by Tuesday Morning Tailback
The incredible numbers are in! More people watched the Divisional Playoff game between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots this past Sunday than the final games of the last NBA Finals and World Series combined! Further, in the case of the NBA, it was a do-or-die Game #7 between two “marquee” teams and both the NBA and MLB games were in primetime. The Jets-Patriots game was merely a conference semi-final (round of 8), played on a Sunday afternoon at 4:30pm.
This may illustrate more than anything else how the NFL has become, without a shred of doubt, the premiere pass time for American sports fans. That being said, the primary mission of Tuesday Morning Tailback is to illustrate how the NFL has begun its self-imposed decline that will ultimately destroy the greatest game in the history of mankind. Each week we will gently point out examples of some of the absurd policies and measures that are being imposed to “improve” the game, but are slowly chipping away at the solid foundation that built the NFL to its position of prominence that it enjoys today. Years from now, after the ultimate fall, many will point out these same reasons for the league’s demise in a post-modem. We aim to do it, i real time, while it is happening.
The National Football League, now the belle of the ball, is fast becoming a bloated, aging whore. As with most things that become popular it has grown to proportions that can only be sustained by large amounts of people at many different levels.
Unfortunately, the NFL has one person who supersedes the rest and hands down policy, Commissioner Roger Goodell, who believes that, as the most popular sport in America, the NFL has decided it has “a responsibility” to be the best – politically. So each year the league jumps on one or several new social “bandwagons” and this season the agenda has been about player safety.
“What could be so bad about safety?” one may ask. Well, this is the NFL. It is a violent, hard-hitting sport and most die-hard fans like it that way. Unfortunately, injuries have always been part of the game. Earlier this season, Brett Favre was forced to sit out a game due to an injury, breaking an incredible streak of 297 consecutive starts dating back to 1992. But it is so incredible precisely because so many quarterbacks (as well as other players) get injured. Just looking back at the last generation of great quarterbacks – Joe Montana, John Elway, Dan Marino – all pretty hardy and consistant, but yet all suffered injuries that caused them to miss a substantial part of a season (or more).
When you look at footage from the 1960s, probably the NFL’s most important decade in gaining mainstream popularity, you see some of the most brutal hits ever by players like Ray Nitchke, Dick Butkus, Chuck Bednarik, and Deacon Jones – most of which would bring a penalty, fine, and/or suspension today. These highlights have been played in an endless loop in some of the most famous NFL Films programs, instrumental in catching and keeping fans of the game. Today, we are told, this violence is not tolerable.
In Goodell’s defense, he is not the first to put restrictions on the “violence”. In fact, many of the type of hits we see from the 60s were already outlawed by the 70s, but these seem like the most common sense – the “clothes line”, the “face mask”, etc. Goodell’s predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, really started this trend towards absurdity about 15-20 years ago when he classified quarterbacks as a special “protected class”, with special rules and penalties (this was at the prodding of team owners, solely because they had so much money tied up in quarterbacks as compared to regular “grunts”).
Goodell is solely responsible for the absurd provisions introduced during the 2010 season – a confusing mish-mash of policies and “rules” against “violent” hits that are arbitrary and subjective. It started with helmet-to helmet, but has drastically devolved into all kinds of crazy possibilities that really boil down to “hitting too hard”. It has also altered the competiveness and fairness of the game itself.
For example, in a game in December Eagle‘s quarterback Michael Vick scrambled right towards the sideline, being pursued by a linebacker. When Vick got near the sideline, he slowed up and the linebacker, not wanting a penalty, slowed up as well. But Vick, an incredible athlete, suddenly turned up field, tight-roping along the sideline for an extra 10-12 yards. Later in the same quarter, with a very similar situation, Vick was pushed hard to assure he went out-of-bounds but the referee though the push was a bit “too hard”, so the defender was penalized 15 yards for a personal foul. How is this fair?
So, throughout 2010, a large group of hard hitting players were slapped with repeated fines. Anyone who has ever tackled someone knows that the act is more of a reaction then a thought out process. Imagine being a defender, the ball is snapped players are running everywhere and you spot the running back with the ball. Does the NFL really think that the defender thinks to himself, “I’m going to intentionally hit this guy harder than usual?” Not to mention the amount of physics that goes into every hit.
Now, at what point do the people trying so desperately to protect NFL players realize that in the NFL the goal is to tackle the opposition. This isn’t some gentlemanly sport like golf or baseball. This is the gridiron! And the reason why football has far surpassed baseball as the national passtime is precisely because fans love the hard-hitting nature of the game. Comedian George Carlin recognized this decades ago, when he did his famous skit about football vs baseball. Check out that classic skit here.
There is also another integral part of the game that is being destroyed here. NFL teams strategize to hit players who can be rattled. For instance, in Super Bowl XXV, the Buffalo Bills came in with one of the greatest offenses in history, led by quarterback Jim Kelly and a bunch of talented receivers. The Bills came in averaging over 40 points per game in the palyoffs and appeared to be truly unstoppable. Defensive Coordinator Bill Belichick of the New York Giants decided that his best strategy was to not just try to defend the Bill’s receivers, but to wear them down physically. He told his defenders backs to hit the receivers as hard as they can, on every play and the result is history. The Giants ultimately won the Supoer Bowl 20-19, in what was praised as one of the most ingenius strategies in history. The irony here is, if this strategy was employed today, the Giants would have probably gotten several “personal foul” penalties that would have tipped the balance Buffalo’s way.
These new absurd policies on hitting are just one example of many why there will be a coming demise of this sport. On the way to the summit, the NFL has forgotten the essence and history of the sport they represent. Although we can fully expect it to keep rising in popularity in the near future (it is still very good at marketing), we believe the seeds of its own demise are being widely sown today.