- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Are the nominations for NFL commissioner closed? Can we get a recount on Roger Goodell, the intern who became king?

A new candidate has emerged, one with a particularly good agenda to press.

Clinton Portis, step to the podium, please.

“Let’s get rid of some of these preseason games,” Portis said after the Washington Redskins’ 19-3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night. “Even the young guys don’t need four games. It’s ridiculous to play four preseason games and then 16 games and then the playoffs.”

Portis said this through the pain of a partial dislocation of his left shoulder, an injury that occurred during a meaningless game.

Portis speaks the truth. It’s not just ridiculous. It borders on fraud, unless you think it is perfectly legitimate to charge NFL prices to watch NFL Europe players.

Season-ticket holders are forced to buy tickets for preseason games as well as regular-season contests if they want to keep their seats. This is sort of like paying full price for a couple of sparring sessions in order to get a seat at a championship fight.

Some fans have fought the policy. Several cases have gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose members apparently must be big fans of preseason football since the policy remains in place.

As Allen Iverson once said, we’re talking about practice here.

Training camps evolved over the years as the demands of the game and the pay made football more or less a year-round job. Most players show up regularly at training facilities for offseason workouts. Then there are the minicamps. By the time players report for summer camp, they already are in condition. They don’t need appearances in a bunch of meaningless games to hone their skills.

Sometimes these players don’t realize that these games mean zip, nada, zero. Sometimes football instincts kick in. That happened with Portis on Sunday when he tackled Keiwan Ratliff, who had just intercepted Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell.

Portis went down during his linebacker imitation, a scene reminiscent of years past. The often-injured Joe Namath, for example, did the same thing in a preseason game against the Detroit Lions. Namath wound up missing most of the season — as if he needed to get hurt tackling somebody.

There are rumblings from time to time — such as this time, after an important player got hurt — about reducing the preseason. The idea may be gaining ground with the evolution of NFL players and training camp. When was the last time someone stood up and staunchly supported the notion of four preseason games? And why would anyone want to risk everything four times a season in games that won’t count for anything?

The seemingly ideal solution would be to do away with two preseason games and add two regular-season games. That should keep owners, who reap the rewards of the preseason ticket policy, happy. The players should be happier, as well: At least they will be taking hits in games that mean something. (Though given the tension that surrounded the last labor agreement between NFL management and the players union, adding two regular-season games likely would wind up a bargaining chip.)

Still, it’s difficult to believe the players would rather keep the status quo. Portis doesn’t, that’s for sure.

Even coaches, who don’t like any change, can’t be crazy about putting their players out there for these games, no matter how much they drool over the chance to prepare. Coaches don’t show anything in a preseason game that is remotely going to be in their bag of tricks during the season.

And in Washington, preseason football is always a coach’s nightmare because it gives fans a chance to see a lot more of the quarterbacks other than the one Gibbs wants to run the team.

That’s usually when the quarterback controversies start. And you can believe Redskins fans will use every bit of success by last year’s No. 1 pick, quarterback Jason Campbell, as a reason to call for a change behind the center. Sunday’s performances by Brunell and the anointed backup, Todd Collins, won’t do anything call to off the dogs, either.

Two fewer preseason games means two fewer chances for fans to believe what they are seeing is for real and not the illusion the coaches know it is.

Meanwhile, Portis was not hurt as bad as initially indicated, which may ease some other fan intrigue.

Ladell Betts is sidelined with a hamstring injury, but there always has been the notion that Betts, if allowed to play regularly, would be a better fit than Portis for a Joe Gibbs offense — if this is still a Joe Gibbs offense.

It may seem foolish to consider such notions with Portis coming off his record-setting, 1,516-yard season. Though the numbers were impressive, he still sometimes just didn’t seem to be the right fit for the Gibbs offense. Or maybe that is just the perception after what we have seen over the years from Gibbs backs like John Riggins, George Rogers and Earnest Byner.

Portis would make one fine commissioner, though.

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