NFC South: Faces of lockout NFC

BryantCourtesy of Matt BryantAtlanta kicker Matt Bryant with his wife Melissa and their family, from left: Daniel, 13, Tre', 4 , Madison, 9, Joshua, 9, and Jacob, 11.
Growing up in south Texas, Matt Bryant could measure the seasons by which ball his father picked up.

Winter, spring, summer and fall didn’t really matter. The measuring sticks were football, baseball and basketball seasons. At the appropriate time, the boy and his father would switch sports and practice out in the yard.

It was so easy and pure back then, and those practice sessions helped lead the younger Bryant to his dream of an NFL career. But there’s no telling when the 2011 football season will start. The NFL labor situation is quite murky, and Bryant's dream seems to be headed for a nightmare.

Bryant, the Atlanta Falcons' kicker, is frustrated that the lockout is lingering. It’s understandable because Bryant, who had a great 2010 season, long ago should have had a new contract. He should know where he’s going to have his family settled when a big event comes in the fall. But, like a lot of other players out there, Bryant has no clue what’s going on.

“I can do all the research in the world,’’ Bryant said of the labor strife between the owners and players. “What I say or do isn’t going to fix the problem. But I just want to understand why my childhood dream and the way I make my living is in such jeopardy.’’

Unless something happens very quickly, Bryant will have to make a very difficult decision soon. He’s a free agent and, although the Falcons have said they’d like to re-sign him and his preference is to remain in Atlanta, no deal was reached before the lockout, and there’s no guarantee one will be reached if and when it is lifted.

That’s where things get complicated for Bryant. His family is currently in Atlanta, and the children finish school soon but have youth league baseball through the end of the month. The family usually spends a few weeks in Texas before the start of training camp, and a trip to Texas remains planned this year.

But it remains to be seen whether Bryant’s wife, Melissa, and the children will stay in Texas, return to Atlanta or go to the home the family still owns in Tampa, where Bryant used to play for the Buccaneers. Here’s the real sticking point on that: Melissa is pregnant with twins and due in September or October. That will give the couple seven children, and the Bryants haven’t made any plans on where to send the older ones to school in the fall.

“Do I take them with me, wherever I’m going? Do I leave them?’’ Bryant said. “I just don’t know.’’

Suppose the Bryants go back to Atlanta, the lockout ends sometime late in the summer and Bryant somehow ends up signing with another team. It’s not easy to pack up a large family, including a wife about to give birth, and suddenly head off to a strange city.

Bryant feels helpless as he watches the two sides argue back and forth.

“I’m just like the neighbor across the street,’’ Bryant said. “I know as much as they know. I’ve tried to reach out to people to find out what exactly is going on. A lot of stuff is just not making sense. You hear the right things being said by both sides, but nothing seems to be getting done, and it’s extremely frustrating because it creates huge uncertainty. I wish it could go back to the way it was when I was a boy with my dad. It was a game then. I’d like it to get back to being a game.’’

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