Brutal and vicious are two words Iíd use to describe football during the 2012 season. Iíve been a player and fan of football all my life. The game has changed, and not in a good way. Let me take you back to 1957 to illustrate my point.
The defensive tackle hit me in the nose on my first play as an offensive tackle in college. He did the same on the next play. Wiping the blood on my jersey, I thought, ďThis is going to be a long afternoon unless I do something about this guy hitting my nose.Ē On the next play I dropped back to pass block. Dropping my right shoulder as an invitation for my opponent to rush past me, I unloaded my elbow into his face. He collapsed to his knees. Looking me in the eye we both nodded, and from then on, we played a clean game.
I mention this because at that time we didnít have the protection of full face masks on our helmets. We learned to block and tackle with our shoulders; keeping our faces out of the way.
Playing in high school in the early 50s, we didnít have any face masks at all. My senior year our coach bought one face mask for our star back, Roger Mahnke. He used it for one game. At the end of that game, Rogerís face was scratched up by the defensive players reaching in to pull him down with the mask. It had proven to be a convenient handle for them in trying to tackle this big, fast running back.
The next year, my first season in college, the no grasping the face mask rule was instituted, and we all had a single bar on our helmets. Later a second bar was added.
Early in the 1960s, Life Magazine published a photo of the Norte Dame football line showing every player with front teeth missing. This was followed by a public outcry that football players needed better protection for their faces. The reaction was the advent of the full face mask.
In the mid-1960s, I was an assistant football coach at Wheeling High School in Illinois. One winter, our entire football staff went to a coaching clinic in Michigan where the Michigan State University coaches were the instructors. Usually at these clinics the coaches would teach us about their offense and defense. At this particular clinic, the stress was on the new techniques they were using for blocking and tackling. With all the players now having their faces protected, instead of blocking and tackling with their shoulder as I had been taught, the University coaches now wanted them to block and tackle by putting their faces in the chest of their opponent.
This change of blocking and tackling technique has evolved into the mayhem we now see on the football field. The helmet, and the head inside the helmet, have become weapons; particularly for the defensive players. We had no need for rules penalizing players for hitting with the helmet in the 1950s, and we had many fewer concussions and neck injuries.
This past football season I have been appalled by the poor tackling techniques of both college and pro players. Many of the defensive backs seem to try to hit the ball carriers so hard they knock them down instead of tackling them. Their bodies are used as battering rams. No wonder we are having so many neck and head injuries.
Doing away with the full face masks would return football to the beautiful game it was in the past. Without the face protection, the players would be forced to return to the days when we learned techniques that kept the face and head out of danger.
This suggestion might seem like a step into the dark ages to some, but I am sure that after practicing without the face mask or even the helmet, the players would soon make the transition from playing like a thug to being real football players.
Broken teeth are easier to replace than a scrambled brain.
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