You don’t want to know how the sausage is made.
The general concept being it’s much better to see the finished product than how it was built. It’s a lot easier to stomach.
The NFL works in the same way. By Thursday, the production value from NBC’s broadcast and the energy of the season opener will make each team glisten. But getting to that point ain’t pretty.
Ross Scheuerman, a rookie who showed promise, came up lame at the very end of a run with an Achilles injury. He sat on a cooler, talked to trainer John Norwig as his foot was wrapped and iced, got a fist bump from the then-injured Ross Ventrone, was carted off, and never returned.
There’s David Nelson, who played all of 20 minutes in practice before injuring his shoulder and getting shuttled to injured reserve. If that’s his last NFL opportunity, and at 28 who couldn’t even start in a training camp it may very well be, an awful way to go out.
Josh Harris, at 60 percent health, forced to play through two significant injuries, looking like a shell of himself, only to be cut because he and the team knew he simply wasn’t healthy enough to contribute. Playing beyond the point your body would reasonably let you is a scenario in football that’s as common as blocking and tackling.
The last preseason game a particularly brutal one. An injured Harris falling into Kelvin Palmer, tearing the offensive tackle’s ACL and MCL. Harris eventually pulled for Will Johnson, the fullback attempting to dive across the goal line in the final seconds of a meaningless game, rolling into B.J. Finney and Mitchell Van Dyk. Van Dyk’s season done immediately, carted off with an air cast. A preseason ending on the lowest of notes, a gaggle of walking wounded.
Anthony Chickillo and Doran Grant both thought they made the 53 man roster. 24 hours later, they were released, unsure if they would ever come back to Pittsburgh or be claimed by any other team, instantly changing their lives. Ultimately, both made it back, but not after a nerve-wracking wait.
The Chinese fire drill that became the practice squad. Three players from outside the organization placed on the initial practice squad. Tight end Harold Spears tweeting out how excited he was to being working with the team. All three were released within a day, turning in their playbooks before they probably could even open it.
Spears tweet was deleted. Below it, before the Steelers signed him, one that reads.
“Crazy how fast things can happen.”
The irony is bitter.
Reese Dismukes and Jarrod West, who spent all or some of camp with the team, were cut, signed to the practice squad, and then cut again. Stone cold. It’s in the interest of business, and the players brought in undoubtedly made the Steelers’ practice squad better, but from an emotional standpoint, it’s hard not to feel for those guys who just wanted to fight to achieve their NFL dreams.
This hasn’t even touched on the season-ending injuries to two kickers – when will we ever see that again? – and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting center. But for Shaun Suisham and Maurkice Pouncey and to a lesser extent, Garrett Hartley, those players were known, wished well, and for the former two, will be back next season. For most of the other players mentioned in this article, they’re sent away without much of a passing thought and for some, will never return.
This isn’t unique to the Steelers. Look around at the 31 other organizations and you’re sure to find similar stories. But that only heightens, not softens, the blow. Each roster started at 90. Each one, including the practice squad, ended at 63. Do the quick math and that’s 864 players out of work. All sharing a common dream and now one that’s been thrown a curveball.
It’s easy to forget this part of the game. We want to forget this part. It makes me sleep better at night. But it exists, the cost of doing business as some might say. It’ll happen again next year. I’m not attempting to drum up a call to action. There is no changing it, no solution. Just the reality.
A beautiful game. Hiding an ugly layer.