Let’s Talk Football

No politics today just some fun.

When I played football back in the day it was a pretty physical contact sport. We did all sorts of things that you can’t or aren’t allowed to do today. We tackled by putting our facemark in the sternum of the ball carrier and drove upward hoping to knock his helmet off. We blocked at the knees and quarterbacks and receivers were no more protected than any other player on the field. It was a very much different game, including the rules. For example we could not pick up a fumble and run with it, the ball was down where recovered: stripping the ball from a runner was unsportsmanlike and until 1965 (my first year of college football) we weren’t allowed to use the platoon system on offense and defense. We elbow-dropped centers who were long snapping on punts and field goals; we made use of blindside blocks and a whole host of other techniques which are now illegal and will net you a minus 15 yards and maybe ejection. But even in my time the rules had already changed, for example we no longer had to touch the ball down in the end zone to receive the six points. Betcha didn’t know that did you? That’s why we call them Touchdowns. If you caught a pass in the end zone and the defensive back rode you out of bounds before you could touch the ball down it would be a Touchback for the defensive team and they got the ball. I’m sure it made for a lot of fun but it kept the scores down and the football powers decided the fans would be happier with higher scores and they went with the Breaking the Plane rule. Now you can cruise over the goal line at 35,000 feet and get credit for a touchdown. Maybe we should call them BP’s.

When I said we blocked at the knees that is true, but mostly we blocked at hip level. My shoulder pad on your hip allowed me to take you out of the designated gap for the runner. Now, blocking at the knees has been outlawed but you can still hip block, Except, linemen are so big now they physically can’t do it. For those who have played you will have heard the expression a million times, he who get lowest wins. But line play in football has become more of a sumo match where behemoths stand up and try to throw each other aside. Oh, in my day offensive linemen were not allowed to use their hands in blocking nor extend their arms, that’s why we had shoulder pads; another change in the rules.

So, now they have protected the QB’s and receivers and they are trying to take kick returns out of the game by allowing fair catches inside the 25 yd line and touchbacks to all come out to the 25. Why the 25? What was wrong with the 20? Why not let kickers kick the ball out of bounds on kick-offs like they do on punts? That would prevent returns and net an advantage for the defensive team. Once again the answer is scores. In the dark ages (when I played) football scores were like 14-9 or 21-17. Now you see a score and you have to make sure you aren’t looking at the basketball stats. Once the game was one of field position where you forced the other team into a corner of the field (preferably the left hand corner at the 10 or 15 yard line.) Why the left? Because it forced a right-handed QB to throw across the field. And here’s another change I bet you never thought about. Artificial surfaces have given us flat fields where the QB has a much greater field of vision. In the old days natural grass fields had a crown in the middle of the field to promote drainage. That crown could be significant such that if you were on the hashmark on one side of the field (oh and they’ve moved the hash marks closer to the center of the field as well), anyway QBs had to throw up or down hill and that caused a lot of under and over thrown passes. That’s where the expression “running downhill” comes from. By the defense pushing a QB back into the left (from the defensive perspective) part of the field on the 10 yard line you achieved a tactical advantage by limiting the plays the QB could call.

Which brings me to perhaps the greatest change of all in the game. In my day you could not call plays from the sideline, it was unsportsmanlike conduct, nor could you have observers in the booth. The plays had to be called on the field by the QB. If a coach wanted a play in the game he had to send it in with a replacement and until 1965 you were limited to one replacement at a time. Iron men with leather balls. Now, of course, you have a team of coordinators for offense, and one for defense and specialty players who rush or block or catch or whatever. You have computer designed game plans and instantaneous replay video to determine why a play didn’t work. But more than that you have the ability to call the plays from the sideline in high school and college and by wireless transmission in the pro’s.

Oh, I know I said no politics but I lied, because today’s football is overflowing with politics in college and certainly in the pros. In my day we knelt for a prayer that all players would be safe in the game and stood for the National Anthem; then we put our helmets on and tried to obliterate the man across from us. The defensive captain matched his wits against the QB and vice versa. It was serious but still great fun. Remember, I’m from the Deep South where you went to the football game on Saturday and church on Sunday but people sometimes confused the two because I know for a fact that more praying actually happened on Saturday.

Now there are some changes I’d like to see. Get rid of hard exterior helmet surfaces. Did you know that most injuries are helmet related? A helmet to knee tackle and you get a concussion for the helmet wearer and a blown ACL for the ball carrier. Even unintentionally the helmet causes injuries when it impacts soft tissue of an opposing player and those face masks are just as bad, they are welded steel covered in rubber. How about if we can’t block at the knees, we shouldn’t tackle at the knees. We have that rule, but only for the QB’s. Get rid of any shoe that has a replaceable cleat requiring all shoes have molded cleats attached to the soles. This will reduce lots of incidental injuries caused when someone is stepped on. Currently steel-tipped cleats are allowed and they not only have the steel tip but a steel post to which are affixed. So, I’m not exactly a troglodyte, just someone who likes the game, in all aspects, to be decided on the field by the players and not in the booth by the coaches.

I know the old saw about planning being different from execution but I’ve always thought that both the mental and physical exertions should be on the part of the players only. By having specialists and platoons you take the fatigue and physical conditioning out of the game. Have you ever put a stopwatch on professional football? If you did you would find that between the snap and whistle ending plays there is, on average,11, count’em 11 minutes of actual play. So your QB may actually only play for five minutes and he’ll get paid multiple millions of dollars. There’s a little bit more time in college with the no huddle offenses but not all that much. Some fatigue right? 11 minutes of play, but the average professional game takes more than 3 hours from start to finish and if you watch it on television you’ll see more than 100 commercials. Perhaps they should play the games and not announce the scores, then televise the game with all the downtime edited out. You can get some replays like that and an entire college game can be watched in 45 minutes, and that’s with commercials.

So, football really isn’t the same game it was. You may be happy with that but I’m not; and don’t get me started on Boron Graphite Tennis racquets.

What you think?

One thought

  1. I enjoyed this history lesson on how football has changed. I am definitely more of a history fan than a sorts fan. Back when my stepson Devin came to live with us I started reading the editorial type column i=on the sports page in the newspaper so I could talk to him at dinner time. This is the longest thing I’ve read about sports since he left home.

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