If this NFL season never happens, it's going to be a lot like ones that do. Either way, there are going to be winners and losers.
LOSER: Peyton Manning, who, at 34, doesn't have a lot of seasons to squander if he's going to rise to his promise -- greatest QB of all time -- much less pass Brett Favre's record of 297 consecutive starts, a record that he calls "really cool."
"I can't afford to miss a season at this point," he says. "It's not like I can catch Brett with a bunch of great starts. I only get 16 a year."
Manning still needs 89 starts to catch Favre for a record that he cherishes. "I ask my teammates to be accountable, and so I think it's really important for me to be there for them," he says. But 89 more starts with no season in 2011? That means he'd be trying to break the record when he's 41. And that's assuming, of course, that Favre doesn't -- wait for it -- change his mind.
"Yeah, for a long time there, I didn't gain any ground on him," Manning says. When great players retire, he writes them a handwritten letter to congratulate them. Wrote one to John Lynch a while ago. "I think I wrote mine to Brett about eight years ago," he says. "Still haven't mailed it."
WINNERS: Cincinnati Bengals fans. Only thing worse than not getting to watch the Bengals is having to watch the Bengals.
LOSERS: Rookies. A lot of them thought they were going to graduate, get drafted and go straight into the NFL with a $40-plus million contract in the glove box of their Benzos. Instead, they might be out of work, like many of their classmates. What are they going to do for cash, move pianos? "I really hope they get it figured out," Wisconsin guard John Moffitt, who's expected to go in the first round, told Madison.com, "because my parents do not give me an allowance anymore."
WINNER: Baseball, which has been losing popularity for as long as James Taylor has been losing hair. The NFL has been stone killing baseball. This would be a chance to (a) put big pennant-stretch games on Sunday and actually get an audience and (b) finally stage a World Series that people would watch. Two of baseball's last three Fall Classics (Rays-Phillies in 2008 and Rangers-Giants in 2010) pulled two of the lowest ratings in history. Now if baseball would take this chance to put up a 20-second pitch clock -- as the NCAA has done -- people might actually stay awake for the entire game.
LOSER: Entourages. The NFLPA has handed each player a 64-page booklet with advice on how to cut costs during the lockout. One of the recommendations: Reduce the size of your entourage. This is bad news for T-Bone (driver), Uncle Red (security), Big Money (designated texter) and Lil T-Bone (groupie wrangler.)
WINNERS: Xbox, preachers used to half-empty churches and American bosses who lose an estimated $9.2 billion per year in work time to employees working their fantasy football rosters. Wait. You're saying we DO sell bulldozers?
LOSERS: Marriott, which just built a 34-story, 1,005-room JW Marriott in Indianapolis, the largest JW Marriott ever, in anticipation of the 2012 Super Bowl. It's already sold out for the game, but what if there's no game? It becomes the world's tallest daily disappointment. Priceline, anyone?
WINNERS: Any player who ripped an ACL or an Achilles toward the end of the year, two injuries that usually take 18 months to fully recover. This would be guys like Kris Jenkins of the Jets and Leonard Weaver of the Eagles. Hey, you can't lose your job if everybody is sitting around with their legs up.
LOSERS: Fans and players.
WINNERS: Owners, because no matter what happens, rain or shine , play or don't, the value of their franchises goes up like birthday balloons -- 360 percent from 1998 to 2008, according to the University of Chicago. Then again, sometimes their polo ponies get the sniffles.
LOSER: Tom Brady. If he's going to win two more Super Bowls and pass the two legends with four rings -- Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw -- he needs a bunch more cracks at it. He'll be 34 when and if the season starts. On the other hand, can you really call someone a loser who would get seven months off with Gisele Bundchen?
WINNER: John Elway, new executive VP of the Denver Broncos, who could get another year to learn the NFL before the games start counting again. The other day, I saw him buying 10 suits at one store. He's in this for the long haul.
LOSERS: Suburban towns with stadiums, such as Foxboro, Mass., where tax dollars from Patriots' games fund all kinds of city needs, including school buses, computers and police cruisers. Same with Arlington, Texas; Hyattsville, Md.; Green Bay, Wis.; East Rutherford, N.J.; and Glendale, Ariz. Also sure to lose: Every bartender, waiter and hotel owner within five miles.
WINNER: College football, which would reap huge ratings with no big brother to wallop it.
LOSERS: Randy Moss (34 years old) and Hines Ward (35) are only 46 shy of 1,000 receptions, and only seven players in NFL history have done that. For each of them, 2010 might now have been the last season. The Jets' LaDainian Tomlinson (31) needs 21 rushing touchdowns to pass Emmitt Smith for most all time. He'd need at least two more seasons to do that, but he'd be 34 by then. When Smith was 34, he had only two TDs the whole year. Good luck with that.
WINNERS: Repo guys. A 2009 story in Sports Illustrated estimated that 78 percent of NFL players will go bankrupt in their lifetimes. Last year, Mark Brunell of the Jets went belly-up while he was getting paid. Imagine what's going to happen when no money is coming in at all. Hey, what will you give me for these diamond-encrusted boxers?
LOSERS: Your kids. Sundays, which had been a refuge where they could do (video games) and not do (chores) whatever they wanted, will suddenly be taken back by fathers who will have time to team up with them and finish that spice rack, show them how to throw a spiral or, worst, talk.
For the love of God, people, Work. This. Out.