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Expanded seasons a grind for former Bills

Doug Flutie remembers feeling how his arm was ready to fall off during his one year in the USFL. Nate Newton recalls how he did absolutely nothing but rest for an entire month after playing his two USFL 18-game regular seasons.

And former CFL quarterback Danny McManus can still see the blurry-eyed fatigue that set in on rookies when Week 13 rolled around in Canada with five games still to play.

Those who have experienced 18 regular-season games -- NFL owners have proposed dropping two preseason games and increasing the regular season from 16 to 18 games -- say it's a grind.

"From week to week, game plan to game plan, there's the physical part, but the mental part of the preparation is what wears a guy down," said Newton, a former star offensive lineman, who began his pro career in 1984 with the USFL Tampa Bay Bandits. "You're going to blow a fuse."

Newton got a taste of playing an 18-game season before going on to become a six-time Pro Bowl selection with the Dallas Cowboys.

McManus, who played for Florida State, spent 17 seasons in the CFL, where 18-game schedules have been the norm since 1986.

"You'd see it around Week 13 through Week 16, these guys are just dragging themselves into the locker room," said McManus. "There's no doubt it's a grind to go 18 weeks. And we used to do it going 18 weeks straight."

These are among the sobering messages from several ex-USFLers and CFLers -- rounded out by Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, who broke in with the USFL's Houston Gamblers in 1984 before starring for the Buffalo Bills -- with experience playing 18-game seasons.

All agreed the expanded schedules required a big adjustment from players. And Kelly even wondered whether the NFL is using the 18-game schedule as a ploy in labor talks, which are now on hold.

"It's almost like they're holding it over the players so they at least have something to give back," Kelly said. "This is my personal opinion."

NFL players have complained that an expanded schedule -- last increased from 14 to 16 games in 1978 -- would increase the risk of injuries and have the potential of shortening careers, thus cutting into their money-earning potential and reducing their retirement benefits.

Players also fear how much two more games would cut into their offseasons, which are already filled with mandatory and voluntary minicamps and workout programs.

The NFL did propose maintaining the 16 regular-season games and four preseason games for at least two years, with any switch to 18 games being negotiable, before talks broke down.

Injuries, fatigue and weather conditions -- imagine the crowd for a Week 19 mean-nothing game in January in Buffalo, Kelly wondered -- were among concerns expressed by each of the 18-game veterans.

For Newton, an 18-game NFL schedule would require the league to expand its rosters from 53 to at least 60 players.

The USFL experience made it easier for Flutie to adjust to the CFL, where he spent eight seasons. And it helped that training camps in Canada last three weeks, and teams play only two preseason games.

"And that's part of the problem in the NFL is they've got them all spring working out," Flutie said. "Then, you go through a long grueling training camp and the preseason games and then try to go 18 games. That's what I think would make it ridiculous."

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