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updated: 7/29/2012 7:24 PM

Fans' football appetite insatiable

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  • Fans unabashedly root for the Bears, as evidenced by the thousands who made the trek to Bourbonnais on Saturday night for a practice.

    Fans unabashedly root for the Bears, as evidenced by the thousands who made the trek to Bourbonnais on Saturday night for a practice.
    Associated Press


Football has been given a generation, two at the most, before it becomes extinct.

By then, the theory goes, the game will be surpassed by bocce, baseball, pinochle, basketball or hopscotch as America's passion.

Uh, no.

The only danger is to the players, not to this sport.

Football isn't going anywhere -- not now, later or ever -- as evidenced by what happened over the weekend.

Estimates of attendance at the Bears' first padded practice of training camp were between 10,000 and 15,000 fans.

Other sports can't compete with that. All the other major ones are doing well in their own way -- but football makes their followings look like a bunch of people standing on a street corner waiting for a bus.

The Cubs might draw 15,000 fans to a March exhibition game in Arizona. Heck, the White Sox might even draw that many to an April regular-season game in Comiskey Park.

But the Bears drew five figures to watch them essentially exercise six weeks before their season opener.

As Allen Iverson might have blurted, "We're talking about practice, man. We're not talking about the game. We're talking about practice."

It's going to take more than this century for football to fade away and let checkers dominate the sports landscape.

The argument for football disappearing is that players will be hard to find because the game is so dangerous.

Well, how many of the fans at that Bears' practice were kids? How many of those kids watched the players and went home wanting to be like them some day? Who's going to tell those kids they can't play football?

Concussions are the game's ongoing subplot, along with former players suing the NFL over safety issues.

Look, I'm tired of seeing players wobble off the field with head injuries now, just as I have been tired for decades of seeing them carried off with torn limbs.

The question always was why anybody would subject himself to any of that if federal law didn't force him to.

Football has been brutal forever. That goes double now, but so is the public appetite for a brutally entertaining game.

I'm no economics wizard but am aware that as long as there is demand there will be supply ... and that applies to football, too.

Nothing is going to change so dramatically in society the next 50 years, say, that people won't want to watch or play this sport.

As long as football doesn't become audience participation, there will be enough fans attracted to the violence. As long as fabulous amounts of money are paid to players, there will be enough of them willing to exchange health for wealth.

There never will be a shortage of men who say they would play football for nothing, and a significant number of them actually would.

Apparently some people are wired that way, or haywired that way.

Football offers the temptation of performing before crowds of 60,000 or more, the macho challenge of physically beating the person on the other side of the line, the look in the eyes of youngsters when they ask for an autograph, the look in the eyes of supermodels when they meet you, overall the package that makes the gain worth the pain.

The only threat to the future of football is injuries becoming fatalities.

Come to think of it, that might attract 20,000 to 25,000 fans to a Bears' practice.

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