NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says the league doesn't allow people to play games with the injury report. | Ann Heisenfelt~AP
Updated: January 3, 2011 9:46AM
MINNEAPOLIS — The injury report has been around almost as long as the NFL itself — well, almost as long as the NFL has been relevant anyway.
Legend has it that former commissioner Bert Bell instituted a policy whereby NFL teams had to announce their injured players to local newspapers within 24 hours of games to prevent gamblers from working for inside information that would manipulate the gambling line. Bell understood the dangers gamblers posed to the NFL and went so far as to develop sources among low-level gamblers to find out if the gambling line was jumping in strange directions or shifting in discernible patterns.
There are a couple of Bears connections here. Bell instituted the policy in direct response to the Bears’ 24-14 victory over the New York Giants in the 1946 NFL championship.
Two Giants, Merle Hapes and Frank Filchock, were suspended after the game when it came out that they had been approached by gamblers about fixing the title game.
As chronicled in Robert Lyons’ book On Any Given Sunday: A Life of Bert Bell, Bell told a story about Sid Luckman when announcing his decision on the injury report. In the week before a Bears game against the Los Angeles Rams, a photographer at a practice asked to take a photo of Luckman on a horse. The flashbulb spooked the horse, Luckman was thrown and he suffered a small cut on his wrist. A rumor spread that he had severed an artery and wouldn’t be able to play. The spread fell from 131/2 to 101/2.
It’s interesting to revisit the history of the injury report in light of the interesting way it came into play on Monday night when Brett Favre went from being ruled out to suddenly questionable and then starting.
The Bears knocked him out of the game in the second quarter when a Corey Wootton sack left the 41-year-old groggy after his head hit the ground.
‘‘We don’t allow people to play games with the injury report,’’ NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. ‘‘They have to be legitimate medical injuries.’’
Favre, of course, was legitimately hurt. His 297-game starting streak ended last week in Detroit because of a shoulder injury that turned his arm purple. Favre has the recuperative powers of a professional wrestler, so it shouldn’t be a major surprise that he was able to start.
Nonetheless, you have to wonder if it’s time for the NFL to change another rule because of the iconic quarterback.
It did so last off-season when the overtime rule was tweaked for the playoffs after Favre never got a chance to touch the ball in the extra time of last season’s NFC Championship Game.
It ultimately might not have mattered much Monday, but from now on, the designation ‘‘out’’ should mean just that. Maybe it’s a meaningless change, but it is a significant one when it concerns a quarterback.
Favre, in his 20th NFL season, was replaced by rookie Joe Webb, whom the Bears spent the week preparing for. There is a pretty significant difference between the two, and while it didn’t matter on this night, what would the Bears be saying today if it had mattered?
Remember, this is the same Favre who helped get the New York Jets organization fined $125,000 for not disclosing he was playing with a torn biceps tendon during the last five games of the 2008 season. That injury was serious enough that it required surgery, but the Jets never even put the word probable next to Favre’s name.
The injury report can be downright indecipherable with teams often less than candid about wanting opponents to know who’s playing in a diminished capacity. There’s a fear a player might be targeted or an injury seen as quarry. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady might never match Favre’s remarkable starting streak, but he has been on the injury report for years. Pats coach Bill Belichick has been known to put virtually the entire team on the list, and he doesn’t stand alone in that practice.
Favre’s sudden, unexpected appearance in the starting lineup wasn’t nearly as surprising as it would be if the NFL actually suspended the guy over that unseemly Jenn Sterger texting business.
‘‘As soon as I have a conclusion, I will be announcing that,’’ Goodell said in a pregame news conference. ‘‘I am not going to put a time frame on it, other than I did say I hope that it will be by the end of the season.’’
Goodell said he’s still following up on the information and being thorough and serious and committed to reaching the right conclusion.
You wonder what Bert Bell might have done.