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Players would pay price of adding more games

If you're a Buffalo Bills fan, you don't want to see the Saints' Drew Brees, the most underrated top-of-the-line quarterback in the NFL, pass for 300 yards, much less 400, against your team today. On the other hand, unless your team spirit runs to blood-thirsty, you don't want to see him in traction either. The position of quarterback, now more than ever, is the name of the game. The name of the defensive side of the ball is "kill the quarterback."

That's what it seems to be coming to in pro football these days.

For instance, the Bills will face one of the top three teams in pro football minus middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, right tackle Brad Butler, tight end Derek Schouman and maybe cornerback Leodis McKelvin. These days that number isn't particularly unusual, even this early in the season.

Seattle is minus nine players, mostly starters including quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, apex of the Bears' defense, is gone for the season. Star defensive lineman Jamal Williams and center Nick Hardwick of San Diego are out and so is offensive lineman Robert Gallery of the Raiders and Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb.

So why am I getting overheated about injuries? Because there remains serious talk by many owners and NFL management to expand the league schedule from 16 to 18 games.

Chances are that the 18-game group would have a large number of allies among fans across the nation. That's because an expanded schedule would mean fewer of the hated "preseason" games for which season-ticket buyers are forced to pay regular-season prices.

The public knows that the summer games are counterfeit football but there is little they are able to do about it. Now they may join with the owners and management to demand a change at the ticket booth.

Injuries have always been part of football since it's a dangerous game. But it is a game played by a far different athlete than a generation or two ago. Year-round conditioning and the huge paychecks that induce players to take advantage of those conditioning programs have resulted in super-massive physiques with matching speed. Sophisticated pass rushing schemes, which now feature cornerbacks, nickel backs, safeties and the hybrids who are part defensive end and part linebacker, are descending upon quarterbacks who, basically, remain stationary targets.

Two generations ago there weren't more than nine or 10 linemen weighing more than 300 pounds, and some of them would be invited to wear rubber suits to lose blubber in training camp. Now 300 pounds is the norm. One of those mastodons just falling on an opponent can injure him. It's like having a refrigerator dropped on you from a second-floor window. That's how Butler was injured.

Inject some meanness into the refrigerator and you get Flozell Adams, the giant Cowboys offensive tackle. Adams is 34 now and he seems to have lost speed, quickness and possibly a chunk of his IQ. Last week in Dallas' loss to the Giants, Adams kicked both Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. He was fined $25,000, a bargain if he had disabled the two ace pass rushers.

The incentive for the owners getting two more regular-season games would be a potential bonanza in exchange for the TV rights. But they ought to weigh that against the cost of losing hard-to-replace, expensive talent.

Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.

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