The headline sounds like a Chicken Little warning but football is at such a crossroads now. The only way it can be saved is with drastic changes, the kind that would make it unrecognizable to someone who enjoyed it in the 1960s but hadn’t seen a game since. It’s doubtful there is such a creature so the experiment is moot but when you combine the new player safety rules (without which football would probably spend more time in the courtroom than on the playing field) and the increased strength, speed and overall ability of today’s player, one of them is going to lose out. Between the two, the latter will be overwhelmingly outvoted by the former - unless the only voters were the people who used to watch the gladiators. The game will be as popular as ever; it just won’t be the same.
Ed Reed, defensive back for the Baltimore Ravens, was called for his third violation of player safety rules in the past three years, i.e. hits to the neck and head area of a defenseless player. According to the commissioner’s office, his actions will earn him one game suspension which, at his salary, would be in the range of $420,000. That’s an expensive lesson although I imagine that’s why the rules are structured the way they are. It’s easy to understand - unless you’re Ed Reed, in which case you’d be really pissed.
Although Reed has a history of being a, for lack of a better term, “hit man,” in this case the punishment seems quite a bit harsher that the crime after viewing the three infractions. The first was a roughing the passer (vs. the Saints’ Drew Brees), yet Reed would probably tell you he whacked many a QB harder than he did on that day. Brees would undoubtedly agree he’d been hut harder. The second was a hit on a defenseless receiver (vs. the Patriots’ Deion Branch) and is, by far, the worst of the three. The final one, the one that put him over the top, was also a helmet to helmet collision with Pittsburgh’s Emmanuel Sanders but “hit” would describe the contact better. He didn’t look to be headhunting as didn’t accelerate through the tackle.
The scientific part of sports, in relation to the human body, has grown exponentially - in both legal and illegal ways. Players are just bigger, stronger and faster than ever before in the game’s history. Coaches are smarter. The game has evolved from men leaving their jobs, driving to the field, changing clothes and “having at it,” into a true profession - especially for the coaches. In the earlier days of football (from the no facemask days until the ’80s), offensive didn’t have elaborate “schemes” to deal with. Offensively, the coaches have implemented “packages” for specialists. It’s genius until the next generation comes along and takes the game a level higher.
But, if a football player is going to be fined nearly a half a million dollars for three hits like the ones delivered by Ed Reed, either football will drastically tone down or Roger Goodell and his minions will pull back on their safety issues. All but the Neanderthals are on the safety side. Personally, I’ve suffered through ten back surgeries. When I went to see the doctor for my first one, a ruptured disk at C5-6, the first question he asked me was if I’d ever been in a car accident. When I said no, he asked me if I had ever played football. That was in 1987. Now, some of the hits in football are like car accidents.
When I saw the kid from UCLA hit Matt Barkley, who had no idea he was coming, my body actually tingled. Then, they kept showing the replay and when I saw his neck snap, I had to turn away. Many years ago, I recall a study being done that showed in an average NFL game, there are only nine minutes of actual action. I mentioned that to a football coach on the staff at our university and he told me:
“There might only be nine minutes of action, but it’s nine minutes of violent collisions.”