As mentioned in last week’s edition of Free Kicks, I will be filling in for Weston “Expatriate” Bruner while he takes some time off and attempting to carry his cornerstone weekly column here at BSR, Free Kicks. I’ve got my work cut out for me, but the news should carry me this week. On Wednesday, I took to BSR as my soap box for continuing to complain about the state of the National Football League and today I’ll give another couple reasons why I continue to think the NFL is pushing fans away.  Also on the agenda, we’ve got to mention busted brackets, the Cinderallas are fantastic stories, but those pesky Owls hurt a lot of people’s chances, including my own.  And I wanted to mention the tragedy that struck Japan last week and how we as sports fans can help.

Let’s line up for the kick.

The Fall of Rome The NFL

I’m going to toot my own horn here for a second.  I mentioned weeks ago that the longer the NFL labor dispute continues, the more the players and owners will push away fans.  I am of the belief that Rome will eventually fall as history repeats itself and I honestly believe that I will live to see a day in which the NFL is not the world’s most popular sport.  I am not in any way saying that this day is today.  It could start with the labor dispute or the NFL’s fall from prominence could start in ten, fifteen or twenty years from now.  History repeats itself, but as a wise man once sang “history will teach us nothing.”  (Maybe wise is too nice a word for Sting, but hey I like his music.)

On Thursday, San Diego Chargers linebacker Kevin Burnett called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a “blatant liar” in a radio interview in which Burnett was responding to Goodell’s email  to NFL season ticket holders.

Goodell’s full of it. He’s a liar. You’re a blatant liar. ‘It’s our league, it’s we, we love the players, we want the league,’ but what have you done for the players? What have you done, in all honesty, to improve the game, besides fine guys, besides take money away from guys, besides change a game that you’ve never played? … He’s done nothing to improve the game.

Yikes. That’s harsh. Additionally, the NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith told Mike Francesca of WFAN that the NFL’s offer to the players is the “worst deal in the history of sports.” Roger Goodell also had his voice heard in an open letter sent to the players which encouraged the players union to “return to the bargaining table and conclude a new collective bargaining agreement.” While he didn’t say the offer was “fair,” Goodell did say that their offer was a “fair basis for continuing negotiations.”

Early reactions to the letter weren’t tremendous. Seahawks guard Chester Pitts convinced fellow players to “sit it on fire.” Seriously. “We’re not that stupid,” Pitts said.

What this drawn out dramatic battle tells me is that this deal is further from getting done than we think. Unless these guys really change their attitudes, I see this dispute lasting quite a while. I’ve always been of the belief that there will be football in 2011, but it absolutely could change OTAs and even training camp. When you have a player encouraging others to burn a letter from the commissioner, it’s not a good sign.

Bracket. Busted.

March is awesome. It didn’t take long to see a huge upset as Morehead State took down Louisville in a dramatic 62-61 win on Thursday. Demonte Harper of the Owls drained a shot at the top of the key with 4.2 seconds left while teammate Kenneth Faried blocked Mike Marra’s jumper to advance the Owls in their biggest win in school history. The Owls kept the Cardinals close all game, but Louisville made a 9-0 run with 1:20 left in the game giving them a four point lead. Morehead relied heavily on Harper in the late minutes, who took them home with a huge three pointer.

If you missed it, shame on you. But you probably saw your bracket take a big hit. I did at least.

Picking the NCAA tournament is a crap shoot though. You know there’s going to be upsets like this every year, but who predicted that? No one in my 77 person league. Dick Vital had Louisville in his Final Four. That’s what he gets for being a Dukie.

Gregg Cobert has a review of all of Thursday’s NCAA Tournament action in his Thursday Dance Wrap.

Japan Relief
Before I finish my first crack at Free Kicks, I wanted to take a minute to encourage our readers to donate to the Red Cross in their efforts to aid Japan during the earthquake and tsunami. The internet is a beautiful thing. It connects us all and allows us to talk about the sports we love in a close knit community, no matter where in the world we are seated. It makes the world smaller. The tragedy that struck Japan has effected everyone, whether you know a service member in the country or simply are a fan of a Japanese baseball player.

Right now, Living Social is offering $5 for a $10 donation to the Red Cross. It only lasts a few more hours, but I would encourage all of our readers to send five bucks. If you miss the deal, there are numerous other ways to donate, including texting “REDCROSS” to 90999 to donate $10 from your phone. iTunes has also set up an easy way to donate through their front page.

Thanks again to Weston for passing me to torch on Free Kicks while he is away. That wasn’t so bad for a first attempt, was it?