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Requiem for a dream: Cut down day

Perhaps the saddest day on the NFL calendar.

NFL: JUL 26 Houston Texans Training Camp Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Few things can inspire life-driving thoughts and dreams, especially in the minds of the young, as sports. To see fellow human beings perform great feats of athletic and mental achievement that warrant such praise and adoration…that can have such an impact on a young and impressionable mind. Thus, it drives many a kid to say “I want to be a football player when I grow up”.

However, there is a harsh reality where pro football is concerned. For all the young kids that want to emulate their heroes, very, very few actually ever make it to the NFL as a potential player. According to the NFL and several other sources, approximately one million kids plays high school football in the US. For those million plus high schoolers, maybe only 6%-9% of those will go on to play in college, so roughly 95-97 thousand. From there, the NFL, spread out between 32 franchises, can only carry a max of 55 players, with 53 on the roster and only 48 of those able to actively dress. Suddenly, that one million plus gets quickly whittled down to only 1,760 roster spots. Of that one million, the percentages go all the way down to under 1%. Any given year, approximately 300 spots are open for new players each season.

Yet, even that 1% is a bit deceptive. Most of the attention of the game, and those that inspire the next generation of players, are for those special individuals whose play and charisma transcends the crowds. However, the average length of an NFL career is a mere 3.3 years. If you factor that the big stars are the ones that can manage the multiple-year tenures, then for the vast majority of that elite 1%, they may only get a season or two to play the game of their dreams. Even then, it might amount to a barely negligible amount of time, that might get a mention in a play-by-play chart.

Thus, we circle back to cut-down day. In a couple of days, NFL rosters need to get trimmed down to the accepted 55 slots, with those designated for the practice squads and those who might make the cut for the 48 dressed-on-game-day players. With training camps starting at 90 players, about 35 players per team will get potential dream-killing news this Tuesday. Some have already been let go, and some may catch on with other teams. However, it is very likely that with the cuts on Tuesday, that will be the end of the NFL dream for those men.

This is arguably the worst time of the year for the NFL. At this point, the basic fan is done with the preseason, ready for the “real” stars to get out there, and for the “real” games to start. Think about the later part of most preseason games. No longer required for players to get back into “game-shape”, most of these games devolve into third/fourth stringers vs the other third/fourth stringers dueling it out. Even the local commentators, by the latter part of such contests, are on to discussions about other topics not involving the men on the field. It is understandable, but yet it is also sad.

While I don’t live for preseason football, I am trying to at least give those parts of the game that I am able to watch the attention I can, if for no other reason to see those men, desperate to hold on to the visions and dreams that have driven their lives give all they can in the hopes that what they can do on the field will enable them to continue to fulfill their life’s ambition.

Losing a job sucks, especially when that dismissal is not on your own terms. So it will be on the 29th. Maybe those players will find another team, whether on another roster or possibly another pro league, be it Canada or some of the smaller pro-operations scattered about the globe. Perhaps they keep in game shape, should they get that mid-week call to go in for a try-out to fill a roster spot with an injured player.

Maybe a player in this year’s cut down class gets the chance to be one of the few who can fight the odds and fulfill their professional and personal aspirations. In one respect, that a player was among the small 1% or less to even make it to the NFL for a chance to play is a great achievement. Maybe that is all a player will be able to take from their time if they get cut on the 29th. However, this coming Tuesday may signal the death knell of a life-long dream. While we fans will look to see who can fill out the roster and help with depth, let’s also have a thought or two for those who will not make it.