Do you remember alligator arms? Sometimes they were mistakenly referred to as T-Rex arms by the Neanderthals or by the nascent sports fan, but any real knowledgeable sports fan knows that they're really alligator arms. It was one of the most entertaining events in football, and I miss it.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's because you were raised watching the watered down, wimpified version of the game that is foisted upon us today by the NFL. I'm talking about the days when a free safety could knock the snot out of a receiver who dared to venture into his territory in the middle of the field, and do so without fear of penalty and/or fine. The concept of a defenseless receiver didn't exist, and there was no prohibition against helmet to helmet contact - indeed, you wore the damn helmet so it wasn't cranium to cranium contact.
Alligator arms was an amazing phenomenon really - a receiver would run the likes of a dig route, a seam route, or a slant that left his defender a step or two behind while the QB lobbed the rock just over the outstretched fingers of the linebacker who'd dropped back in to zone coverage. When you had a Ronnie Lott bearing down on you at full speed, at best these balls took what seemed like forever to come down to the outstretched arms of the receiver. At worst, the pass was a little high causing the receiver to have to extend his arms upward and expose his rib cage. And then it happened. Instead of getting obliterated by that freight train wearing the opponents jersey, the receiver retracted his arms to his body so they looked about as big as an alligator's (or a T-Rex), and braced for impact. Reception - and ego - be damned. Living to play another play took priority.
It was a thing of beauty, and the big hitting safeties made their entire careers about intimidating opponents into not making those catches in the middle of the field. As a fan, I absolutely loved watching players getting blown up and it epitomized football in my mind. It was a game played by gladiators; men among men. They were the biggest, strongest, toughest SOBs alive, and that’s what separated them from us commoners.
But not anymore. The game has been wimpified as if we were all soccer moms, afraid that 7 year old Benjamin may be permanently emotionally scarred having just taken a ball in the face off the foot of Jessica. But I digress...
The key here is that there is no such thing as a truly "defenseless receiver." Receivers make a choice on every play to either catch the ball or defend themselves. Now, however, the league is saying that receivers shouldn't have to take personal responsibility for their own safety make that choice, and that instead it’s the defenders who should have to choose between conceding the reception or taking a 15 yard penalty and likely paying a fine.
And then there's the matter of helmet to helmet contact. Look, NFL skill players usually run somewhere in the 23 - 25 mph range at top speed. Basic high school math tells us that could result in as much as a 46 - 50 mph closing rate between a defender and a receiver. For a number of reasons it's exceedingly rare that two players actually collide at this speed - they are often closing at angles, or the defender is concerned about getting juked so he slows his approach, etc. - but even at half of that speed the collision is going to be violent. Much like we see when watching a crash test for a car at 25 mph, when a defender hits a receiver in the chest, the receivers head snaps forward sharply. It's often (if not usually) the receivers head that comes forward after the initial impact and strikes the defenders helmet - not the defender using his helmet as a weapon. Further a defender is often aiming his shoulder for the chest or rib cage of the receiver, but no receiver wants to get hit in the ribs. As a result, the (supposedly defenseless) receiver tries to protect himself by lowering his own shoulders - and subsequently head - to impact with the defender; thus causing a helmet to helmet hit that was not in fact initiated by the defender.
I get that the league wants to and needs to protect players, and the argument that these are gladiators that are being financially rewarded beyond our imagination for their sacrifices only goes so far. But why can't it be like it used to, where offensive players took personal responsibility for protecting themselves? Heck, if making the reception was going to get the receiver killed, even the quarterbacks had to be held a little bit responsible for a poor throw or a bad decision.
In any case, the whole thing is making the NFL unwatchable. Okay, maybe it's not completely unwatchable, but it's not nearly as enjoyable as it once was, and while there was a time I would watch any game that was on, I've found myself disgustedly turning off a couple of games where I wasn't a particular fan of either team. Last night's MNF game between the Giant's and the Saints was a perfect example. Players were penalized for what seemed like violent, ferocious, but lovely and what should have been perfectly legal hits. I got so disgusted that I couldn't watch it any more. I realize that I'm just one fan, but perhaps I'm not the only one. Maybe enough of us will be vocal enough and turn the games of such that the league responds.