Unprofessional professional football players

One of the great things about the National Football League is that with every single season, week or game, you have a chance to see something you never thought would happen.

This past week was no exception, and I’m still shaking my head.

Donovan McNabb

Donovan McNabb

Donovan McNabb, quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, didn’t know the NFL’s overtime rules.

Donovan McNabb, who is paid handsomely to be the field general for a team that’s been in steady contention for several seasons, didn’t know the rules.

I personally agree with McNabb that ties are lame, and I favor something along the lines of the overtime process in college football, where each team gets the ball at least once and, no matter how many possessions it takes, a winner eventually emerges.

Regardless of how McNabb or I feel about the NFL rules, though, rules are rules. And as the leader of the offense in a sport that has become a full-time job, how do you not know such an important rule?

If I were an Eagles fan (and thank God I’m not), I’d have to wonder if the offense would have operated a little more efficiently if McNabb knew the rule. I didn’t watch this game, so I can’t pick out any examples, but is it possible that the Eagles took their time in the huddle and didn’t urgently get back to the huddle after plays because they assumed the game would go on once the “fifth” quarter ended?

I’m obviously not saying the Eagles weren’t trying to score. The aim of every offensive possession is to score. And in an overtime situation against a weaker team, the last thing you want to do is give that weaker team an opportunity to end the game with one play.

I’m just baffled that the quarterback of an NFL team was completely clueless regarding the overtime rule. How is that possible?

(By the way, for two hilarious pictures making fun of McNabb, courtesy of ProFootballTalk.com, click here and scroll down a little bit.)

And before you think I’m picking on a team I hate, my favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, won a huge divisional game at the Washington Redskins but still continued to make the types of mistakes that make me want to heave a beer bottle through the television.

As I said in a previous blog (I’m allowed to plagiarize myself, aren’t I?): The days of NFL players using training camp to get into shape are long gone. Now there are mini-camps, passing camps, organized team activities and countless other opportunities for players to work with their teammates. By this stage of the NFL season, teammates have worked together so much that everything should be running like a finely tuned machine.

So why is it that a huge first down by the Cowboys was wiped away by an illegal-formation penalty? How many times was this play worked on in practice? And the wide receivers still didn’t know that they had to line up behind the line of scrimmage, and not on the line of scrimmage?

And don’t even get me started on the constant false-start penalties.

To quote a good friend and fellow Cowboys fan: “This is NOT a hobby … this is what you do for a LIVING.”

I sometimes think the eight-on-eight rough-touch bar-league team I played on for years was more disciplined than some of these NFL teams. We paid to play on the bar team, unlike these stooges, who get paid millions upon millions of dollars. And the Eagles and Cowboys are supposedly upper-echelon squads — hell, the Cowboys were Super Bowl favorites in a lot of national publications.

I guess they can’t fit getting a clue under the salary cap.

The 2008 Dallas Cowboys: False start

The National Football League has changed a great deal since I became old enough to appreciate it in the mid- to late 1970s. And one of the most significant changes is that being an NFL player is now a full-time job.

The days of NFL players using training camp to get into shape are long gone. Now there are mini-camps, passing camps, organized team activities and countless other opportunities for players to work with their teammates.

By the time week seven of the NFL season is reached, teammates have worked together so much that everything should be running like a finely tuned machine.

Penalty flag

Penalty flag

So why can’t the Dallas Cowboys, an alleged Super Bowl contender, master the simple task of not moving until the football is snapped?

Obviously, false starts are far from the only problem dragging Dallas down. But in Sunday’s debacle loss to the St. Louis Rams, every time the Cowboys’ offense started to gain the slightest bit of momentum, down came the yellow flag. And all of the calls were correct.

An offense that was already struggling without starting quarterback Tony Romo could ill afford seeing third-and-one becoming third-and-six and, even worse, fourth-and-one in a situation where they were about to try for the first down becoming fourth-and-six and yet another field-goal attempt.

But what’s the answer?

Another dramatic change in the NFL — players’ salaries — has taken away any fear of reprisal. Is a team supposed to bench its multimillion-dollar starting tackle in favor of a backup when the starter can’t pay attention to the snap count? Fines aren’t even worth considering, both due to the strength of the players’ union and the fact that $10,000 to an NFL player is roughly equivalent to $5 to a common person. Will making the players run more in practice after mistakes solve anything? I doubt it.

I really wish I had an answer for this, but I don’t.