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Bears-Vikings game proves safety is secondary 

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Old-time football players like to say they would’ve played for free in the parking lot, such was their love for the game.

It might be the hyperbole of men who watched too many grainy Knute Rockne clips, but you want to believe that they believe it. You want to believe that they were so tough and so committed to the game that they would’ve sacrificed the skin on their elbows to make a tackle near the third parking stall on the left.

You want to believe in someone who loved the raw violence of a sport so much that he would’ve been willing to sacrifice body and paycheck to play it. You want to believe in his craziness and passion.

You want to believe mostly because it wasn’t your body or your brain or your skinned elbows.

That might explain the gap in emotions between the public and Bears and Vikings players heading into a game tonight that very well could be played on a skating rink.

The players are worried and angry about the possibility of injury at the University of Minnesota’s football stadium, which was jarred out of its winter slumber by a caved-in roof at the Metrodome eight days ago.

The public? Not so worried. Or, if fans are worried about players’ injuries, it’s not for humanitarian reasons. It’s for playoff reasons.

‘It’s unplayable’

Besides having to play in frigid conditions in Minnesota in December, the teams will have to play on a field that doesn’t have a built-in heating system. That means there’s a chance the synthetic turf, having been heated before the game, will freeze later in the evening.

The Vikings had a walkthrough at the stadium Sunday, and reaction was swift.

“It’s unplayable,’’ punter Chris Kluwe wrote on his Twitter account. “The field is as hard as concrete an hour and a half after they took the tarp off, and anyone that hits their head is getting a concussion.

“I find it interesting that the NFL can claim an emphasis on player safety, and then tell us the field is fine. It’s beyond hypocritical. I can only hope, however unlikely, that no one gets catastrophically injured at the train wreck that’s about to take place tomorrow night.’’

If Kluwe is anticipating a public uprising over the field conditions, he’ll be disappointed. This isn’t our problem. That sounds colder than the air temperature, but it’s the truth. Hundreds of thousands of people watch NASCAR every year in the hopes of seeing a crash.

How many of you will be tuning in to the game with Kluwe’s train-wreck scenario in mind?

You can almost hear the players’ indignant response: “I’d like to see you play on this surface!’’ That would be missing the point. We pay to watch them do what we can’t or wouldn’t do. That’s the whole idea. It’s probably why the outcry about NFL concussions is louder among players and brain experts than it is among the general public. The thrill of watching a game inside Soldier Field and a gladiator fight inside the Roman Colosseum comes from the same basic instinct.

Deep down, spectators don’t care about the safety of the combatants. They care about the show. They care about who wins.

Pieces of meat

If players had been under the misguided impression they mattered, tonight’s game should finally disabuse them of that notion. They should’ve figured it out when the league began pushing the idea of an 18-game schedule.

The NFL could’ve moved the game to Indianapolis or Atlanta but chose not to for competitive reasons. It didn’t want to take away the Vikings’ home-field advantage. More important, it didn’t want to penalize the Packers, who are in second place behind the Bears in the NFC North, by putting the game where more Chicago fans could attend.

Whatever gave the players the idea before this that they weren’t a collective piece of meat is a mystery. But now they know it, once and for all.

It’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Bears lose tonight. The Vikings are starting their third-string quarterback, a rookie. They’ve had a demoralizing season, while the Bears haven’t taken their eyes off the playoffs all year long, despite huge question marks about the team.

But if they do lose this game, there’s a decent chance it will be because they allowed themselves to get distracted by the field situation. They spent too much time during the week complaining about the conditions.

“If you’re going to preach player safety, you would think they would put you in the best conditions to be safe,” safety Chris Harris said.

Yes, you would. You’d think player safety would be the most important issue to the NFL. The league really needs to think about this.

In the meantime, football played on a sheet of ice? Cool!



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