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Friday, Sep 22, 2017
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Fennelly: As hurricane bears down, football goes on back burner

TAMPA

There is another monster out there, churning, menacing. Its name is Irma and it's bearing down on us as if it doesn't want to miss Sunday's season opener between the Bucs and Dolphins in Miami.

This game could be in harm's way.

Infinitely more important, so could millions of people. Lives, homes.

That's the only story that matters at the moment.

Football seems so puny.

The NFL is preparing contingencies. Maybe it waits until Wednesday or Thursday to see where the storm is tracking. Maybe the game is moved up and played Friday in Miami. There's precedent for that.

Make no mistake: The storm is the biggest story and concern. A storm heading our way. Bigger than Jameis Winston and the Bucs. Bigger than the Dolphins. Bigger than all of us.

Think of Harvey. Don't take chances. If this storm is anywhere close to having a possibility of landfall in Florida, the NFL reschedules, to down the road, later in the season.

It's just a football game.

"I just got through giving the players a big speech about control what you can control and don't worry about the rest," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "And I have no control over this."

None of us does.

It would be easy enough to reschedule. The Bucs and Dolphins share a bye week and could play Nov. 19 in Miami.

Not that the decision should be any different if the teams didn't share a bye.

You can't begin to risk playing a football game, something as meaningless as that, if there is even a remote chance of a hit. And just two weeks after Harvey devoured parts of Texas.

Maybe you play this game in Orlando or Jacksonville. The Dolphins wouldn't vote for Tampa. The Dolphins already have a London game against the Saints. They won't want to lose another home game. Also, Irma might hit Tampa Bay. Or Orlando. Or Jacksonville. We just don't know.

The real point is that if Irma is threatening Florida, does the NFL really want the Bucs and Dolphins packing up and leaving their families and their communities for even a few days?

"We're just coming off a terrible one in Houston," Koetter said. "There's a lot to consider. To think that those guys are going to just hop on a plane if there's danger to their families and not be bothered by it, that would be foolish to think that way."

We saw Major League Baseball send the Astros away from Houston, to the game's shame.

It is extraordinary how people have donated time and treasure for Harvey relief. That includes athletes and teams: J.J. Watt's massive fundraising efforts, pro and college teams from across the country chipping in.

Did you read the story about Houston-area native and LPGA golfer Stacy Lewis, who snapped a long winless streak Sunday and immediately donated her $195,000 in winnings to relief efforts in her hometown? Humanity is nearly everywhere after Harvey.

What does a season opener matter in the face of that? Not much.

If the game is pushed back to November, the Bucs could open on Sept. 17 at home against the Bears. Yes, there are easier ways to begin your season than with a bye week.

"Nobody wants to play 16 straight," Koetter said.

But he knows that none of that matters right now.

The Bucs will still be the Bucs in November. The Dolphins will still be the Dolphins. Jameis will still be a work in progress. Ndamukong Suh will still be nasty.

The real monster is out over the water.

Football is nothing next to that.

We hunker down. We wait.

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