These inches can determine the winners from the losers—the pretenders from the contenders.
But for every yard, personal sacrifices are made.
Players endure intense and rigorous training camps. They spend hours preparing for any obstacles that might block their team’s pursuit of glory.
Expectations from fans and experts only add to the mounting pressure.
Coaching staffs and trainers push their athletes to the absolute limit. After all, everybody's job is on the line.
If players aren't willing to do whatever it takes to win, they get a quick ticket to the unemployment line—that’s the harsh reality of the National Football League.
Just ask former All-Pro linebacker Ted Johnson.
Once a fan favorite with the New England Patriots, Johnson quickly saw his health deteriorate as the years passed. Against his will and doctor's advice, Johnson was forced to continue to practice with the club by head coach Bill Belichick.
That certainly didn’t do Johnson any favors. Lets just say you wouldn’t exactly need Greg House to find out what’s wrong with Johnson these days.
Once known for his bone-jarring hits, Johnson’s career accomplishments are a thing of the past.
As it stands, Johnson has trouble communicating with his loved ones and deals with severe depression.
"Officially, I've probably only been listed as having three or four concussions in my career," Johnson said. "But the real number is closer to 30, maybe even more. I've been dinged so many times I've lost count."
Not too long ago, Johnson was in the spotlight when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked to address the league’s approach to concussion problems.
Speaking to the media for the very first time, Johnson declared that he “doesn’t want anyone to end up like [him].”
And he makes a very valid point.
In the big picture, football isn’t everything. A person’s well-being and family are more important.
Now, Johnson can’t even get out of bed and communicate with his loved ones.
Fast forward to the fifth week in the 2007 NFL season.
Like Johnson's, the career-ending injuries suffered by Trent Green, Kevin Everett, and Mack Strong emphasize the need for the NFL to reconsider its approach to injuries.
While Green was diving to make a block on a reverse play, the QB's head smashed into the knee of Texans defensive tackle Travis Johnson.
After lying motionless on the ground for several minutes, Green was taken off the field by stretcher. Green has now suffered two concussions in a year. Any attempt to come back could lead to bigger problems.
Not too long ago, Everett was catching passes in Buffalo. One devastating spinal cord injury later, he's struggling to make it through the day.
A similar befell Strong, after a herniated disk in his neck pinched his spinal cord. After 15 grueling seasons in the NFL, Strong's bruised body couldn’t handle any more punishment.
Despite having to walk away from the game against his will, though, Strong realizes the importance of his life and family.
"There's a lot more to life than football," Strong said. "I've got a wife and two kids. And there's nothing more important."
While most injuries are tough to prevent, the NFL needs to ensure the safety of its players. Perhaps listening to medical doctors across the nation would be a start.
Take for example Dr. Gerald Maher, who specializes in sports dentistry.
Maher has suggested using a mouthpiece that can reduce the rate of concussions. Nearly a thousand players have successfully used Maher's device—but still his work has fallen on deaf ears.
The NFL has long refused to acknowledge the dangers of football. Too many players have been victimized by the league's indifference.
It’s a shame to see the careers of these NFL veterans come to premature ends.
They deserved better.