Sound Check

Steelers, Head to Head

April 23, 2014
7 minutes read
Steelers, Head to Head

A topic of great debate in the NFL now has come over unnecessary helmet to helmet hits. Sports analysts, team doctors, and even certain personnel within the game deem these as unwanted, unwarranted, dubious, and just plain nasty. Call me old fashioned, but I still whole heartedly agree that football is a contact sport. If you’re not getting hurt, you’re not playing the game right. There’s a reason why the phrase “Rub some dirt in it” came about. While I agree that certain injuries are horrific, the inevitable aftermath of two massive bodies traveling at high speeds will be devastating. Injuries are going to happen.

We all remember it. And if you’re a fan of repetitive film watching and history making moments as I am you’ve seen it a thousand times. Mohammed Massaquoi comes on a slant route over the middle only to meet with the Mack Daddy of all linebackers, James Harrison. “The Hit Heard Round the World” was the catalyst for the hottest topic in the NFL since dog racist outbursts caught on video and alleged gang affiliations. Now all of a sudden there are more and more cases of this happening each week.

Players are folding faster than cheap lawn chairs from Chinatown and people act as if this there is a crime against any contact whatsoever. Is something new? Is this the NBA? Remember when the iconic Vince Lombardi coached? They wore PIECES OF CLOTH ON THEIR NUGGETS AND ROUTINELY RAN INTO THE GOAL POST!

So let’s appease the masses here and logically look at this. Concussions are serious business and can lead to everything from tumors to aneurisms to full on instant death. Don’t believe me? Look it up. Anyone common hypochondriac with access to WebMD can tell you everything you need to know about head injuries and how bad they are. So the science is there to support the claims. But why all of a sudden is the issue of impact creeping up now? It’s almost as if the problem came and went for 50 years until some trainers started realizing that this is some serious stuff. That no one up until a few weeks ago thought that maybe players might be getting hit the wrong way or in the wrong places. It was almost a glorified spectacle to see a QB get crushed in the back or a wide receiver launched. It’s what made football, well football.

At no time during the reign of the Steel Curtain did the topic of helmet to helmet come up. Not as it has been known in recent times at least. I’m sure people didn’t fill the stands to watch Jack Lambert and Jack Hamm freeze tag. The NFL is trying to take the contact out of football. I agree that the game should evolve, with ever changing safety concerns. But changing the core disciplines right along with it? Are QB’s not allowed to get hit anymore? This is professional football, not the New Your Ballet.

Understandably, there is discretion in playing defense. After 10 years of playing you realize if the guy across from you will end up being smashed like a wine grape if you go full force. But you also want to make the play. Everyone from your coaches to the hardcore fan is basically commanding you to rip the other guys’ head off. The flip side of the coin; how many times has it been noted, spoken of, even seen during games that the ball carrier initiates contact? Is it “unwanted” then? When Jerome Bettis ran through a pile of Bengals how many times did you see him lower his head, only to knock three or four of them out of the way?

As James Harrison said multiple times in interviews, he wasn’t trying to hurt the other guy, he was just trying to play the game he loves. That’s the way he was taught and always played. And what if the defense does all they can to avoid helmet to helmet contact? Countless studies show that in moments of panic, disarray, and possible harm a person’s first reaction is to make themselves as small as possible as to increase the surface area for the force to distribute evenly. In other words, curl up in a ball and hold your breath. Just because it looks like a bad defensive hit doesn’t mean it really is.

Believe it or not, offensive players are just as violent as the defense they play against. Yes, you heard me right. Offensive players are dirty. I’m not here to sugarcoat anything. People are people. And if linebackers have that thought, so do wide receivers. Using a replay method to see what party was at fault won’t do any good because people’s minds are already made up. As an old coach of mine once said, “If you’re going to put on the pads, expect the pain to come. There’s no use running from it, it will always find you. As long as you respect it, it will respect you.”

I think the entire NFL would benefit from watching old film from games where players played with dislocated jaws, broken fingers, and fractured ankles. And if they don’t want to go back that far, just remember this image…

The Ravens/Steelers playoff game where Haloti Ngata delivered a hit to Big Ben. You see him trot over to the sidelines with blood streaming down his jersey, his nose having more curves than Beyonce. He took two plays off, then went back out to lay the smack down.

That’s how you play the game.

Jason Noling

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