Shortly after comments made by legendary coach Tony Dungy and former New England safety Rodney Harrison on NBC stating that the players do not care about fines, the league is now making a knee-jerk reaction to a few big hits over the weekend and is discussing actual suspensions for players who deliver helmet-to-helmet hits or "flagrant" hits.
James Harrison, Steelers linebacker, who delivered one of the hits the league is looking at said, “If I get fined for that, it's going to be a travesty. They didn't call [a penalty] on that. There's no way I could be fined for that. It was a good, clean legit hit...I didn't hit that hard, to be honest with you.”
Fans love to see a guy get lit up or blown up off a huge hit. Taking the highlight hits out of football would be like taking the hard checks out of hockey, the hard-foul out of basketball and the play at the plate out of baseball.
In recent NFL history, we’ve seen a series of questionable rules implemented which soften the content of the game. The “hitting a defenseless receiver” and “Horse-collar” rule amongst the most notable.
For years, NFL defensive players have hit the receivers when the ball was in the vicinity to send a hard message to the offense, such as “don’t come across the middle of the field and expect not to pay a price.” It’s also the quarterbacks responsibility not to lead his receivers in harm’s way unless the game is on the line and the receiver is willing to risk the hit in exchange for a big catch.
Another rule, the “Horse-collar” tackle, which was just instituted in 2004 to include a 15-yard penalty for grabbing the inside of an opponent's shoulder pads and was later updated to include the inside of the jersey in 2006, limits a defensive player’s freedom to takedown a player from the backside without risking a costly penalty.
Other recent rules include making three-man wedges illegal and banning blind-side blocks “to the head of a defender using a helmet, forearm or shoulder.”
Before 1956, players were allowed to grab facemasks. In 2005, the NFL outlawed players from diving into, cutting or throwing their bodies against an opponent who does not reasonably anticipate contact. This took away the big hits on the punters and hits like the ones Warren Sapp made famous for putting on players on the field who were sleeping.
The 2000 Ravens’ team, who are arguably the greatest defensive team of all time, were often fined for helmet-to-helmet hits. Back in 2000, Tony Siragusa was fined $10,000 for driving Raiders’ quarterback Rich Gannon into the ground with his helmet and injuring him. Siragusa was asked after the game about hits where fines are issued, and he said that there is no tomorrow and his team would happily pay the fine in order to lay down the hard hit which would help them advance to the next game.
There are already rules in place to protect quarterbacks. In 2002, the league made it illegal to hit a quarterback helmet-to-helmet during a change of possession. In 2006, the rules have included not allowing players to hit a quarterback in the knee or under the knees or up high in the head region.
In traditional football, it is a strategy to knock the quarterback out of the game. If a team has an extremely talented quarterback, a traditional tactic was to hit him hard, shake him up and go after him. The NFL has already tried to limit that strategy.
One may speculate that a lot of these rules are being put in place for the NFL’s ultimate goal of playing an 18-game regular season schedule. The NFL and its owners are salivating at the opportunity to eliminate the pointless preseason games, which draw low-ratings on television and lackluster crowds. Players such as Ray Lewis and others have been extremely opposed to playing two more games as they claim it would be too much wear and tear on their bodies. Tightening up the rules and watering down the product would be the first step to expanding the longevity of the players.
The NFL risks losing approximately $1 to $2 billion on lost revenues if they go through with a lockout in 2011, and the main goal of the lockout besides the structured salaries is to expand to an 18-game schedule, so they ultimately can maximize their profits.
On one hand, nobody wants to see anyone get seriously injured long-term. On the other hand, football is a violent game and that’s the risk the players take to make the large salaries. Personally, I would rather see 12 real games of football than 18 watered down contests with a rulebook thicker than the healthcare bill.
With the watering down of the NFL through rule after rule being enacted, hard hits on receivers and quarterbacks may soon be a thing of the past. The next thing we need to address is Chris Spielman’s question: When are we going to start putting flags on these guys?