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Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: If Bucs win, troubles take back seat

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Published:   |   Updated: September 3, 2013 at 10:08 AM

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With the faux football of the preseason out of the way, your Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin the real season on Sunday at the New York Jets. At least we don’t have to wonder if the game will be carried on local television.

I’m sure the majority of TVs throughout Tampa and the surrounding area will be tuned to the game. If the good Lord, TECO and Verizon are willing, I know mine will be.

It’s a testament to how wildly popular the National Football League continues to be, even with a bad moon rising.

Even with the settlement reached last week with retired players over concussion-related problems, there are still problems. There is criminal behavior (see Hernandez, Aaron), intrusive stadium security, and just how much it costs to watch a darn game in person. These are warning signs the NFL would do well to heed.

Take the preseason, for instance.

Around this time in 2010, Commissioner Roger Goodell finally acknowledged what everyone already knew: Fans hate preseason games.

They hate paying full fare to watch the starters play a series or two at most. They hate being fed a product that, Goodell told The Associated Press last November, “... does not meet the standard of quality that the NFL is all about.”

But nothing changed.

Teams continue to force fans to purchase tickets for those glorified scrimmages as part of a season-ticket package. The archaic rule requiring a local TV blackout unless the game is sold out 72 hours in advance is still in place. That’s why both Bucs home preseason home games couldn’t be shown live locally.

As any marketing person would tell you, that was a three-hour infomercial on free TV that the Bucs couldn’t use.

All of that is relatively small potatoes, though. If the Bucs are good and contending for a playoff spot, fans will be there and everyone will be happy. The other problems with the NFL won’t be solved so easily.

The number of player arrests has been escalating for years, so perhaps it was inevitable that a situation like Aaron Hernandez would arise. The physical plight of many former players is heart-breaking, and even with the settlement the league hasn’t done nearly enough to help them.

Couple all that with the over-the-top greed of the league, and I couldn’t blame anyone who decided to spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere.

I do think the Bucs are doing better on that front, though.

After fielding teams with too many bad actors, criminals and druggies for too many years, there appears to be little tolerance for that now at One Buc Place. I think ownership grasped that fans were so turned off by what they were seeing before, they just decided to stay away.

That was a problem years in the making, and you don’t turn it around in one or two seasons. But Bucs fans have cautious hope now, and it has been a long time since they could say that.

The NFL has serious issues it must address, but fans in cities with winning teams can be forgiving. I think that’s where we are here.

The problems will still be there next Monday, but if the Bucs beat the Jets, no one will care. People here just like football.

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