DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles is out indefinitely with a severe concussion, following a hit by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson during Sunday's 31-17 Eagles win. Jackson experienced memory loss and remains highly symptomatic, according to reports. He will not play next week.
Robinson also suffered a concussion on the helmet-to-helmet collision, which occurred on a short pass early in the second quarter. The Falcons corner is reportedly recovering much more quickly. He received a personal foul on the play.
The foul (and the fine sure to come with it) will not be enough to quell calls for stricter limitations on where and how defenders can hit opposing players, especially vulnerable receivers. Rule changes appear imminent, although it's highly unlikely that they would be implemented before the end of this season.
Jackson's is not a unique case in NFL history. Many players have suffered injuries of such a gruesome or avoidable nature that they altered the way the game was played in some way. Five such instances spring to mind...
Safety Roy Williams and wide receiver Terrell Owens may be about as connected as it is possible to be in this new sporting world of constant player movement. The two spent three years as Cowboys teammates and have reunited this season with the Cincinnati Bengals.
But the moment that will forever link the two in the minds of many came before they ever played alongside one another. In 2004, Owens was a receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys and Williams came to town. Williams would make two tackles during the game that resulted in serious injuries, including one that broke Owens' leg. Both tackles were in horse-collar style, yanking the opponent down from behind by the shoulder pads. NFL owners voted 27-5 after the season to outlaw that tackle, largely because of Williams and Owens.
Let us not forget that one of the two hits that conspired to ruin Sharpe's career—not to mention his vertebrae—was a helmet-to-helmet collision in December 1994.
No one calls the head-to-head contact rule (which we now find insufficient but at the time seemed a draconian measure) the Sharpe rule, especially because the NFL emphasized that the rule should protect quarterbacks, and not receivers, most of all.
Still, the injury cannot help but have entered the minds of the owners who voted to install the rule beginning in 1996.
Michael Lewis talks about it at length in his book, "The Blind Side." Lawrence Taylor and Theismann himself are so inevitably linked to the image it can be easy to forget how good each man really was, Neither likes to talk about the injury that ended Theismann's career, but without doubt, the compound broken leg the Redskins quarterback suffered changed the game forever.
Seeing the danger in leaving their franchise signal-callers open to assault by men of Taylor's speed, size and tenacity, NFL coordinators began shortening the amount of time their passers held onto the ball before releasing. The West Coast offense came into vogue. Offensive linemen (and especially left tackles) gained widespread attention as crucial cogs in a good offense for the first time.
The NFL had favored deep passing offenses guided by accurate pocket throwers like Dan Marino and Theismann up until that night in November 25 years ago. Since, the predilection has shifted to men more like Brett Favre—lightning-fast with his throws on inside slant routes and able to make any throw—and Michael Vick—lightning-fast on his feet and able to run away from invading defenders.
This story is really remarkable, and it tells us a lot about just how critical situations like these get sometimes before people take action.
In 1905, football was a game you played at risk of life and limb—literally. Eighteen players died in sanctioned college football play that year, mostly as a result of the game's incredibly loose enforcement of its very few rules.
President Theodore Roosevelt, though urged to order the games to cease altogether, thought the sport had the potential to instill discipline and build physical strength in youth. Therefore, he commissioned a special seven-person panel of experts to delve deeply into ways in which the sport could be made safer.
Their many recommendations were accepted unanimously, and instantly, the game gained a higher degree of respectability in the United States. As for the seven-person panel, they eventually formed an organization with which we are still familiar: the NCAA.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has acted rather as though he himself is concussed of late.
Goodell, a normally decisive actor (especially on issues of off-field discipline), has responded slowly and without authority to the recent rash of high-profile head injuries across the league. Starting quarterbacks Kevin Kolb, Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers lead a long list of men who have suffered serious head injuries this season. Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer has been sidelined for the entire season with post-concussive symptoms.
More is revealed every day about the dangers of concussions, especially when a person suffers more than one. It is time for the league to move boldly against near-lethal hits like the one Robinson laid on Jackson, and it sounds like they are ready to make their move. Given the long-term damage to players and the short-term damage to the product on the field, the question of how best to deal with concussion-inducing hits is a high-stakes one. How the league answers may determine the course of football for the next few years, if not more.