Today’s NFL – Soft, Softer, Softest

Posted: August 1, 2011 in NFL
Tags: , ,

So the NFL is turning into flag football, huh? That’s what we keep hearing from coaches and even some players in the wake of the new labor peace.

For most of the 4 ½-month owners lockout most of the attention was focused on the money: How to divide $9 billion so no one gets shafted? (Sounds kind of silly when you think about, doesn’t it?) But there were other issues, many of them focused on protecting the players’ physical well being.

In the end, offseason workouts have been cut back. Full contact drills before, during and after the season have been curtailed. Did you know teams can have only 14 full contact practice sessions during the season? Head coaches will be fined $100,000 for violations. Teams will be fined $250,000.

Coaches, all of them doing so anonymously, have used such words as soft in criticizing the changes. Players are being turned into a bunch of sissies, right? Forget the spandex pants. Go ahead of order some skirts.

Let me make it perfectly clear that I’m not thrilled about all of the changes. I have no sympathy for players (or coaches) who whined about having so little time off during the offseason. Considering the salaries being paid it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect these guys to work year round. Even before the new labor agreement players averaged about two months vacation a year. How does that compare to the policy at your company?

No, what I find interesting and a bit disturbing is how ignorant of history today’s coaches and players are of the game they play. Let’s take a trip in a time machine. (Note: years listed below are estimates of when changes were made.)

The year is 1905. Someone suggests football players some wear some kind of padding on their bodies to help protect them from injuries. Luther “Macho” Jones screams he’s too much of a man to wear any kind of padding.

The year is 1915. Someone suggests football players wear some kind of headgear. Leather helmets are introduced. Willie “Bam Bam” Williams swears he’ll never wear such a sissy thing.

For the sake of time let’s jump ahead.

The year is 1950. Someone suggests football players wear hard headgear. Plastic is kind of new and it can be shaped in the form of a helmet and made hard enough not to split too easily. Harry “The Bull” Smith swears he’ll never put on such a girlie contraption.

The year is 1960. Someone suggests football players should have a hard bar attached to the front of the helmet. The first facemask in introduced. Joey “The Horse” Brown vows to never be so chicken as to wear such a thing.

At this point the rules start to change so fast that many coaches feel they’ve lost all control when it comes to toughening up their players. Before you can say “touchdown” it becomes standard to actually allow players water breaks during practice. Maybe two water breaks if the temperature hits three digits. Clubbing players in the throat is outlawed to protect these new-age softies. Blocking in the back is made a violation. Clipping is outlawed. Gouging is now cause for a penalty.

Almost overnight it seems quarterbacks become so protected that Wilbur “Clubber” Black demands quarterbacks start wearing skirts. Facemasks become so large that defenders can barely get their fists inside them. Then receivers get the sissy treatment. They can’t be mugged at the line of scrimmage. Dick “Killer” Davis threatens to retire “because the game ain’t what it used to be.” Punt returns must be given room to catch the ball. Punters and placekickers can’t be touched unless the defender also touches at least a piece of the football.

Somewhere along the way the players organize and form a union. Coaches are stripped of their power to run players until they puke. Now when a player has “his bell rung” he must be seen by a doctor. “What’s wrong with using a little smelling sauce and putting the bum back in the game?” asks Coach George “Bear” Bryant.

While all of this is going on shoulder pads get bigger, neck guards are introduced and elbow pads become commonplace. Then rules are put in place where hits at the knees and above the neck are penalized. In 1975 at a gathering of retired players from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s the talk is about how the “game has changed to the point” where they no longer recognize it. Words such as ”sissies” and “soft” are spoken in terms of anger and disappointment.

Let’s move to 2010. Players now wear headwear with full shields. Quarterbacks can’t be touched unless they have the ball in their hands, and then they can be hit only above the knees and below the waist. All quarterbacks, of course, wear torso pads that make them all look fat. Receivers can’t be hit if they are defenseless. (I’m not exactly sure what that means.) Chop blocking is a no-no. The “wedge” is eliminated from kickoff return teams.

Now we’re in 2011. The new labor agreement is limiting offseason workouts. Full contact drills are reduced to protect the players and help lengthen their careers.

Louie “Bronco” King is spinning in his grave. Coach Knute “The Dictator” James is, too.

Coaches aren’t happy about how the game they love has changed and how limited they are in trying to do their jobs. Players are chomping at the bit to hit someone but know they’ll be fined.

Meanwhile, the NFL marketing department is designing logoed flags to be used once blocking and tackling are outlawed. They will be copyrighted, of course, and large enough to have sponsors’ names printed on them’.

Major League Baseball, NBA, NASCAR and PGA Tour executives are high-fiving one another. The movers and shakers of soccer are ecstatic and are working on an advertising campaign declaring “Soccer: The National Pastime of the 21st Century”.

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