Starting midnight Saturday, the NFL officially instituted a lockout of its players for the 2011-2012 season to the frustration of NFL players and fans who now must endure a lengthy stretch without America's most popular sport.
As devastating as the news may be, it might not be the end of the world for football fans, because there is an alternative.
Instead of whipping out DVD's of the best NFL games of the decade, I am asking NFL fans to tune in to the NHL and give the sport of hockey a chance. They might be surprised at what watching a game or following a team for an entire season can be like; some may even become new fans of the sport.
Here are nine reasons why NFL fans should tune in to the NHL in lieu of the recent NFL lockout.
Laura Falcon is a Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Follow her on Twitter or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or questions.
When I say the game is faster, it's not just because the players are on skates.
Simply put, there's more hockey in NHL games than there is football in NFL games. The fluid action is much more consistent.
We know this because the action doesn't stop after every single play. In hockey, you can watch the game pass for minutes on end before hearing a whistle.
In that time, anything can happen. More often than not, you can guarantee there will be more than one play taking place during that time span.
This can include end-to-end play with exchanged scoring chances, lengthy scrums in the corners and power play that turns into a five-on-three because one of the penalty killers broke their stick.
Turning on a hockey game means instant action that can pull you into the game without the commercials, whistles and the ends of plays interrupting your rhythm.
The NHL season consists of 82 games.
The NFL season consists of 16 games.
That's a huge difference, mainly because NHL teams play multiple times a week, on top of having a season that takes up a good portion of the year.
So instead of getting a weekly fix of football, you can watch your favorite team play up to four times a week. In fact, you can watch hockey every single day because there is always at least one game playing a night.
With hockey, you spend much more time watching games, versus analyses and breakdowns of the games.
Playing professional sports usually means playing through injuries at some point, but hockey players take it to another level.
With a longer season and more games, many times coming back-to-back, players are at a higher risk of getting hurt, but there's an even higher expectation that hockey players will tough it out rather than sit out. This is especially true during the playoffs when broken bones and torn ACL's/MCL's are ignored for the greater purpose of winning the Stanley Cup.
In an NHL game, it's common to see a player take a puck/stick to the face, get escorted to the dressing room with the a trainer holding a towel over his injury and then see him back on the ice minutes later with a new line of stitches on his face.
This commands respect, not only from fans, but from players as well.
Hockey players are some of the toughest athletes in sports, and it's easy to marvel what these players sacrifice when they lace up their skates.
Hockey flows as fluidly as the players on the ice.
However, if things are going one way, it doesn't always take much for the other team to tilt the ice.
A quick glove save, the ping of the crossbar, a sloppy goal, a big hit or even seemingly meaningless things can become the turning point of a game.
Just because the score is 3-0 at the end of the first, it does not mean the game is over.
Far from it, sometimes.
Last season, the Chicago Blackhawks managed to come back from a 5-0 deficit against the Calgary Flames to win in overtime. We all now know that with the young scoring talent that came post-lockout, no lead is ever safe.
This makes for a very interesting 60-minute game, regardless of what the score is coming into the third period.
No other sport depends on momentum like hockey. When a sport can change because of uncontrollable moments, then you never know what can happen.
It's all about hockey in this league, for the most part.
One of the many blessings of keeping tabs with an unpopular sport is the league will spend most of the time discussing the sport rather than any drama taking place outside of it.
Sure, the NHL has had its moments, like New York Rangers' Sean Avery and his sloppy seconds comment. There is also the constant focus of famous hockey wives like Carrie Underwood and Hilary Duff, whose respective husbands are employed by the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins.
But they hardly make the news like other sports might; not to mention that multiple games a week give the media less time to focus on tabloid issues, especially if they are away from the ice.
At any point in time, visit the NHL website and look around. The news is rarely about a major sex scandal, but rather, game recaps, weekend highlights and the latest charity projects of NHL teams.
That is what defines the NHL; nothing more, nothing less.
Other than a goal, nothing gets a crowd going like a big hit or a fight.
Only in hockey can you be watching the game and a fight suddenly break out. While staged fighting has lost its allure, fighting in the defense of teammates has become an honorable task, which is why enforcers are so highly respected in the NHL.
It also allows for players to become their own police officers on the ice; after all, a 225-pound, 6'5" enforcer is more intimidating than a referee.
Football is also a physical game, but the physicality doesn't always seem as jarring. This can be because hockey is played on the unforgiving ice surface and surrounded by wooden boards and glass that can make collisions much more dangerous.
Hockey players also have a weapon in tow: their sticks.
Hitting is a regular part of both games, but hockey takes it to a completely different level, adding a new and fun level of excitement to the game.
Every sports league has its stars.
For the NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby and Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin are top dogs in that category.
Then there are the talented-but-not-marketed players such as Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews, Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos and Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal.
These are all young players who have achieved so much in their brief careers. Watching them during their time in the NHL has been a treat for all sports fans.
They have been fresh faces in a league that was slowly deteriorating with aging talent. Following the 2005 lockout, a new wave of fresh talent burst onto the scene with quick skates and fast hands.
And it didn't take them long to take over the league.
Watching amazing talent in any sport is a privilege, but there is something special about those athletes when they're young.
In the NHL, you will never see a team go winless or undefeated, regardless of what certain commercials may dictate.
With an 82-game season, wins and losses will happen eventually. The big question is to whom?
No sport contains so many upsets as the NHL. Seeing a lower seed team beat a top-five team is as part of the game as a hat trick.
At the end of February, the 29th-seeded Ottawa Senators upset the second-seeded Philadelphia Flyers, 4-1.
Not only are those games thrilling to watch because of the hard work required for a lower seed team to beat a higher seed team, but they are very gratifying as well. Who doesn't love the age-old underdog story?
In short, there is never a game that's a shoe-in win. Regardless of placement in the standings, it is very possible for the last-place team to beat the first-place team.
And it won't always come as a shock.
There is never a dull moment in the NHL.
After a lengthy season comes an incredibly emotional playoffs, where the top 16 teams duke it out to become the first team to win 16 games.
Immediately following the crowning of the Stanley Cup champions, general managers of every team get to work on signing free agents and finding prospects.
Some would even argue that the offseason is just as exciting as the season/playoffs because of the trades and signings made.
Look at the ordeal that took place with Hossa when he signed with the Red Wings in 2008, and the 2009 Heatley mess that lasted for weeks until he found his home with the Sharks.
The offseason takes up roughly a fourth of a year, and although you won't be logging on to your favorite team's website for post-game analysis, you just might see that your favorite player was signed to an extension. Other times, you might see that one of your best players left the team for higher pay.
Dull moments don't exist in the NHL, even when the puck doesn't drop for months at a time.