Saturday, October 10, 2009

The State of the Game

***

Time out from Eagles talk for a minute. Let's talk about the NFL in general. Last week there were a couple of really controversial calls in the BAL/NE game. On one of them the refs called a penalty on a play where Brady was lightly hit in the lower leg. To make matters worse, Brady asked for the call and the flag was late in coming out. That gave the appearance that Brady got the call be because of his request. Clearly that didn't happen. Officials know who Tom Brady is, but they don't give flags to any player or coach.

The penalty called was hitting the QB low, aka The Brady Rule. He was hit low last year and tore his ACL. Defenders are no longer allowed to hit QBs below the knee. I understand what the NFL's thinking is. QB is the key position. Those guys are normally the highest paid players on their team. You have to protect that investment. Also, a hurt QB can completely change the course of a season. Remember the 1991 Eagles?

I have real mixed feelings about all of this. The NFL is being logical in wanting to protect high priced QBs. They are also protecting the fans of those teams. Seattle was 10-6 back in 2007. They had a good team coming back in '08. Matt Hasselbeck got hurt and a slow start turned into a disastrous season. The team finished 4-12 and was painful to watch. Matt isn't healthy this year and the team is 1-3. Ask a Seahawks fan about rules that protect the QB and they'd probably be completely on board with that. Matt wasn't hurt by a cheap shot, but once you see your franchise QB go down you find out how miserable Sundays can be.

Bad football leads to empty seats. Less beer is sold. Fewer jerseys are bought. That affects the bottom line for NFL teams and vendors who live off the NFL. We're talking about millions of dollars.

Let's set aside the financial stuff for a minute and talk football. What about the integrity of the game? Football is a tough, physical sport. It is a violent sport. That is part of the legacy of the game. I understand that football is constantly evolving, but you don't want to lose a core aspect of the game like the physical style of play. That is too drastic a change. The switch from a league founded on running to a pass-happy game...I can live with that. It's a tactical change. Legislating out bone-jarring hits and punishing tackles is completely different.

I recently heard former Safety John Lynch in a radio interview. He is a big fan of Roger Goodell's attempt to clean up the league. Lynch loves the fact that the Commish is holding players accountable for their off-field behavior. That's the right kind of cleaning up the sport. Lynch is not happy with Goodell when it comes to the on-field changes. Defenders are no longer allowed to just play. They have to think before making a hit or tackle:

* don't lead with the helmet
* don't make helmet-to-helmet contact
* don't go low
* is the runner/receiver defenseless?
* is the player about to go out of bounds?

That's a lot of information for a guy to process in one second. He's also got to focus on making the hit/tackle. Lynch hates what the league is doing to defenders. He also thinks that the rules changes are affecting the integrity of the game. At some point you go from 11 players vs 11 players to a situation where it is 11 vs 11 and the rule book. Are offensive players held back in any way? I can't recall Peyton Manning being told to be less accurate. Or Chris Johnson being told not to run at full speed. Imagine if Terrell Owens was told to drop every third or fourth pass. Okay, maybe that's a bad example.

Fans also factor into things. We watch football for a lot of reasons. One of them is the violence and physical nature of the game. If we wanted just offense, big plays, and speedy skill guys the Arena League wouldn't be going out of business. Fans want to see big hits. We want to see QBs get punished. We want to see runners and receivers get knocked sideways in the middle of the field. Who's more beloved in Philly, Calvin Williams or Seth Joyner, Andre Waters, or Wes Hopkins?

I don't know if those three defenders could be effective players in today's game. They brought a brutal, physical style of play that scared opponents from the mid-80s through 1992. Eagles opponents expected to be punished, not just hit or tackled. That was part of the game back then. And it should be now as well.

I hope the league can figure out some balance between protecting QBs and skill players and not cutting violence and physical play completely out of the game. Goodell would be well advised to spend some time talking to guys like John Lynch to get their perspective. Defensive players are critical to the success of the league to this point. That needs to continue. Don't take away my slobber-knockers.


HATE

I heard another really good interview recently. Former Packer FB William Henderson, a highly underrated player, was on Jim Rome's show talking about Favre playing for MIN. In short...he hates the fact Favre is a Viking.

Good.

The NBA was a great league back in the 80s. Being a Laker, Celtic, or Sixer meant something. Dr. J and Larry Bird once got into a fist fight. They might have respected the hell out of each other, but they hated each other as well. That culture of hatred was taught by veteran players. The NBA fell apart in the late 80s with expansion and full blown free agency. The talent has been thinned out way too much and playing for a team means very little. Joe Forte was a rookie for the Celtics back about 6 or 7 years ago. He wore a Lakers throwback jersey to the game. His teammates had to explain that was unacceptable. Still, the troubling part is that he didn't know that.

Kevin McHale has openly lamented about the lack of caring in the NBA. The players switch teams frequently. They have the same agents and form buddy-buddy relationships off the court. They have enormous contracts that are all guaranteed.

I grew up in love with the NBA. Can't stand it now. I'm not sure the last time I sat down and watched a game from start to finish. As a kid I used to get up and tear open the newspaper to study the box score to see what happened the night before. The highlights always focused on the stars. What about Steve Mix or Clint Richardson or Earl Cureton? I loved the NBA and my Sixers.

Nowadays it means nothing to be a Sixer. The Lakers and Celtics games only have meaning if both teams are in 1st place. The rivalries are hollow.

Not in the NFL. Sure, we have free agency and highly paid players, but somehow the games still have meaning. Rivalries live on. GB-CHI ... SD-OAK ... PHI-DAL. Those rivalries emerged in different eras for different reasons. All 3 are going strong.

Rivalries are based on hate. Sports need hate. It has to come from fans, players, and coaches. I was really happy to listen to William Henderson talk about the Packers-Vikings rivalry. He said that Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell recruited him to come to Minnesota as a free agent. He couldn't do it. Henderson couldn't stand the thought of putting on a purple helmet. He'd been taught throughout his time as a Packer to hate the Vikings. Not just casually, either. And it stuck.

Henderson stays in touch with Favre and his family. He loves Brett as a person. That's okay. We don't want things getting out of hand. Rivalries do have to be kept in perspective.

I think a sport's credibility has to be at least partially based on the legitimacy of rivalries. Think about it. You the fan shell out bucks to follow your favorite team. You care about winning and losing enough to put money into it. The players better care, at least to a certain extent. I'm not naive. I know that players are loyal to their paychecks first and foremost.

I also know that professional players usually have a big competitive streak. They want to win, to do well. Players can get down if they play on a bad team or if they are caught in a nightmare season. The one thing to look at is rivalry games. Even in a down year a player or team should get up for those special games.

Think back to the '99 Eagles. The team was only 3-11 through the first 14 games. That's bad. 4 losses were by 2 TDs or more. What about rivalry games?

13-10 W DAL
20-10 L @ DAL
16-15 L @ NYG
23-17 L NYG, OT
35-28 W WAS
20-17 L @ WAS

We were 2-4 against our biggest rivals. 2 losses were in OT and another was by 1 point. The Eagles were outscored by a grand total of 10 points in those 6 games. That team wasn't good, but Andy got them ready to play and they came up big in the rivalry games. That told me that Andy and the players got it, they cared. That attitude paid off in the form of wins the next year and things have been good ever since.

I can only think of two words to sum this up...Dallas sucks. (doesn't it just feel good to say that?)
_

8 comments:

Cliff said...

Your best post yet.

Cliff said...

I want to comment on both parts of your post.

First, I think it's wise to protect the QB's. You mentioned that the NFL is thinking in terms of "millions of dollars." That's wrong. They're thinking in terms of billions of dollars. How much potential revenue is lost when Oakland fails to field a competitive team for a decade? The Raiders are a very marketable team in a very wealthy market. The Raiders seem to be Los Angeles's adopted home team, too.

And that's just one market. Multiply that impact by 6, because that's how many awful teams we have this season. At least 3 of which are awful because of even worse QB decisions over the past couple years.

I also want to talk about hate in sports. I agree with all of your points, but want to add one more. Professional sports should be an emotional release for most of us men. During the NFL season, once a week we get to join a larger group, wear our colors, yell for our team, and express emotions (like hate) that we supress during the week because we try to be civil, social people.

In other words, Dallas sucks.

mcud77 said...

Ah the '91 Eagles. I still pray that Bryce Paup has a piano fall onto his knee at some point in his life too.

I wonder, what the best team to not make the playoffs? Those Eagles (and the 49ers of the same year) have to be up there somewhere.

Oh yeah...

Dallas sucks.

Cliff said...

Just read this at PE.com: Avant, meanwhile, has 10 catches for 111 yards and one touchdown this season. All four of his third-down receptions have been good for first downs. For his career, 27 of his 31 receptions on third down have moved the chains, a staggering 87.1 percent success rate.

I think we've all seen how all of Avant's receptions seem to be 3rd down passes for the 1st. But before his role increased, Greg Lewis (in his final couple years here) seemed to do the same thing. Why? Is Andy/Marty purposefully calling Avant's number on 3rd down? Is the play drawn up for Avant to be the primary receiver? Or is McNabb conditioned to look for Avant on 3rd downs because of his past success on that down?

Michael said...

Tommy, if you don't like the NBA, chances are you haven't been paying enough attention over the years to the Spurs.

They're really your type of team. The players play as a team on both ends, nobody mugs for the cameras, nobody is selfish, nobody has a police record, and the players just care about winning.

I think Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili especially would be your kind of guys.

Give 'em a try this year if you ever have some time. Pretty deep team this year. They even drafted DeJuan Blair in the second round out of Pitt and that guy is a beast! He's more of a steal than LeSean was for us.

geoff said...

I remeber when I was a kid and starting to get interested in football and the Eagles, my father said to me" son, now that you are watching the Eagles and becoming a fan, you have to know something. All self respecting Eagles fans hate Dallas."
I have certainly passed that on to my sons. Someone will ask them who their favoite team is and they say the Eagles. they will then go on and tell them how much they hate dallas. I am a proud father.

Prem Prakash said...

My 6 year-old is not allowed to use "potty-talk" around the house. I try and set an example by not cursing in front of him. Our exception, however, is when the Eagles play the Cowboys, then he is permitted to yell anything he wants. He watched his first game with my buddies and me last year when we whupped Dallas 41-6. What a great way for him to be introduced to Eagles football.

Dallas sucks.
Or as my son says, "The Cowboys have poopie diaper butts."

Tommy Lawlor said...

Great stuff, guys.