The immediate reaction when the work stoppage became reality on March 11 was predictable, and understandable, enough. Fans were disgusted. They tuned out. They couldn't understand how a business with such a flush business side could possibly miss out on an agreement.
Why, the fans asked, could a $9 billion business not make it work for everyone?
As the weeks passed and speculation grew that maybe, just maybe, the work stoppage would threaten the 2011 regular season -- ESPN's Ron Jaworski, remember, predicted that the schedule could shorten by as many as two to four games -- there was anger from the fans, but there was also concern: Could there really be a threat to our beloved game this year?
The three-day NFL draft in April provided a nice respite from the day-to-day roller coaster of emotion of talking about the path of the negotiations, but the fans in New York made their statement loud and clear when they serenaded Commissioner Roger Goodell with "We want football! We want football!" as he stepped forward to open the draft.
In the days after the draft, the fans occupied themselves with talk of football and of how rookies would fit in and how their favorite team shaped up at that point in time. But as the time passed, and the news slowed, and the future clouded, fans started to worry again.
It became the most-asked question on the streets: "Are we gonna have an NFL season?"
I can't tell you how many times I've heard it. Fans have been in fear of that very dark possibility. They have been displaced emotionally, and they have turned their focus elsewhere in the spring.
Now, though, even the most casual fan is ready for a resolution. And the fanatics are beside themselves, because this is the time of the year when all of the quick-twitch muscles start to work, and plans are made to attend training camp and to finance road trips and schedule tailgates.
With the speculation running rampant that maybe, just maybe, the NFL owners and the players are oh, so close to a new deal, there is a chance that all of that patience the fans have shown for four months and all of the emotion they have displayed will pay off with a glorious sprint-start to the 2011 campaign.
But I wonder beyond that. My sense is that in a matter of a couple of weeks fans -- most of them, anyway --are going to put the past behind them and focus on free agency, training camp, and the preseason. Is there a sector of the fan base, though, that will have a more difficult time forgiving and forgetting?
Furthermore, I wonder how the fans view this whole process. If the deal is done in the next week or so, it would seem that free agency would kick off the business season followed by a normal training camp and the previously-scheduled preseason. What would the fans really have lost in that scenario?
Look, all things considered, if the NFL and the players come to an agreement that lasts 7-10 years, and we don't have to worry about labor peace for a long, long time, shouldn't the league and the players get some credit for doing a deal and losing the absolute least they could lose from a fan's perspective? I get it that it shouldn't have come to this. I wish the negotiations had been more earnest prior to the work stoppage. I wish it didn't happen at all, and I certainly don't understand why a resolution couldn't have been hammered out months ago.
But business is business and there is an order to all of it that I don't profess to grasp. I know that human nature suggests negotiations make the most progress when a deadline is looming. Many observers predicted in the spring that a deal would be completed when it had to be done, when the season was threatened.
I want to give Eagles fans all of my respect, love and admiration for understanding the nature of the beast in the offseason. The response and interest during the draft weekend was fantastic. The team's draft party was a sold-out knockout event, thanks to the fans.
The season ticketholders have responded extremely positively to the payment options offered by the Eagles and the retention rate for season tickets is as high as it has ever been. The questions I hear now on the streets are those of optimism and hope. The sense I get is that most of the fans -- the ones I hear from on this web site, through the media, in my life -- can't wait for the season to start. They can't wait to see what plans the Eagles have to improve the roster and make a Super Bowl run in 2011.
It is certainly no surprise that Eagles fans have reacted as they have during this unprecedented offseason. This fan base is the best any team could hope to have, and the word here is one of appreciation and thanks. You deserve for this work stoppage to end, more than any player or any owner or any team. You are the ones that make this league as great as it is, and hopefully the painful weeks of this 2011 offseason will be a distant memory as we focus on what's ahead for the Philadelphia Eagles.