- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Thursday that the league has canceled the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame game between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams because of the short timeline that would be required for the game to be played as scheduled.
"We are unfortunately going to have to cancel the Hall of Fame game this year," Goodell said from the owners' meeting in Atlanta. "The time is just too short, and we feel it's important for all 32 teams to be operating with the same number of preseason games, and also starting camp at the same date or near the same date."
Goodell added that the Hall of Fame ceremonies -- which this year feature the induction of former Bears defensive end Richard Dent -- will take place as originally scheduled.
"Although the game is an important part of the 10-day, 18-event Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival, it is important to remember that the most important event is the Enshrinement Ceremony which will be held on Saturday night Aug. 6 as scheduled," the Pro Football Hall of Fame said in a statement.
The Hall of Fame game, which annually serves as the league's exhibition opener in Canton, Ohio, was the first and likely last major casualty of an NFL lockout that has lasted for more than four months but appears close to conclusion with the league's owners voting Thursday to ratify a proposal on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The Hall said it would issue full ticket refunds for fans who already purchased seats for the game.
With such a short timeline between the proposed July 27 start of the new league year, and the contest scheduled for Aug. 7, player safety was the key issue because the lockout prevented teams from conducting supervised workouts this offseason.
"It was cancelled because of the delay in opening camp," Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said. "We were supposed to open camp on July 23. Obviously that's not going to be the case any longer, so it made it difficult to prepare for that game. Because we have Richard Dent being enshrined, it's disappointing from that standpoint but probably the most fair given the circumstances of the offseason that every team starts training camp on the same day."
Bears safety Chris Harris wasn't about to put up a fight about the cancellation.
"I'm not going to fight them on it," Harris said Thursday on "SportsCenter." "Everybody else plays four [games], and to be selected to play in that fifth preseason game can be a little taxing, especially with as little preparation as we're going to have. Going into a preseason game, you don't want to get out there and get anybody hurt."
Several of Harris' teammates agreed. Publicly and privately, several players had expressed concern about safety if the league forced the teams to play the game on its originally scheduled date.
Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher proved prophetic Thursday when speaking to ESPN's George Smith about the prospect of the league forcing them to play the game as originally scheduled.
"I think the Hall of Fame game is a no-go, even if we get it (a new CBA) done today," Urlacher said. "We still have to have time for free agency and all that stuff."
Cancellation of the game now leaves the Bears with four exhibition outings. The club now opens the preseason Aug. 13 against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field.
Training camp, meanwhile, opens around the league -- if the NFLPA ratifies the CBA -- on July 27, but their activities will be limited that day to physicals, meetings and conditioning. The league won't permit any teams starting camp to practice in pads until the fourth day.
The same day camps open, the period in which teams can sign all free agents and make trades begins, and rosters can be expanded to the 90-man limit. Teams also must be under the salary cap of $120.375 million by July 27.
The Bears haven't officially announced a start date for training camp, but a team source said it will be Wednesday.
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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