But what about the players' long-term health and welfare?
Was it worth it?
McMahon and Duerson come to mind as the debate continues regarding the long-term effects of concussion-related injuries.
McMahon, who appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated with girlfriend Laurie Navon, is battling the ravages of early on-set dementia at 53. Duerson took his own life less than three months after turning 51, even though he showed no signs at the time that he was depressed or despondent. It was learned later that he suffered from the degenerative brain disease C.T.E. (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).
Two years ago, when I interviewed McMahon at the Arie Crown Theater during the Bears' 25-year anniversary celebration of their Super Bowl XX title, he broke the news to me about his short-term memory issues.
"My memory is pretty much gone," he said. "I walk in a room and forget why I walked in there. I'm going through some studies right now and I am going to do a brain scan. It's unfortunate what the game does to you. Back then, all they did was tape an aspirin to your helmet and go back in. I've worked with some neurosurgeons and it is a very serious thing, man."
What strikes me as odd now, however, was how quickly McMahon defended the NFL game and its inherent risks, especially because he is part of the class action litigation against the league citing negligence. He denounced the newer rules in the NFL designed to protect quarterbacks, in particular, from head injuries.
"Now with these rule changes, I think it is ruining the game," McMahon said then. "I mean, the only way to protect head injuries nowadays — and I heard Bryant Gumbel say it — is to take your face mask off, go back to those leather helmets … that's the only way. Other than that, this is a contact sport. Guys are getting fined for illegal hits. I think it's ridiculous."
Duerson, who shot himself in the chest on Feb. 17, 2011, talked to me three months earlier about how pleased he was to reconnect with former Bears players, particularly Mike Richardson, whose post-playing career was filled with drug arrests and addiction issues.
"Mike and I were roommates on the road and of course we came into the league together," Duerson said. "For the two of us getting caught up, that has been special. We've had a lot of phone conversations over the last couple of months, as well. So, just eyeballing Mike has been special. With all of the challenges he has had and what have you … to see that he has come out on the other side stronger and better…I am excited for him, I really am."
Similar to McMahon, Duerson assumed the risks associated with playing in the NFL, yet his family is suing the league for allegedly withholding information regarding the effects of concussions.
So as we approach the NFL's opening Sunday, perhaps it's time to reconsider the notion of winning at any cost.