John McGrath

John McGrath: NFL runs players ragged, and gets ragged football

Gregg Bell, Dave Boling on Seahawks winning NFC West, Richard Sherman's outburst

With a 24-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams, the Seahawks claimed another NFC West title, but sideline spats, penalties and loss of discipline are a distraction
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With a 24-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams, the Seahawks claimed another NFC West title, but sideline spats, penalties and loss of discipline are a distraction

An NFL schedule that brought the Rams to Seattle on Thursday night tested Richard Sherman’s Theory of Relativity.

Decrying the hypocrisy of a league that has been emphasizing the safety of players while sometimes forcing them to butt heads twice in five days, the Seahawks cornerback last week pointed out a subtle reality.

When both teams on a football field have been denied the opportunity to rest and recover, it’s difficult to notice the deteriorated quality of the competition because neither team is operating at 100 percent.

How much was exhaustion responsible for the sluggish early pace of the Seahawks-Rams game? Weary bodies had to be a factor for why the first half was an interminable bore, but with a television contract paying the league $45 million every Thursday night — and the contract guaranteed until 2020 — inadequate recuperation before weeknight games will remain an occupational hazard.

The issues Sherman raised are as old as the NFL. Its growth from a semipro circuit of obscure-market franchises — the Duluth Kellys, the Toledo Maroons, the Rock Island Independents, the Canton Bulldogs — began with the Chicago Bears’ grueling 1925 barnstorming tour arranged to showcase Red Grange, their newly signed star back from the University of Illinois.

The See Red Run tour began with two games in Chicago during Thanksgiving weekend and continued the following Wednesday in St. Louis. That game preceded back-to-backs in Philadelphia and New York, and then the going really got tough: five contests over an eight-day span.

The typical NFL player in 1925 wasn’t as big, strong and fast as the guys who collided Thursday night at CenturyLink Field, and the barnstorming opponents, as often as not, resembled pickup squads. But it was football, requiring blocking and tackling, and I’m guessing there were more barroom brawl veterans on those pickup squads than think-tank scholars.

In any case, the insane schedule found Grange and his 15 teammates bruised and beaten. Grange was unable to suit up for the last road game, at Detroit — the 6,000 fans who bought tickets were offered refunds — and had all of two weeks to recover before the tour resumed.

Part II was relatively benign: nine games through five states between Christmas and Jan. 31, when it wrapped up in Seattle.

The barnstorming tour might not have been an artistic success, but exposing the sport’s most recognizable player to a national audience provided a crucial jump-start for the fledgling pro league. Babe Ruth was among the celebrities in the crowd of 68,000 drawn to watch Grange in New York. Some 75,000 showed up in Los Angeles.

Although the NFL has come a long way since the Grange tour helped popularize the league, ragged football is ragged football, and Thursday was as ragged as it gets.

The Rams are a bad team under the direction of interim head coach John Fasssel, who this week learned he was replacing Jeff Fisher. When an unsettled coaching situation is combined with a rookie quarterback trying to throw passes on a frigid evening, it’s a recipe for yawns.

As for the Seahawks, until Russell Wilson started airing out the ball, their all-green uniforms were more lively than anything they did on the field. They had more penalties (eight) than first downs (seven) in the first half, and struggled to find cohesion on offense.

Running back Thomas Rawls, one of the few Seahawks who played to his ability against the Packers last weekend, went into halftime Thursday with nine yards on eight carries. When Rawls returned for the first possession of the third quarter, he had some spring in his legs, and it appeared the Seahawks might commit to a ground game that remains a perpetual work in progress.

Meanwhile, there was another Sherman meltdown on the sideline, this one directed at assistant coach Darrell Bevell. Why a defensive back would get into a screaming match with an offensive coordinator is a mystery.

Then again, you know how crabby people tend to get when deprived of their sleep.

John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath

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