Great Bambino, The Sultan of Swat and The Babe, albeit that was all the same guy. Soccer had Pele and currently everyone knows the name of Beckham and Ronaldo. The NHL had Gretzky, PGA has Tiger and even NASCAR had Earnhardt, Petty and now Jeff Gordon. Who does the NFL have?

More and more, the NFL seems to be a sport that prides itself on not having a single player that defines the game. Sure there are some great players in the past and even present players that appear to be superstars but even they alone do not encompass the NFL. Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown and Bart Starr do not mean much to the younger generation of football fans. Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Tom Brady appear to be today’s NFL stars, but will their names be synonymous with football after they call it quits?

Look at Mcnabb, after being drafted in the 1st round by the Eagles in the 1999 NFL Draft, he was supposed to be the guy under center in Philadelphia until he walked away from the game. He led the Eagles to 5 NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl. He’s been to 5 Pro Bowls and leaves the Eagles with the most TDs (216), yards (32,873), completions (2,801), attempts (4,746) and games started (148) than any other quarterback in team history. What did that earn him? A one way ticket out of town, on Easter Sunday no less.

One would think that with stats like that, a player would be around for a long time. But not in the National Football League. Especially if you are an older player in the game. Teams look at your age as a hindrance and discard older players rather easily. You can be the greatest player to ever play at your position in the NFL, and even that is not enough to give you job security.

Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s career rushing leader, and Jerry Rice, the NFL’s touchdown and receiving leader were not allowed to finish their careers with their original teams. Emmitt spent two seasons in Arizona before calling it quits, and Rice had to endure a few seasons in Oakland before hanging up his cleats in Seattle. Why is it so hard for NFL teams to allow great players to finish their careers with the teams they helped make great?

The NFL has lost great players in the past and yet it still continues to grow in popularity every year. The individual team might struggle without their star player, but the league doesn’t miss a beat. Two years ago, when QB Tom Brady went down in the first game of the season, the Patriots barley missed the playoffs, yet the league had one of its highest rated post seasons ever.

The NFL continues to dominate the sports headlines throughout the year even during the off-season and this week, the National Football League will dominate prime-time television during a Thursday night and Friday night broadcast of the 2010 NFL Draft. It will be the most watched program on TV Thursday night and not a single football play will have been run. Why will people tune in? To watch, as the NFL introduces us to its next crop of superstar players that it will use until their time, too, is up.

QB Peyton Manning

QB Peyton Manning Barks Out Signals

I remember watching the NBA to see Jordan and Sir Charles play. When they called it quits, I stopped watching. Hardly anyone watched golf while Tiger was away. However, can you honestly say you will stop watching football or the Colts when Peyton Manning retires? Will Boston fans stop cheering the Patriots when Brady is gone? How about them Cowboys? No playoff wins in over 12 years, yet that did not stop Jerry Jones from selling out his new 100,000 seat stadium? Sure it is fun to see a Chad Ochocinco touchdown dance, a powerful Adrian Peterson run or perfect Brett Favre spiral for a touchdown in the back of the end zone with no time on the clock. We pay to see the dance, the run and the pass. Those names are interchangeable. We watch for the game itself.

That is why football is king and the NFL stands alone. It is the game we tune into watch and we will continue to tune in regardless of who is throwing, running or catching the ball.