The NFL has taken its battle with the cable companies over NFL Network to the people.
The question now is whether the good people of cities like Austin, Texas, and Madison, Wis., will raise enough of a ruckus to help the people in New York get America's No. 1 game.
At least the eight regular-season games that the NFL Network plans to show this season, that is.
That's the hope of the NFL, which on Thursday added a special prompt on NFL.com to explain its side of the problem between the league and some cable companies. NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky called the information on the league's Web site an "awareness program."
"What we're trying to do is explain to people now what's going to happen later on in the season so that they understand," Palansky said. "We know that people are going to be upset, but we want them to understand it so that they know the issues involved.
"At the end of the day, we can't force a cable company to take NFL Network."
Chief among the companies the league is negotiating with are Cablevision and Time Warner, who are not willing to add the NFL Network as part of their basic packages for consumers. The NFL is charging the companies for the rights, but maintains that the fee is less than the "price of a movie ticket per subscriber."
While the cable companies contend the fee is significant, the league counters that it's a small amount given the strength of the product and the other elements that have been offered.
The bottom line is that unless the sides come to an agreement, millions of viewers around the country won't be able to see the games, which start the night of Thanksgiving Day.
How many millions? There are more than 14 million Time Warner subscribers nationwide. Cablevision, also one of the biggest providers in the country, has three million in New York alone.
Time Warner doesn't appear ready to give in to the NFL's asking price.
"If we still don't have an agreement we can live with, we expect to delete NFLN from our lineup in those newly acquired systems from Adelphia and Comcast,'' Mark Harrad, a spokesman for New York-based Time Warner, said in an e-mail Wednesday to the Associated Press. Time Warner acquired more than 1.4 million customers when it bought Comcast and Adelphia.
The companies are ''far apart at this point,'' Harrad said.
But the league can put pressure on the companies. The hope for the NFL is that subscribers in areas that have a choice will exert their buying power to go to cable companies that carry the NFL Network. In turn, that may put pressure on the likes of Time Warner to buy NFL Network.
The only problem is that the pressure won't be coming from New York consumers.
"New York is an abnormal market in terms of what happens with cable companies," Palansky said. In many homes in the New York metropolitan area, cable contracts are pre-set. Many residents have no choice about their cable company or even what viewing package they might get. That includes more than 4 million who have either Cablevision or Time Warner.
That means that companies such as Cablevision and Time Warner, which has 1.4 million subscribers in New York alone, can simply refuse to buy popular programs and subscribers have little recourse. Palansky pointed out the situation regarding the YES Network, which carries Yankees games. Cablevision refused to add it, leaving millions of New Yorkers without Yankees games on TV.
Thus, the pressure will have to come from other places.
"Basically, if you're in San Antonio and you can't get the Cowboys game we're going to show, you're probably not going to be happy," Palansky said.
SMITH FAKING IT?
"Steve Smith would never, ever miss a practice or a game because of his contract," agent Derrick Fox said Thursday. That said, Fox said he has talked to the Panthers about reworking Smith's contract, but that's merely standard operating procedure.
"I have 11 NFL players that I represent," Fox said. "I'm in contact with the GMs of every team I have a player with doing everything I can to get them more money … Yes, I've talked to Carolina about Steve's contract. But that's nothing more than what I always do.
"Look, everybody in the world wants to be paid fairly and everybody thinks they're underpaid. But Steve Smith, he'd play for a can of Coke if that's all that was there. He's that competitive."
Smith, who signed an extension through 2009 before the 2004 season, ranked No. 2 on The Sporting News list of the toughest players in the NFL behind Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre.
That's why Fox said Smith is particularly frustrated by his current state. Smith has been nursing what Fox called a "severe" hamstring problem since the offseason and has been unable to solve the problem. After rehabbing all of June and July before training camp, Smith tweaked his right hamstring on the first day of camp. After the right one healed, he then tweaked the left one. Smith has seen specialists about the problem this week and last week in order to find a solution.
As for the questions about the situation, Fox took it in stride.
"I welcome the question. I'd rather discuss it than have a bunch of jackasses just writing stuff about what they think might be happening," Fox said.
Meanwhile, Smith was boiling last week as he tried to get ready for the game with Atlanta, Fox said.
"When you have a guy like DeAngelo Hall running his mouth, you just want to Fred Smoot him," Fox said, referring to how Smith lit up the Vikings quarterback for 11 catches, 201 yards and a touchdown last season.
- Don't be surprised if free safety Troy Vincent, who was put on IR this week by the Buffalo Bills with a hamstring injury but is expected to be healthy soon, gets some interest from his original team, the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins need a safety with coverage skills and Vincent, who was the No. 7 overall pick by Miami in 1992, fits the bill. Vincent has always liked South Florida and maintained an offseason home there until two years ago.
- The best offensive stretch for the Jacksonville Jaguars in its season-opening win over Dallas last Sunday was a series of four consecutive completions from quarterback Byron Leftwich to wide receiver Matt Jones bridging the third and fourth quarters. The series of throws combined to gain 57 yards. That may not sound significant, but the key was the style of the plays. All were quick throws against tight coverage, but Leftwich was on target and Jones showed excellent concentration, eventually setting up a go-ahead touchdown run by Leftwich.
- Staying in Jacksonville for a moment, the best hit of the day might have been wide receiver Reggie Williams against backup quarterback David Garrard. Huh? Not only are they both on offense, they're both on the Jaguars. But after Williams scored just before halftime to tie the score at 10-10, Garrard went on the field to chest bump Williams. Instead, the exuberant Williams ran over Garrard. "I should have read that situation a little better," a good-natured Garrard said after the game. "Man, he was coming at me way too fast."