Out of the blue and into the black
You pay for this, but they give you that
And once you're gone, you can't come back
When you're out of the blue and into the black.
Neil Young: "Hey, Hey, My, My"
The NFL yet again gave every true fan what it badly craves, that is it got the referees more involved in the game. More TV face time for the crazy zebra boys and their cute camera replay toys.
The NFL added more rules and more penalties. More game stoppages, more TV timeouts, more flags, more reviews, more advertisement money mad in game stoppages.
Soon expect this First down brought to you by Taco Bell to roll on a magic line along the bottom of your television screen. That pass from Peyton Manning was paid for by ATT. I mean, the Mannings are everywhere else, why shouldn't they dip their beak a bit more and get paid per pass by some starry-eyed sponsor?
Maybe the zebra can smile like a plundering pirate after every first down, pull an ice cold Budwesier from his pocket, take a deep, hearty swallow and shout This Bud and this First Down is for YOU!
The NFL is like a very high priced, debauched courtesan that will dance for anyone with enough Benjamin Franklins, euros, pesos, yuan or yen.
The NFL provided more protection for a player, the sacred quarterback, who really isn't even a football player anymore but some type of bizarrely field worshipped celebrity superstar or ownership golden child slash financial investment.
With the stock market the way it is maybe Bob Kraft has to watch his investment bucks more closely, and those bucks spell Brady.
It's hard to tell what a QB is anymore, but it certainly isn't anything Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Bobby Layne, Slinging Sammy Baugh, Joe Montana, or John Elway.
Basically, the QB can no longer be tackled because he is too valuable as the high-paid face of the franchise. Much of the rest of the team flows and flies away in a rolling free agent river each year but the QB shall be the cornerstone and he shall not be touched, much less tackled.
Defenders chopped block down can not tackle the perfumed prince from the ground. Yet another Tom Brady rule.
The next logical step would be for Roger Goodell to assign Brady a bedroom bodyguard from Blackwater to assure that his limber Brazilian Supemodel wife Giselle does not harm his precious, well paid, body with any unnecessary Brailian roughness in the bedroom.
Hell that bodyguard job would have better benefits then being a left tackle smashed in the mouth by Javon Kearse all day. And Giselle does have a twin.
Bodyguards can dream, too.
But QB's will never be the same. Imagine the numbers a Namath or a Montana would have put up if they were not allowed to be tackled? And these QB's today, save Manning and Brady, do not even call their own plays.
'Tis sad to say but The Field General is dead, not just fading away.
And as the old style QB's fade to black so goes the days of the great defenses. The '85 Bears or the '70 Steelers would not be very good today.
Not because of ability, no those guys would still be Pro Bowlers, but they would be getting unnecessary roughness or blows to the head penalties after almost every play.
Not to mention rule changes have not only made the QB off limits but the wide outs can not be bumped or tackled high and hard. Intimidating safeties like Jack Tatum, Doug Plank, Ronnie Lott, Donnie Shell, Kenny Easley, Gary Fencik, and Joey Browner are a breed that has become extinct.
Extinct because their style of play is no longer allowed in a league obsessed with scoring and offensive stars. Ronnie Lott's rather vicious style of play is as outdated as a Deacon Jones head slap.
If Defenders today played with the fury of their '70s and '80s forefathers, they'd be fined hundreds of thousand of dollars and suspended for games.
The old style of defense, the Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, and Pittsburgh Steelers of the seventies and the Chicago Bears and New York Giants Defnses's of the eighties could not operate in today's climate.
With them goes the great nicknames. No more Steel Curtain, Fearsome Foursome, Purple People Eaters, no more Hogs.
Well maybe one or at most two Hogs then add a low round rookie, an undrafted free agent with pass protection problems, and an old veteran from Seattle with very bad knees and a worse back.
A patchwork of Hogs perhaps but no one can afford real Hogs anymore.
'Tis enough to make the free spending shade of Jack Kent Cooke cringe. And enough to make all those aging men in tattered Joe Jacoby jerseys and torn pig noses shed a beery tear.
Why? Because with the flow of free agency teams are torn apart before they establish team identities. Cohesion disappears and the quality of play, particularly along the offensive line and the QB/WR's connections, drops dramatically.
The Steel Curtain would be torn apart within three years. Does Jack Lambert or Jack Ham stay? We can only budget one linebacker. What about Andy Russell?
Pay Joe Greene or keep both DE's LC Greenwood and Dwight White? Do we sign Mel Blount and let Franco walk to the Raiders? Stallworth or Swann? Who stays?
Character in coaches seems to have mostly vanished, too. Not that these men do not have high morals but that they mostly lack charisma. Perhaps because today they are changed almost as much as oil in an old car.
Every three years or so another faceless coach bot, either a whiz Doogie Howser coach who was a ball boy for Bill Belichick or an interchangeable pained looking position coach who knows he's doomed to fail, is trotted out, hyped and then rather quickly filleted.
Then its back to the endless NFL recycle bin or back to being a position coach in Motor City or in the PAC Ten.
No more coaches with character like Buddy Ryan, Mike Ditka, John Madden, Bum Phillips, or John McKay now its mostly coach boring bots who drone out planned answers to tired questions. Anything to avoid making a media firestorm mess.
Great teams were once not only identified by their players, who played an entire career in the same town, but by their coaches.
Remember the Chuck Noll Pittsburgh Steelers, the John Madden Oakland Raiders, the Tom Landry Dallas Cowboys, the Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers, the Don Shula Miami Dolphins, the Bill Walsh San Francisco 49ers, the Joe Gibb's Washington Redskins, or the Mike Ditka Chicago Bears?
Which coach today has imposed his identity on his team? Not many.
Sure the game is a money making mammoth. A behemoth beamed around the globe. A levitation looking longingly to expand across the dark swirling sea to jolly old Londontown. The game is a popular beast raging through American culture.
Sure its safer, faster, stronger, the players are millionaires and the owners billionaires, but is the actual game better?
Give me the era when the QB's were smart, tough, field generals, the defenders played like pillaging pirates, the coaches had some character, and the teams developed and stayed together with their fans for a decade.
"The song remains the same," Led Zeppelin once sang. Well the song might remain the same for Jimmy Page, but the football game has changed. And when things are gone they don't come back...except in bad horror movies
The rules will not change. The Refs will rule the game. The old ways, unlike Freddy Kruger, are gone and they ain't coming back from the black.
Still don't ye miss the old days just a bit? Especially during the sixty eighth TV timeout of the first half? But the NFL doesn't care it only cares about change that makes it cash register ring, ring, ring.
And change, like my late friend Al Swearengen once said, doesn't care at all.
"Change ain't looking for friends. Change calls the tune we dance to."
And, of course, we will all dance to the NFL's tune.
After all tis the only dance in town.
For now anyhow.