The champagne is flowing.
Some are even calling it Christmas in July.
Please don't be misled.
The public relations sham the NFL and the former NFLPA shoved down the fans' throats with pomp and circumstance Monday was no different than what the league tried to do to the players last week that caused so much acrimony.
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Yes, we are glad football is back.
But it's no different than the euphoria most of us felt when gas prices dipped to $3.25 a gallon after hovering near $4.
We felt like we were getting a break when in fact we were getting hosed from the get-go.
It's no different here.
We are glad football is back.
We are glad no games will be missed, glad the season will go on schedule -- especially when you consider the games and plans for the season openers that will coincide with the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.
But let's be real. Football should have never left.
Tell me what was accomplished in the past month that couldn't have occurred in March.
The sad part is that the fans are going to be left holding the bag, paying a full price for an inferior product.
Yes, you heard right.
The NFL will have labor peace for a decade, and the league will be better for it in the long run.
But the pursuit of the golden goose sacrificed the 2011 season along the way.
Yes, we will have football.
It will just be a watered-down, subpar production from what we are used to.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has long justified the high-priced tickets at Cowboys Stadium because he likens it to watching a play on Broadway, considering the premium seating and experience at the $1.2 billion facility.
The problem is this year the actors will be ill-prepared to give a Broadway-level performance. The fans will not get the return on their investment.
For years, the coaches have preached about the importance of the off-season programs, OTAs and minicamps.
Now, they are trying to tell you the product is going to be the same without all that.
I'm not stupid, and I hope you aren't that stupid.
Quarterback Tony Romo and the Cowboys players should be commended for getting together for a few practices during the lockout.
But in the words of former Cowboys linebacker Darren Hambrick, "What do voluntary mean?"
The workouts were good for chemistry, camaraderie and just being around the game and doing football things during downtime.
There is no way the Cowboys did any meaningful work.
Add in the fact that that the Cowboys need to learn a new defensive scheme under coordinator Rob Ryan and get to know new coaches at receiver, linebacker and defensive line, this was a huge setback that won't be made up in a couple of whirlwind weeks at training camp.
That goes triple for first-round draft pick Tyron Smith, who is expected to come in and start at right tackle. He certainly has a lot of potential. But he is just 20 years old and only played two years at Southern Cal.
The missed off-season has Smith and the Cowboys operating without a net in 2011 with the expected release of Marc Colombo.
This is not just a Dallas problem, this is a league issue -- especially for teams with new coaches, new coordinators and new quarterbacks.
The Minnesota Vikings were considered a Super Bowl contender last year, at least at the start of the season.
This year, with a new coach and a rookie quarterback in Christian Ponder, they could be cellar dwellers in the NFC North. And that might be the case even if they add a veteran quarterback such as Donovan McNabb.
In a normal year, rookies or signed veterans would have had the off-season to get up to speed in a new offense and new system.
There is no way the Vikings, Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals or any other team with rookie quarterbacks or who hope to add a veteran have any real shot of getting up to speed by the start of the season.
Yet, the fans in those cities will pay Broadway prices for a product best suited for Peoria.
The sad part is that it didn't have to be this way.
This could have been resolved well before now.
And the only reason significant progress was made was because significant money was about to be lost. The regular season was never going to be threatened.
As much as the league and owners talked about the fans not wanting the preseason, facts are that the preseason wasn't going to be threatened either.
It's no coincidence that the owners would have lost $200 million if the first full week of preseason games had been canceled, and now everybody is in camp on time to keep that money coming in.
This was nothing but a money grab from the get-go. The owners received money back from the players, which is why they locked them out in the first place. And although they gave back some things as far as total revenue, the players are going to be just fine financially.
More important, the players won some things as far as health and safety are concerned, higher minimum salaries and a quicker route to free agency.
Bottom line is both sides understand they need each other. The owners need the players to play, and the players need the owners to pay.
But the losers in 2011 are the fans. What's even worse is the arrogance the league and players showed with this whole process by threatening to take the beloved game away.
They knew you, the fan, would be celebrating Christmas in July when they announced on Monday the saving of a season that should have never been in jeopardy in the first place.
Enjoy your champagne.
Just don't expect a Broadway show in 2011.
I would even suggest adding an asterisk to forever remember the low-budget and bankrupt season to come.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.