Every year the NFL takes some issue and blows it way out of proportion in their off-season meeting with referees and officials. Then they correct it the next year and find some new issue to screw up. One of the more infamous modern day examples is Bill Polian complaining about pass interference on his delicate receivers and fans having to endure a whole season of Marvin Harrison being treated like Michael Jordan in his prime.
(Do you remember those days, by the way? If you frowned at Jordan once he stepped inside the three point line, he was taking two shots. Frank Brickowski from the Sonics had a uni-brow, and fouled out by the end of the national anthem.)
This year is the worst of all. Every game has had bad roughing the passer calls, and subsequent fines. No one is quite sure how they are supposed to bring down the quarterback. One fine was for ‘throwing the quarterback down in an intimidating manner.’ Another was fined for driving the quarterback down, when that is how a form tackle works.
Two weeks ago, I sat down to watch My Beloved Broncos (aka MBB) against the Raiders. Thomas Howard made two good plays on one drive, in fact on the second one he slowed down and put his hands up to keep Cutler from falling—and he was penalized. I like the Raiders about as much as Sarah Palin likes Tina Fey, but this was not football.
I think there are two problems here.
The quarterback position has changed, and the people that are supposed to notice that haven’t figured out yet. When I was growing up, when you saw a slender guy with his legs crossed on the bleachers that was either your quarterback or your kicker. The idea of physical contact during the game made him slightly ill, and his teammates suspected that when he wasn’t with the team he was rescuing the French Aristocracy from the gallows as the Scarlet Pimpernel. But things changed.
The average starting quarterback in the NFL today is 6 feet 3 inches tall and 228 pounds. He is within four pounds of Jim Brown’s playing weight and an inch taller. Individually, he is bigger, stronger and faster than he has ever been in the history of the game.
Brady Quinn came into the league benching 225 pounds for 24 repetitions—the average for offensive linemen that year. Phillip Rivers lifts weights with his offensive lineman, with similar poundages.
Six foot 4 inch tall, 260 pound, Dante Culpepper had sufficient strength to achieve a 370 snatch—in college.
Donovan McNabb combines a roughly 400 bench press with overall explosive strength.
JaMarcus Russell had to lost weight to be listed at 265 pounds, and that weight still might not be accurate. And 300lb Jared Lorenzen ate the first draft of this story.
Conversely, defensive players have gotten smaller because speed has become an emphasis. The average outsider linebacker (the linebacker more likely to hit the quarterback because he is sent as a blitzer) is merely 6 feet 2 inches tall and 245 pounds.
However, there is a saying about averages which goes ‘if your head in an oven and your feet are in a freezer, on average, you’re comfortable.’
JaMarcus Russell is larger than any outside linebacker in the league and there are quite a few teams where he would face a blitzing linebacker six inches shorter and forty pounds lighter than him.
The average 4-3 defensive end is 6 feet 3 and a half inches and weighs 268 pounds.
(The average NFL defensive end is 6 feet 4 inches, weighing 309 pounds, but 3-4 defensive ends rarely get sacks or even see the passer with the notable exception of Richard Seymour. They are simply supposed to hold their position and let the linebackers rush.) The weight disparity might seem initially daunting but it is the same difference between Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar and the fight still happened.
The point is, the quarterback isn’t the flimsy, helpless player he was of yesterday. But that leads into the other problem.
The game of football is managed by lawyers, accountants and businessmen, and not football players. They haven’t figured that out yet. The issues that concern them are revenue sharing, PR issues, and dollars and cents issues. They're not really watching the quality of the product.
Ralph Wilson cares more about the money he thinks he should have in revenue sharing, than he cares about being aggressive and putting a good product on the field. Half of the owners are happy be profitable, and mildly competitive.
The Bidwells haven't exactly killed themselves to make the Cardinals better, and Jeffrey Lurie isn't going to replace past-his-prime Andy Reid until Philly fans start buying tickets to the Philadelphia Soul.
Roger Goodell last played competitive football in 1971—in high school. Most of you reading this article weren’t born the last time he had to avoid a tackle, or take down a QB. Glancing at a list of NFL owners is like a Dick Tracy’s rogue’s gallery of guys that weren’t picked for sports in high school.
For instance, Randy Lerner, the owner of the Browns, is a lawyer with a competitive background…in soccer. He probably watches every Browns game through his fingers (like the rest of Browns fans.) A woman owns the Bears, and the Packers are run by Midwestern Socialists, apparently.
The Competition Committee which oversees the rules of the league has the infamous Bill Polian of the Colts and just rid itself of Matt Millen. Out of all the people in the NFL, they picked Matt Millen to ensure the quality of the league. At this point, I wouldn’t have Matt Millen run an Alaskan dog sled race at an oil drilling camp.
What do they know about actually playing the game? Even at the diluted level that I play, I noticed a change a couple years ago. Quarterbacks weren't just going down once you got in the backfield. You had to stop and square up to hit them, and in that half-second you might lose complete visual contact with them.
Someone familiar with the game understands that a defender in the front seven often can't see the quarterback and rarely knows when the ball has come out. I'm not hitting the quarterback late, its just that at the most, I'm looking at the top of his cleats.
I don’t want much this Christmas. I don’t ask for world peace or snow. I don't want a happy marriage, or another half inch on my hairline. I've set the bar low. I just want someone to get hit in football with seeing a penalty flag. I want the memories of every great player who played a man’s game honored.
Ray Nitschke played his whole career dragging a withered leg, with cotton where his front teeth should have been. Larry Wilson played safety and got interceptions with two broken hands. Tommy McDonald played without a facemask, got his jaw broken and wired shut and never missed a beat. Chris Spielman tore his pec the first game of the season and played all sixteen games, on no painkillers.
Brett Favre played with wire mesh in his gut until his abdomen repaired itself. Ronnie Lott got a finger amputated to play the game he loved. Garrison Hearst destroyed his ankle and had necrosis in the bone and came back. Ed McCaffrey broke his leg in midair to where his heel touched his knee and never dropped the ball nor fumbled it once he landed.
These are the guys you answer to with those pansy calls. You dishonor the game they played. I refuse to believe that the league can immediately respond to save the integrity of the game when it comes to Chad Johnson’s jersey, or a tribute to Sean Taylor, but it takes a full off-season to adjust something this important.
Dear Commissioner, protect us from the protection of quarterbacks.