From the moment word leaked out from the settlement talks between players and owners that a deal could be ratified on July 21, the St. Louis Rams appearance in the Hall of Fame Game on August 7 was in doubt. Camp is/was scheduled to start for the Rams and their August 7 opponents on July 22 (some have reported the 23rd). A handful of players from both teams have expressed concerns about the compressed timeline, including Ron Bartell, and today unnamed an executive and a coach from those teams joined the chorus. More and more, it looks like the Hall of Fame Game is going to be cancelled...and, in my opinion, that's just fine.
Yahoo's Jason Cole reported today that both teams are likely to push back the start of their training camp, shortening the time between the start of camp and the glorified scrimmage game in Canton. Sources from both teams spilled to Cole today, expressing some serious reservations, off the record, about having the game so soon after the start of camp.
Here's the coach quoted in Cole's article:
You get past a certain point and you can't play that game ... the way things are going right now, I don't think we're going to have the time to travel for an extra game, let alone all the other stuff you're talking about.
And here's the executive:
Realistically, it's just not enough time to do everything for the first day of training camp the way we're going. We're going to do what we have to do and we all have to live by the same rules, but it's not going to be easy.
As both sources point out, there's a lot more too it than just slapping pads on a few dozen players and tell them to play sixty minutes of football...for the first time since January. There is talk floating out of the negotiating room that teams will be allowed to bump up their camp rosters to 90 players, up from the usual 80, to deal with the lost offseason. The Rams and Bears would be forced to fill out their rosters while simultaneously getting their current players ready to turn around for a game, something the 30 other teams in the league will not have to do. It sounds childish to say, but that's not entirely fair to the Rams and the Bears.
A week or so in the spotlight would be the biggest advantage for having the game, goosing the Rams ticket sales' a little this season. But just how important is that in the grand scheme of things? Winning games, games that count, go much further toward selling tickets and rejuvenating a fan base than a few days of lavish attention.
It's not like a fifth preseason game is a big help for regular season success either, giving players one more shot at injury before the season starts, especially when they haven't had adequate time to prepare.
July 21 now represents the best case scenario for getting a deal done, the best case. Any later than that, and the Hall of Fame Game won't be the only preseason event in trouble. I suspect the league will press for the HOF Game to go on, seeing the PR value of celebrating the games' greats and giving the country some release after being held hostage to the lockout for so long. In truth, the Hall of Fame Game would be nothing more than a distraction, something that actually takes away the Rams precious preparation time for the business at hand.
Just cancel it.