The final preseason game means very, very little to fans. Which is odd, because to many players it is the most important game of the year. In fact, it's the most important game they'll ever play.
Imagine it. The first round of cuts is over. You've made it through three preseason games in the freaking NFL. The NFL!!!! You've gone further than any one of your high school buddies and all but maybe one or two of the guys you played with in college. You. Are. This. Close. All you have to do is survive one more round of cuts.
Of course, that second round of cuts is brutal, with the team going from 75 to 53. In reality, at least 40 spots or so are pretty much guaranteed (at least), so you're in a dogfight with 30 guys for roughly a dozen roster spots. And in many cases the numbers are even less in your favor.
I don't envy young football players right now. Well, besides their incredible athleticism and overall awesomeness. They do have that going for them. But I can't imagine how nerve wracking this time is.You've done everything you can, and now all that's left is to wait for either nothing to happen to you the next two days (in which case you can start breathing) or for that dreaded sentence...
"Coach wants to see you. Bring your playbook."
You can almost see the desperation during the last preseason game. Guys are running harder, hitting harder, and are more visibly frustrated by a bad play than they've been all during training camp and preseason. Because they know that everything they do is under a microscope. That one dropped pass, that one fumble, that one missed tackle you were THIS CLOSE to making... it's not just one play anymore. You literally may have just cost yourself a six-figure paycheck and your dream job.
How do you play the game with that at stake?
People talk about playoffs and the Super Bowl when they talk about pressure. That's nothing compared to this. Nothing. This isn't just one game you'll have a shot at playing in next season. Guys who get to actually play in a Super Bowl are guys who, almost without exception, are going to be worth a million bucks when it's all said and done. After the game, win or lose, they'll go home to a nice house, driving a great car. They'll go home knowing they will spend the whole offseason preparing for next year. Because pretty much everyone on a team that competes in a Super Bowl will have a job next year, either with the same team or somewhere else. All that's at stake is a label of "champion."
Is that important? Absolutely. But it's just a game, really.
For the roster bubble undrafted rookie, it's different. If he messes up, there's no guarantee at another shot. In fact, the chances might be pretty small. They'll go from flying first class, being interviewed by the media, and giving out autographs to being "that guy who almost made it pro." They'll go from a guy who is pulling in 400K to a guy without a job.
It takes a lot guts to lay it all on the line and pursue a one-in-a-million dream like playing in the NFL.And last night, in front of half-empty stadiums full of bored fans who were wishing away the minutes until the preseason was over, hundreds of young men played in the most important game of their lives.