The story swirling around Chargers Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman — should he or shouldn’t he play this year — reminds me of a scene from the 1979 movie “North Dallas Forty.”

The late John Matuszak, a former defensive lineman with the Raiders and a monster of a man, is raging at an assistant coach about the issue of playing with injuries as the team dressed for a big game.

“Every time we say it’s a game, you say it’s a business! Every time we say it’s a business, you say it’s a game!”

Now that Merriman, who will eventually need reconstructive knee surgery, has decided he will play on his wounded knee in the season opener Sept. 7, some NFL pundits and fans are essentially saying, “Shawne, it’s a business. Don’t risk further injury and multi-million dollar contracts.”

Merriman, though, is saying, “It’s a game. I’m a football player. I want to be part of a possible Super Bowl season.”

How can you fault the guy for that? Did anybody call Philip Rivers a fool when it was revealed he played in the AFC Championship game on a knee that needed surgery after the season?

My guess is Merriman probably won’t make it through the season, but barring the bad luck of a catastrophic injury — which could happen even if his knee was 100 percent — he will be back negotiating multi-million dollar contracts in the future.

Merriman knows the deal — that later in life he’ll probably be getting knee replacements. Willie Buchanon, the great Chargers and Green Bay Packers cornerback from San Diego State and Oceanside High, had two knee replacements at the same time in April and says he’s walking around better than he has in years.

I saw Art Powell, the great wide receiver from San Diego High who was one of the American Football League’s all-time great wide receivers in the 1960s with the Oakland Raiders, recently. We were talking about his grandson, Alec Williams, a San Diego State-bound basketball recruit.

Williams is a 6-foot-6, 245-pound “small forward,” so naturally I asked Powell with a body like that why his grandson wasn’t playing football.

“Because I wouldn’t let him,” said Powell, referring to the injuries football players suffer without the guaranteed contracts of basketball and baseball players.

There’s no way to tell from Matuszak’s lines in North Dallas Forty if “The Tooz,” as he was known, would have played or not in Merriman’s situation.

My guess is he would have played. When you’re that big, that strong and having that much fun playing a game, it overrides the business aspect.

Shawne Merriman is no one’s fool. He’ knows what he’s doing.


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