If you never saw the Purple People Eaters browbeat quarterbacks or Joe Greene and the Steel Curtain blank opponent after opponent; if you never saw Walter Payton deliver crushing blows to prospective tacklers or Gayle Sayers dance his way to the goal line; if you never saw Paul Hornung covered in mud or an exhausted Kellen Winslow dragged off the field; if you’re not sure who the Super Bowl trophy is named after or who George Halas is or why the AFC trophy is named after Lamar Hunt, then to you NFL football may seem great, just fine, normal. But to those of us who have been fans long enough to remember when the game was still football, today’s NFL is a sad and pale reminder of better days gone by.
From 1948 to 1960 a linebacker named Hardy Brown terrorized NFL offenses using a devastating right shoulder, which he used the way a boxer delivers a six-inch knockout punch, sending player after player from field to hospital. During an interview for NFL Films in the 70s, after rule changes began to calm the game down, Hardy called the current state of football “a sissy game”. As much as we hated to see him go in 1991, it’s probably better that Hardy never got a chance to see today’s much sissy-er version of the game he loved to play.
Case in point from Super Bowl 55 is the unsportsmanlike penalty dished out to Mathieu for wagging a finger in Brady’s face! Are you kidding right now? They can’t talk sh*t to each other? The current rules make the players look like poor wittle babies that cannot stand having their itty bitty feelings hurt. Are these eight-year-old girls on the playground or grown men making millions of dollars playing a ferocious and physical game? No one is calling the players sissies, but it is nonetheless becoming a sissy game ruined by a sissy commissioner trying to squeeze every last possible nickel out of an increasingly sissy society.
Excluding the good, appropriate and necessary steps taken to help eliminate and more correctly deal with concussions, just a few other examples of the many questionable changes illustrate the contention, starting with the onside kick.
In the 2017 NFL season there were 57 onside kicks and the kicking team recovered 12 of them, or 21 percent. In 2018-2019, under the new rules, there were 79 onside kicks and the kicking team recovered 5 of them, or 6 percent.
The new requirement that players on the kickoff squad may not run prior to the kick has rendered this critical strategic part of the game all but moot. The fact that the NFL felt the need to change the rule in the name of player safety is not what’s offensive – it’s that they just destroyed it without adjusting for all that its removal detracts from the game’s excitement, strategy and essence. The lack of imagination in this billion-dollar corporation is absolutely astounding.
The rules and facets of the game that make it football, such as onside kicks and being able to free-kick a field goal after a fair catch, were not included without thought and reason. That a ball tumbling out of the back of the end zone results in a touchback makes perfect sense if you take the time to read the rules and come to understand that a basic tenet of the game is that the ball is always in possession of one team or the other, even if it is bouncing (inbounds) across the field. Ruining the onside kick without providing a valid alternative demonstrates how little the NFL cares about the integrity of the game.
In 1972 the league moved the hash marks much nearer the center of the field because putting the ball in play farther from each sideline supposedly gives the offense more room to exercise its options, thus making it easier to score. It also voided a stratagem that once played a big part in field goal attempts, as a try from the hash mark increased the angle of the kick and reduced its chances of success, unlike now when every kick is more or less straight-on by default.
And of course, many of the biggest rule changes have to do with contacting the quarterback. Today’s signal callers are treated like delicate porcelain dolls, kept able to play another play no matter what, at the cost of the game’s essence.
Things evolve and grow and often that process makes them better. This is decidedly not true in regard to the NFL. The game is far less fierce and far less entertaining than when Lambert and Butkus and Nitschke roamed the field, and although politically incorrect to admit it, we miss the brutality, the danger, the crunching and the crushing, while readily acknowledging that changes needed to be made to minimize CTE.
But making the game safer does not have to mean tearing it apart at the seams. It does not have to mean giving one position its own set of rules. It does not have to mean that players can’t compete on a one-on-one level and work to get into each other’s heads as part of the contest. It does not have to become a sissy game.
– REENO – A graduate of Portland State University, Steve Kloser is the author of Beginning Band – A Guide to Success. Accomplished teacher, conductor, composer web developer, Packers Fan, and Proud American, Reeno’s usually slanted outlook often presents an unlikely perspective on old and new. He currently lives on the Portland, OR area.
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