Despite all of the posturing and labor strife going on in the NFL right now, my gut tells me that the regular season will start on time. There is something hovering over negotiations. It is the date the majority of Week 1 games will be played. It is September 11, 2011.
That is the anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. It is not just any anniversary, though. It is the tenth anniversary. Aside from those directly impacted by the attacks, I think most people think about that day for a few seconds each year on September 11 and then move forward. This year will be different, though. It is a milestone anniversary. Like on the first and fifth anniversaries, there will probably be wall to wall news coverage for the days leading up to it. I think as we get further from 2001, most people will become more detached and view anniversaries as historical events the way Pearl Harbor is now. The tenth anniversary will still be a big deal, though.
Imagine what it would look like if on a day we remember the murder of thousands of innocent people, the NFL was not beginning its season because people could not decide how to split billions of dollars among themselves. Think of the black mark that would leave on the game. There are a lot of long time owners in the league who care about the NFL and its historical legacy. People would remember the 2011 lockout forever as the one that went through the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
People still talk about the league's decision to play games the Sunday after President John F. Kennedy's death. Many believe that was the wrong decision. Commissioner Pete Roselle did not postpone the games in part because his former classmate and Kennedy's press secretary Pierre Salinger advised him to play the games as scheduled. Roselle later called the move his biggest regret. Two years from November will be the fiftieth anniversary of JFK's assassination. You will hear stories about how the NFL did not postpone games unlike the rival AFL. It is forever a part of league history.
I understand the comparison is not purely apples to apples, but the same concept applies. The league not playing Week 1 might not be the first thing people remember about the 9/11 anniversary, but the 9/11 anniversary will likely be the first thing people remember about when discussing this lockout.
Some might point out how much money is on the line. I will not dispute that, but we have already seen an example of 9/11 having an impact in sports labor negotiations. Back in 2002, the Major League Baseball players and owners hammered out a new collective bargaining agreement before an August 30 strike date. The specter of no baseball on the first anniversary of 9/11 was a great impetus to get something done. If you think the players and owners have no trust in each other in football now, just remember that the last labor deal before the 2002 one in baseball was so acrimonious that a World Series was canceled. The players even caved on the contentious issue of allowing testing for illegal substances to get a deal done, which lacked teeth originally but paved the way for stricter rules.
I think if Week 1 was supposed to be played on September 9, 2011, things would be different. I think if the lockout took place in a different year, and Week 1 was played on September 11, 2010, things would be different. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 sits quietly in the background, though. People who care about the league care about money, but they also care about their own legacies as well as that of the league. That is why I think a deal will be done before then.