Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Integrity of the Game

I am seriously tired of hearing the words “the integrity of the game” whenever people speak of the changes the NFL has made regarding enforcement of the helmet-to-helmet rule. I can’t see Monopoly fans rising in righteous indignation when the Star Wars edition came out.

“How can you replace an icon of America like the Top Hat with the Millennium Falcon?” the non-existent Monopoly enthusiast might shout.

“No more Yoda! No More Yoda! No more Yoda!” shout the imaginary crowds gathered in front of the Hasbro home office in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that every time I pass “Go” the player to my right was allowed to slam his forearm into my nose. Al Michaels might say, “That’s the kind of thing you shouldn’t see around the dining table.” Of course, Troy Polamalu might say, “That’s the way the game is played (no disrespect meant to Mr. Polamalu, please accept that Mr. Polamalu).”

Football is not a contact sport, it is a collision sport. Colliding is part of the game. As a high school defensive coordinator I taught my boys to plant, wrap-up, and drive; that’s the way to tackle. Pop Warner taught it that way; John Heisman taught it that way; George Halas taught it that way; Vince Lombardi taught it that way; coaches from time immemorial have taught their players to plant, wrap, and drive. You don’t teach players to hit; you teach them to block and tackle. You might be pleased that your tailback delivers the hit instead of receiving the hit, but you teach them to avoid potential tacklers. It’s better to run away and live to run another day.

Players “hit” to get on Sportscenter; to hear Tom Jackson lead a shout of “Jacked-Up.” Players recognize that making the big hit gets them exposure and exposure leads to big contracts. Players that “stay home” and do their job don’t make the highlight reels. The defensive tackle that drives up the middle during a sweep to cover the backside doesn’t make the tackle, but his contribution prevents a contained sweep from being on Marcus Allen’s resume. Dan Dierdorf doesn’t circle that guy and say the play was held because the DT stayed home and did his job (Gruden might). Every successful play involves eleven players doing their job.

So am I saying the media is the cause of this problem?

No, the media responds to what their customers want (or what they perceive they want); for better or worse, there are large numbers of “fans” that enjoy seeing a player get “jacked-up.”

I, however, believe that most fans appreciate the drama that the NFL provides. Al Michaels and Rich Eisen talked about the NFL being the greatest reality show on TV; thanks to the 24/7/365 coverage found on TV and the internet that statement is absolutely true. Many of us watch the games on Sunday as we are chatting on or about the subtleties that are taking place during the game: questioning calls, substitutions, or time out calls made by Jim Caldwell has become as much a part of the game as chips and dip. This type of engagement continues through the week via TV, the internet, and, to a lesser extent, the print media.

We recognize that football is a chess match involving real people. That success takes place on many levels beyond the actual field of play. That the game is as much cerebral as it is physical. That guys like Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed make the plays because they have spent hours watching film, studying tendencies, and because ten other guys on the field, not to mention every person in the organization, does their job. Football is the ultimate team sport and that’s what we appreciate.

We enjoy the drama that is the Washington Redskins, wondering which Shanahan will be disrespecting “Future-Hall-of-Famer (a topic for another post)” Donovan McNabb this week.

We wonder why Jay Cutler is so unhappy.

We wonder if Belichick could coach the Little Sisters of the Poor to the Super Bowl.

We wonder if Andy Reid knows what a clock is and that time outs do not grow on trees.

We wonder when the scientist that constructed Tom Brady is going to come forward and write his book.

We wonder if Brett Favre is like one of those Old Testament guys that will live to be six hundred years old and contemplate coming back up until year five hundred and ninety-nine.

We enjoy a good, solid, proper tackle in the open field.

We enjoy the spectacle and pageantry that is the NFL.

Integrity is “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.” In my forty-six years I have seen many rule changes that would threaten the integrity of the game; those rules have not diminished the game, in fact they have made the game even more popular. I respect and admire the men who play the game I so dearly love. I want to see them still able to be who they are fifty years from now. I look forward to seeing the gray-haired locks of Troy Polamalu streaming to his knees behind the latest inductees at the 2060 Hall of Fame induction ceremony as soft-spoken and articulate as he is today; not a drooling, bedridden example of what too many concussions can do to even the strongest of us.

Vince Lombardi said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” I want them all to be able to get up.

May God Bless You and Keep You

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