Culturally acceptable bread and circuses

Poor Gregg Williams. Exiled indefinitely from the NFL. Newly crowned as the poster boy for the NFL’s bounty scandal, the defensive coordinator was just doing his job: riling up highly paid present day gladiators before a violent game. John Madden, former president of the violent and reckless motorcycle gang called the Oakland Raiders, is calling for his head. Fran “That’s Incredible” Tarkenton wants him in jail. Not even Buddy “Bounty Bowl” Ryan is speaking up in his defense.

“Bountygate,” for those who have been away — possibly on the moon staking out the 51st state with Newt Gingrich — is the scandal where Williams was paying players to put big hits on key players.

Many industries give bonuses for good work performance. And the job of a defense is to hit hard.

“Kill the head and the body will die,” Williams told his players before a game. Did he mean this literally or metaphorically? It sounds like he was saying, “shut down the running game (“kill the head”) and the offense will shut down (“and the body will die”). Sounds like the type of pep speech I heard as a youngster playing the game.

“We’ve got to do everything we can in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore’s head,” Williams said. “We want him running sideways. We want his head sideways.” Sounds like he is telling his players to pursue Gore and make him look and run sideways. That is what a defense is supposed to do.

Football is a violent sport. Not a contact sport, but a collision sport. The game has been described as participating in multiple car crashes. This is the reason players wear pads and a helmet.

The Steel Curtain. The Doomsday I and Doomsday II defense. The Purple People Eaters. The Killer B’s. Orange Crush. All legendary names of great, punishing defenses part of the legendary lore of the NFL. Would these nicknames be allowed today?

Who doesn’t “oooh and aaah” after a big hit? Violent hits are part of the game. Peewee football players are taught to keep the head up, wrap the arms around an opponent and drive the player backwards. Hard. This is known as “tackling.”

In our increasingly litigious and “liberty be darned for the sake of safety and security” society, the NFL, it its infinite wisdom, is cracking down on one of the most alluring aspects of the game: the big hit. Their reasoning? “Player safety.”

Yeah, right. It is about “money.”

A recent phenomenon in the NFL are rules named after star players are injured. The “Brady Rule.” What a joke. It should be called the “Palmer Rule.” Superstar Tom Brady gets hit in the knee and is out for the season. Where were the “do gooders” when Kimo von Oelhoffen did the same thing to Carson Palmer in a 2006 playoff game? Maybe Palmer’s jerseys didn’t sell as well as Brady’s.

Could Williams be paying the price because Peyton Manning — and his $100 million dollar contract — allegedly suffered his much hyped neck injury against a Gregg Williams’ coached Redskins defense?

This column is not to condone the way, for example, Jack Tatum played. His hit on Darryl Stingely should have resulted in the convening of an emergency grand jury to discuss whether to indict him for felonious, malicious assault. But, on the other hand, Tatum’s same type of crushing hit on Frenchy Fuqua — which could have very easily broke Fuqua’s neck — resulted in one of the iconic moments in NFL history: The Immaculate Reception.

A favorite play of Redskins Nation is the famous game turning knockout sack of Dallas quarterback Danny White in the 1982 NFC championship game. Dexter Manley would have been ejected from the game faster than Darrell Green’s 40-yard dash time, by today’s standards.

The NFL is sliding swiftly down the Teflon coated slippery slope of hypocrisy.

The league’s network celebrates its history with such shows as “The Top Ten Most Feared Tacklers” and “Top Ten Hardest Hitters.” ESPN, until recently, had a popular segment called “Jacked Up!,” celebrating the best hits from the previous Sunday.

Hard hitting is what makes the game so popular.

Jack Lambert, Dick Butkus, Deacon Jones, Sam Huff, Ronnie Lott and Ray Nitschke are examples of legends whose brutal style of play helped build the league into the powerhouse it is. They are revered for their contributions to the game. If they played in today’s game, they would be reviled and broke from the weekly fines their style of play would incur on their wallets.

Last October, while covering the Breakfast of Champions at the Charles Town racetrack, I heard a conversation between a Hall of Fame defensive player and a team manager. The manager had just flown back from a league meeting and said the league wanted “culturally acceptable tackling.” I cannot print what the hall of famer’s response was. Let us just say he did not agree with the league.

Culturally acceptable tackling? What about culturally acceptable blocking? Wonder how many players are hurt because of the “pancake block?” The poor defenseless player could hit the back of his head on the ground. The sweep play made famous by Lombardi should result in a personal foul. That play could hurt somebody.

Why stop there? What about culturally accepted receiving? Wide receivers should only be allowed to run fly patterns. No more down and in patterns. No more going over the middle. The risk outweighs the reward. What if the quarterback throws the ball over a receiver’s head? No jumping for it. Why let players put themselves in a hazardous situation? Eject them for their own good.

One of the problems with the players of today is the game is so fast, players have approximately 1/2 second to react to any given situation on the field.

Here is a solution: No player who runs a 40-yard dash in under five seconds should be eligible to play. Slower players equal safer players.

Special teams should be eliminated. Kickers are just too small and fragile for such a violent game. Just ask Luis Zendejas. He still has nightmares revolving around Buddy Ryan.

What about the running backs? They already take a bruising. The screen pass, with the back out in the flat all by himself, leaves the player in a position to get leveled. Can’t have that. Not culturally acceptable by any means.

The NFL needs to be careful.

The league has a lot of money riding on this issue of player safety.

Kill the head (stop all the hard hits) and the body will die (the audience will find something else to watch). Be careful, league officials. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

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