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September 19, 2003

by Bill Hogan



Here's how Webster defines the word 'bye': "a position of a participant in a tournament who advances to the next round without playing." In the playoffs, the top two teams from the AFC and NFC do not play on wildcard weekend. They get a 'bye' and advance to the next round.

In week 3 of the NFL season, teams that are afforded a bye week don't go anywhere. They don't advance in the standings, they stay just where they were after week 2. And in the case of the four teams – well, at least three of the four teams - that are off this weekend, that hurts.


I'm not a big fan of the bye week. I think it's senseless and useless. If the NFL wants the regular season to drag on for 17 or 18 weeks (at one point in the early 90's, each team had two bye weeks), then add another game or two to the schedule. Many "experts" believe the pre-season should be shortened anyway, so play 2 practice games, play 18 games that count and eliminate the good-for-nothing bye week.

I can understand the need for a bye week when the Cleveland Browns re-entered the league for the 1999 season. The addition of the Browns brought the total number of teams to 31. I was odd-man-out enough times during gym class square dancing to know you can't pair up 31 of anything. But the league now has 32 teams – easily divisible by two.

And why start the eight bye weeks in the third week of the season? Teams in mid-September are as healthy as they're going to be all season. Not to mention that you can't beat the weather this time of year – aside from an occasional hurricane. Instead of spending a beautiful fall day at the stadium, football fans in Chicago (if there are any left) get to sit at home and await the inevitable Lake Michigan chill.

After reaching two straight NFC Championship games, the Eagles were poised to take the next step this season and get to the Super Bowl. A dismal 0-2 start has derailed their plans. They must be champing at the bit to get back on the field and right the ship. They'll have to wait.

All Donovan McNabb needs is 14 days of sitting helplessly by while the Philadelphia newspapers lambaste him for his poor performance in the first two games. Two weeks of constant criticism and second guessing until he gets a chance to redeem himself.

I'm not really sure why the NFL started this whole bye week scheduling format in 1991. If I had to take a guess, I'd say it has something to do with television revenue. It seems like most professional sports decisions these days are dictated by the TV stations that pay big bucks to broadcast the games.

At any rate, this week off can sure be a momentum killer for any team on a roll. Especially in a league where momentum is a key ingredient to success. The Carolina Panthers go into Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to face the defending Super Bowl champions and come out with an unlikely 12-9 win. That's the kind of mojo with which a 2-0 team wants to ride into the next week. They'll have to wait.

Bill Parcells went back to the Meadowlands with an undermanned Cowboys team likely to be demolished by the far more talented Giants and came out with a 35-32 overtime victory. Now the 'boys get to cool their heels in Texas for a fortnight before traveling back to the Meadowlands for their next game against the Jets. Just enough time to come back to earth. Not the best case scenario for the "genius coach" and his young team.

I'm sure the lowly Bears relish the fact that this coming Sunday they are assured that they won't lose a football game. But for teams looking to turn around a bad start and teams that want to ride out a hot streak, BYE is the last thing they want to see on the schedule.

There are 32 teams in the league; there should be 16 games each week. These guys can catch their breath and lick their wounds in February. After all, now what are Bears, Cowboys, Eagles and Panthers fans supposed to do come Sunday, rake the leaves? They won't have "not now, the game's on" as an excuse.


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