By Brandon Niles

After a long off-season of worry and speculation about whether or not the NFL would have a season this year, the league and players have finally come to an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. Almost as exciting as the agreement is the duration of the contract. Fans now know that words like “lockout” and “labor agreement” won’t need to be discussed at least for the next decade.

This new agreement is good for both the players and the owners. It includes assurance that the season will continue to be 16 games (instead of the owner proposed 18 games), and rookie wages will be cut in half. Additionally, the players will get a fair percentage of revenue. I would’ve liked to see more money go to retired players, particularly in the form of medical assistance, but overall I think this is a good deal.

Perhaps most exciting for fans are the flurry of off-season activities that occurred since the agreement was put in place only a couple of weeks ago. Transactions that usually take place over the course of the entire off-season have instead been compacted into a matter of days. As a result, football fans all over the world have been glued to news headlines and Twitter for updates.

Also, the pre-season is underway, a welcome appetizer to the regular season coming in September. Fans have been clamoring for football since the Super Bowl in February. They’ve been concerned and fed up with the league, but the pre-season gives them the opportunity to see the rookies play in their new uniforms, creating an intoxicating excitement for the upcoming season.

Fans have had a tough year. The NFL provides many who are struggling in a difficult economy with hope and camaraderie. The sport provides a fathers and sons opportunities to bond, friends a reason to get together and banter, and perhaps most of all, it provides our soldiers overseas something to look forward to each week.

As a veteran who served a short deployment in Iraq several years ago, I remember how much we all loved and looked forward to football every Sunday. Even the non-football fans watched the games. The NFL provided an amazing escape from the world around us, and helped keep us connected with home. I can’t imagine my time in Iraq without football, and I know many men and women serving feel the same way today.

Many fans have been disenchanted with the NFL as a result of this lockout. Many have said they wouldn’t return as fans, and that the sport is diminished to them now. I can sympathize, and at times feel the same way. However, hile I may not be happy about this off-season, all the frustration has quickly fallen away. Like a battered ex-boyfriend, beleaguered, I return to this sport I love so much. And after all that’s gone on, I can honestly say I am unequivocally ready for some football. It’s almost here.