For those who live and breathe football it's best to envision the game as a mirage that’ll dissipate, and then what will be of importance when the lights dim?

Last week, the dawn of a new NFL season was ushered in. As the labor talks dragged on between the players and the owners all summer, many thought all might be lost. A few sports commentators even made some heinously ridiculous claims that the loss of an NFL season would severely harm America's economy. And worst yet, they added, the forfeiture of so many games would have devastating effects on the mental health of the fans. (What a frivolously trifle insistence that was.)


Well the season is indeed under way now, but for many in the Hoosier State, they’re crying in their proverbial soup.


It would appear Peyton Manning, the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, is lost for the season due to injury; although his doctors claim there is a slight chance he could play again this year. Manning, 35, has had three neck surgeries in the last 19 months. One would hope it's not the end of his career, and few are saying it is, but as he lay on that cold gurney before the operation I'm sure a host of troubling thoughts filled that calculating mind of his.


For you see, football isn't just some game for players like Peyton. He lives and breathes football; it flows through his veins. The game’s brought celebrity status Manning’s way. And he’ll, no doubt, be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after he retires. I'm sure he’ll go down in history as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, but at what price?


Football is, quite literally, brutal. I heard a player once say being hit on the field is like going through a car crash every play. A close friend told me the other day: “For a few mil I’d let em’ knock my brains out!” After I gave that some thought my inquisitive reasoning began to probe my brain with a thought of, “Really?”


For all intents and purposes, football’s just a game; it's entertainment. The players are nothing more than entertainers on any given Sunday. The game is a two- or three-hour escape from the dread of life for most. But then for some the game is a freefall from the cliff of reality. I’ve never quite understood why guys would take their shirts off in the stands when the weather's subzero - the gluttonous indulgence of alcohol might explain that. I know very little about fantasy leagues either; life’s too daunting a task as it is to fantasize about such trivial things.


I recall watching a game in ‘71 between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions that became more than some game. Chuck Hughes of the Lions didn’t get up after one of those plays was over. As everyone in the stadium and the television viewers looked on, it was later learned he’d suffered a heart attack and died during the game.


Football meant a lot to wide receiver Darryl Stingley of the New England Patriots, until one day he was running a route down the middle of the field and Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders leveled a devastating hit to his upper torso. Stingley would be later carried from the field. The blow permanently paralyzed the receiver and confined him to a wheelchair forever.


And then there was Dexter Manley, a defensive end in the NFL whose career spanned some 11 years. To Manley football was everything and little else mattered. He played high school football in Texas and then accepted a scholarship to play at Oklahoma State University. He was drafted in 1981 by the Washington Redskins, won two Super Bowl titles with the team, was a Pro Bowler in 1986, but was later banned for life from the NFL for substance abuse in 1991. After his career was over Dexter revealed he was functionally illiterate, despite having studied at Oklahoma State University for four years. Football wasn't just some game for Manley, it was his all, and it came at a price. He had a college education, but sadly couldn't read nor write.


For those who live and breathe football it's best to envision the game as a mirage that’ll dissipate, and then what will be of importance when the lights dim?


Greg Allen’s column is published bi-monthly. He’s a published author, syndicated columnist and the founder of Builder of the Spirit in Jamestown, Ind., a nonprofit organization aiding the poor. Contact him at www.builderofthespirit.org or 765-676-5014.