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BOB RYAN

Pigskin tastes like sausage

How'd you enjoy those Deion Branch negotiations? Isn't it fun being a fan?

That's it. He's gone. You and Tom Brady are gonna have to deal with it. Mr. X, the future No. 1, may help the team someday, but he won't be of much use when they kick off at Giants Stadium Sunday at 4:15.

It may be a fine sport, football, but it's a bad business, especially the way it's practiced in Foxborough. When I say ``bad," I don't mean evil, just harsh. They have a plan, by God, and they stick to it.

But don't let the player off the hook, either. He did have a valid contract, and he wasn't starving. If he had another good year, the money truck would have been backed up to his dock. But he saw the big bucks going to other people now, right now, and one of them happened to be a guy (David Givens) who was below him on the pecking order. I guess that was just too much to take.

We, of course, will be told that had nothing to do with it. Deion just wanted the contract he deserved.

Well, OK, but here's some advice for Deion and his agent, Jason Chayut: Apologize to the fans for playing the reprehensible ``I've Got To Feed My Family" card, and do so immediately.

Use of that line is touching the third rail in player/fan relations. Branch may very well have been underpaid to some degree in the context of quality wide receivers, but according to Our Man Borges, he would have made $1,405,000 this coming season. I'll take a wild guess and assume Branch did not grow up with maids and European vacations, which means that $1,405,000 should constitute a whole lot of money to him, more than enough to feed him and his three children, plus any assorted relatives for whom he is financially responsible.

And it's not as if he hasn't been playing for four years while making far more money than, say, anyone he grew up with, or, most important, the vast number of his fans who can't even conceive of making $100,000 a year, let alone a figure 14 times that.

Pulling out the ``I've Got To Feed My Family" line is never the way to go.

But I have not come to bash the player. I like the player. More than that, the Patriots need the player. You would have thought reasonable men could have reached a suitable contract compromise. Richard Seymour went through this, and he's still here. Tom Brady is still here. So why isn't Deion Branch still here?

For one thing, he plays the wrong position.

Let's face facts: Many Football People don't value wide receivers. They prove it every draft weekend by allowing notable college wideouts to wait around while they go through the quarterbacks, defensive linemen, linebackers, defensive backs, running backs, and the Big Fat Guys before they take a wide receiver, no matter how many catches, yards, and TDs he rang up in college.

You hear it from the pundits all the time. ``You can always get a wide receiver farther down," they say. Branch was a second-rounder, remember, the 65th man picked in the 2002 draft. Hey, Jerry Rice, the greatest of them all, was the 16th player picked in the 1985 draft (he, of course, had the curse of playing at Mississippi Valley State). For whatever reason, Football People are leery of wideouts.

I can't say for sure that Coach Bill is in the forefront of this thinking, but he certainly didn't seem to be overly concerned about losing his best wide receiver when he faced the media masses Monday. It would be great to think that he had just gotten through slamming his fist against a locker in anger and/or disgust and was now putting up a brave front for us, but I rather doubt it.

He was asked about newly acquired Doug Gabriel and second-round pick Chad Jackson (each currently injured), and that was his chance to say, ``Let's not be ridiculous and think for one instant either of them could replace what we just lost," but he instead gave serious appraisals of the two. Branch, in other words, was dead to him. Not that anyone was surprised.

Here was Coach Bill's chance to rhapsodize about the way this second-round choice had developed into a Super Bowl MVP, and gee, we'll miss him, but, you know, it was a hard call and I wish him the best. Yeah, right. To Coach Bill, that's yesterday's news. We've got the Jets on Sunday.

Pro sports are all grown-up enterprises, but there's none tougher or more hard-hearted than football. It brings to mind the Sausage Factory Syndrome.

You know what I'm talking about. They say that if you enjoy eating sausages, don't bother inquiring about how they make them. It will make you into an instant vegan.

I say that if you're a big fan of pro football, just plop yourself into your seat at the stadium or in front of your set when the game starts and don't think about what it took for those players to get on the field. This is the worst combination in sport: a brutal body-sacrifice game run by people who have become desensitized to the weekly carnage.

In no other sport (no, not even hockey) are pain and physical debilitation so cavalierly accepted as the norm by everyone from the owner to the general manager to, of course, the coaches. As Exhibit A, I call to your attention the situation in Kansas City, where quarterback Trent Green has sustained a serious concussion from a blow delivered by Cincinnati's Robert Geathers on Sunday. Football has an appalling approach to concussions, or ``dingers," as they like to say. In a better football world, Green would be declared out for a minimum of two months, or perhaps even the season. But all they're thinking about in Kansas City is how quickly he can get back in the lineup, not, ``Should Trent Green even play again this year -- or ever?"

Every NFL Sunday is Agincourt. I honestly believe teams should have a minimum of 100-man rosters and that instead of team doctors there should be league-appointed independent medical overseers whose sworn duty is to keep people out of uniform until they are truly healthy. (Yeah, yeah, I can hear the laughing out there.)

Juxtapose that against the Deion Branches of the world, good players who feel they should have been better taken care of by their employers for better-than-expected services rendered and who know that in the eyes of their coaches they are nothing more than commodities. Then you, the fan, needs to cover your eyes or plug your ears when they mention the amount of money over which they'll be haggling.

Sausage factory, I tell you. But I'll be down there in the Meadowlands myself Sunday, asking someone to please pass the mustard. It's three hours of pretty good entertainment, and I can't stay away, either.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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