Helmet-to-helmet hits in football. Scary stuff. And as a sports fan, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard all about them this week, thanks to the new NFL ruling regarding fines and suspensions for helmet-to-helmet collisions.
Last weekend saw massive fines, both in dollars and quantity, handed down for such hits. This weekend brought enormous scrutiny from officials, coaches, players and fans. All eyes are watching. All minds are analyzing. And teams may – or may not – be adapting.
Buccaneer head coach Raheem Morris said the team is going to play “violently fair.”
I appreciate that attitude. Sure it’s a little “go along to get along” but in these first days of the jurisdiction when all eyes are focused on enforcement and adhesion of the new rules, it’s the smart way to go. The Buc defense does have an historical reputation of playing hard but playing fair. Strong safety John Lynch was known for his hard hits on the field. His hallmark, as it were – and it landed him on an NFL.com list of Top Ten Most Feared Tacklers.
Look. Violent hits and collisions are part of the deal when it comes to football. That’s the way it is. These games aren’t your homecoming powder puff matchups (By the way, I was one heck of a tight end for my class’ team, all four years of high school. Had great hands and I could throw a darn good block.) This is professional football, a game played by skilled athletes who are accustomed to playing hard with passion and power – and who, by the time they reach the elite level of the NFL, have been doing their job in this fashion for a long time.
Tough hits are going to happen. I was watching Monday Night Football the night Joe Theismann had his leg broken in a crunch-up with Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson. Not an image you soon forget. Darryl Stingley took a hit from Jack Tatum that damaged his spinal cord and left him a quadriplegic. In those days, there was no league rule about such an action being illegal and Stingley himself reportedly called it a “freak accident.” Even though neither of those incidents were helmet-to-helmet collisions, they are classic examples of simply how tough this game can be played.
As might be imagined, opinions are flying fast and freely about this new ruling:
“Should the league go back to the days of the leatherheads, which were more decorative than protective?”
“Facemasks are the problem!” “No they’re not – they prevent facial injuries!” (Although there’s no penalty I hate to watch more than a facemask grabbing one – freak me out and scare me a little, to be honest)
"What about defenders' rights -- shouldn't there be more of a crack down on chop blocks?"
True confession: other than my powder puff playing days and the periodic touch football game, I have no experience as a legitimate player. Heck, if I were one, I’d probably just lay low and try to trip my opponents as they rumbled by. My version of defense. But it seems to me that the game can be played – and played hard – without going to the lowest common denominator of the head hits. Wouldn’t lose any excitement or punch, so to speak. Long balls would still be thrown and caught. Great ball-carrying runs would still happen. And amazing defensive plays would still be a factor. I’d put money on it.
When I turn on the radio (ahem) to catch the Bucs game this weekend, I’m going to expect to hear about tough hits (focus, Aqib Talib!), great catches (go Mike Williams, go!), the usual penalties and Gene Deckerhoff exuberantly telling me about some good, smart defensive stop. I hope. (Please don’t suck this weekend, dear Buccaneers…)
Bottom line: It's time to simply play smarter. Yes, football is a profession and a ka-jillion dollar business. Perhaps thinking with the head rather than leading with it on a tackle is the intelligent way to go all the way ‘round.
At its foundation, football is basically a game. Played by our modern day gladiators. To the victor go the spoils. But are any of those spoils worth taking the life-altering chance one takes with a helmet-to-helmet hit?