NFL owners and players are getting tons of advice about how to settle their labor dispute that currently threatens to cancel the 2011 season. They’re getting tons of criticism, most of it about billionaires fighting with millionaires about money when many Americans are concerned about paying their mortgages and gasoline prices hitting $5 per gallon.

Well, I’m going to take a different approach. I hope Wayne Weaver and the other owners will at least give my thoughts a quick glance. Ditto for the players. I think I speak of millions of fans.

Here’s the quick version: We love you and we want you, but don’t think we can’t live without you.

Millions of Americans absolutely love the NFL. They talk about — some even obsess about it — year round. Free agency and the draft have become seasons of their own. The media covers mini-camps as if they mean something. Fantasy football is almost as popular as the games themselves. Millions of people spend much of their discretionary income so they can enjoy the NFL. Millions more go in debt to be a part of the NFL.

But keep taking us for granted and pretty soon you won’t have millions of us worshipping you and feeding your bank accounts. I’m not just talking about the “little people” who can only afford a couple of season tickets in the nose bleed section and who limit themselves to two $8 hot dogs and two $5 cokes. I’m talking about corporate leaders as well, the ones who approve purchases of luxury suites, stadium billboards and commericals for your local radio and TV shows.

I have a few recommendations for the average fan:

First, find yourselves another sport to take your money and capture your hearts. There are lots of options. The most obvious is college football. I know many of you already have teams — Gators, Seminoles, Bulldogs — you support. If you don’t already have a college team, find one. I’ll suggest Jacksonville University. Coach Kerwin Bell has built a strong program and few teams play a more exciting style of football than the Dolphins. Tickets are inexpensive, concession items are reasonably priced and parking is free. You can take the entire family and not have to skip a night at the movies. Coach George O’Leary has done well at UCF. It’s major college football and its inexpensive. Because the price is right and you’re already going to be in Orlando for a Knights game, pay a visit to one of the many attractions in the area. You can afford it since you’re not paying through the nose for NFL tickets, concessions and parking.

Second, make Friday night your football night. Some of the best high school football in the nation is played right here. Talk about inexpensive. (Of course, this suggestion depends on whether or not we have high school sports in Duval County next season. Budget problems are threatening to force dropping athletics. And the NFL thinks it has problems.)

Third, fall in love with NASCAR. For some of you it will be falling in love again. The First Coast is a NASCAR hotbed but not like it was 25 years ago. The Chase for the Championship is one of the best innovations in sports in recent years, but it hasn’t been the success NASCAR had hoped for. Biggest problem? NFL games dominating the Sunday TV audience.

Other options include watching more postseason Major League Baseball. (Yeah, I know MLB ran you off years ago with all of its labor problems, but let time heal those wounds.) The basketball season starts, pro and college, in November. There are tickets available for you Gators and Noles, not to mention tickets for our own two major college teams, JU and UNF. As a Tar Heel, I can assure you basketball can be as exciting as football.

Maybe no NFL will allow you to do more fishing in the fall. You do understand you don’t have to dry dock your boat during the football season? Some of you may even be able to afford a boat if there’s no NFL. Get back on the golf course. The Jaguars’ presence puts a financial hurting on many area courses during the fall.

There are, of course, lots of other ways to spend and enjoy that money you’ve been handing the NFL. Take that vacation you have dreamed about but couldn’t afford. For the price of a pair of NFL season tickets you can take one heckuva cruise or spend a week at some resort. Think of what a hero you dads would be if the kids heard you say, “Pack up, kids, we’re going to Disney World.”

Extra benefits of no NFL would be one less credit card bill to pay or perhaps one more night of going to the movies or eating out (and not as a fast food restauant).

Finally, one thing you NFL folks don’t want to do is give people a reason not to buy your product. How many fans debate each year about whether or not to spend the money on those tickets? One friend told me the labor dispute had already solved a problem for him. “I’ve been looking for a reason not to renew my Jaguars tickets and this is it,” he said. He didn’t sound all that sad of about it.

There are several options as well for those corporate dollars that would become available. The Players is a true international sports event right here on the First Coast. The PGA Tour is doing fine, but it would welcome even more corporate support. Call Alan Verlander at JU or Lee Moon at UNF. They’re athletic directors and they’ll be happy to take your money — and a lot less of it than the Jaguars. The Gator Bowl is one of the oldest college football bowl games. Rick Catlett, GB president, isn’t one to turn down more luxury suite prospects. I know for a fact the city’s high schools could use some financial help.

Then, of course, you could take the money you’ve been spending on the NFL and spread it around to your employees. Who couldn’t use a financial bonus considering the price of gas?

In closing, I want to reiterate how much we love, want and appreciate the NFL and the Jaguars. The Jaguars have done a lot for the First Coast and we appreciate it. But there is a limit to how far we can be pushed . . . taken advantage of . . . taken for granted. Understand we can live without you, but we don’t want to so get your damn act together.

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