Travis Willmann - Sports Section Editor
The views and opinions expressed on in this article are solely those of the original author. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of The Vision NGU or North Greenville University.
The year is 1968, a quarterback by the name of Johnny Unitas stands behind his offensive line in the shotgun formation, waiting to give the signal to hike the ball. As he surveys the field, thousands of screaming Baltimore Colt’s fans are waiting to see what Unitas will do next. Unitas gives the signal to hike the ball and he knows that he only has seconds before the pass rush from the opposing team will be upon him. As he goes through his progression, he spots a window to a receiver and he lets the ball fly from his hand. The ball whistles through the air in a perfect spiral, a perfectly thrown ball right to his receiver. “One Mississippi”, “Two Mississippi”, just enough time for Unitas to process that he has thrown a perfect pass for a 12-yard gain. Then it hits him. A 298-pound defensive lineman tackles Unitas and sends him into the dirt. The crowd from the opposing team goes wild after the big hit on Unitas. Unitas slowly gets up and the game continues.
The year is 2018 and Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers has been penalized several times for tackling the quarterback for a sack. The reason for the penalties is that the NFL claims the tackles were too rough. However, Clay Matthews states “After looking at the video, all of [my] tackles were from the front of the quarterback, which is the way they teach you to tackle since Pee Wee football.” The official call on the field for these penalties going against Clay Matthews has been “roughing the passer”, which usually comes after the quarterback has thrown the ball and at least a second has passed since the ball was thrown, or one Mississippi. These calls have been called strictly because the NFL wants to promote “safety” in all of their games, but is it compromising the integrity of the game of football?
The easy answer is, yes. However, the answer goes far deeper than that. Since its creation, football has been a violent sport that has its roots in the human desire for violence. When the game of football was first created, men did not wear any sort of padding or helmets, according to Bleacher Report. The game was primal, and injuries were common. With the invention of helmets and pads that covered the whole body, the game got a lot safer. This safety should not be abandoned, but the hard hits and quarterback takedowns are what made the game interesting and exciting. Rolling body blocks, leading with the helmet and wrestling style takedowns are what made football fun for both the fan and the player.
The game of football was created knowing that it would be a physical game and the NFL can never make it completely safe. John Facenda an NFL announcer said, “Obviously people are trying to make the game safer. The fact of the matter is, no matter how much they try to make the game safer. It will never be a totally safe game.” Teams have to learn how to protect themselves and protect their teammates. If your quarterback keeps getting hit, then you need a better offensive line. There are two types of defensive players always on the field. Those in charge of protecting the quarterback and those in charge of stopping the offense from scoring. It is up to the players to protect each other and if they cannot then they lose the game.
Facenda also said, “Pro Football is a mirror of early America, reflecting toughness, courage and self-denial”. Football represents the toughness of America and the toughness of the American people. Throughout the years America has had many trials and hardships, but the American people have never given up on the American Dream. The dream that you can live and be free, in a world that has little freedom is something that we as Americans have had to fight for throughout the years. This toughness is seen through the game of football or at least it used to be. Many football players of old describe walking onto the field as walking into a war zone where you had 80 people on the other side wanting to kill you. This meant that if you were going to play football you had to be tough, a toughness that is lacking in America today.
All the rules in today’s NFL are making it almost impossible for players to play the game and has made it impossible for them to play the game the way it was intended to be played. It seems like on every play, there is a penalty or an ejection of a player. With 705 penalties called in the first three games of the 2017 season, according to nflpenalties.com, the fans are discouraged from watching or attending games. The game is no longer the way the game was meant to be and the “safety” rules of the NFL will be its downfall.
With all the controversy surrounding pro football today, the NFL cannot sacrifice the mental and physical toughness that it use to take to play the game. The NFL needs to get back to what the players and fans want, a physical game. The game will never be safe, even if they turn it into flag football. Getting back to the basics of football with the hard tackles and hard hits will once again teach the next generation of kids that play football mental and physical toughness if they so choose. The fact is that no one has to play football. No one has to put their bodies at risk of receiving concussions, broken limbs or torn ligaments. But that did not stop generations of players stepping up and playing the game that we all use to know and love.