By now, I think we’ve all accepted that Roger Goodell wants us to believe he cares about player safety more than he actually cares about player safety. But that’s neither here nor there. Because lost in all the derpa derp of his mismanagement over the last year or so, is the fact that through either legal or moral necessity, player safety in the NFL had to be improved.
Players in the 70’s were insurance salesmen in the off-season and for the most part, looked like insurance salesman. Today’s players are singled-minded running, throwing and tackling machines with better nutrition, training, research and healthcare to help supplement their already gifted genetics. So to say players needed a way to protect themselves from the increasing danger of the sport is lot like saying we need airbags in our cars because society has evolved from riding around in horses and buggies to multitasking in a minivan at 80 mph.
Unfortunately, like most businesses do when they institute new rules as a result of something gone wrong, the NFL overcompensated and slid from one side of the spectrum to the complete opposite. So while we’re a long way from the days of the Night Train Necktie, one could argue the rules today are nearly just as radical.
As a result, there’s a good number of fans who think the sport has been pussified that are chucking their Sports Illustrated football phones across the room in disgust over it. Personally, I enjoy football just fine without all the bone-crushing “Is he moving his legs?” types of hits. I like the strategy, the athleticism, the teamwork. All that shit.
But even I have to say the concept of declaring a quarterback’s helmet untouchable is, well, fucked in the head. While the NFL may have thought they were simplifying things by removing nearly all room for interpretation as to what constitutes an illegal hit, what they really did was open the floodgates for even more problems. Specifically, as it pertains to incidental contact. Eventually, the league is going to have to figure this rule out beyond, “If a quarterback’s head gets hit in any way, throw the flag” the way it’s currently enforced. Because if not, more plays are going happen like the one that just cost DeMarcus Ware 15 grand. Allow me to rewind…
With last Sunday’s Cowboys/Steelers game tied and time winding down, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back, did his whole pirouette thing in the pocket and squeezed a pass off just as DeMarcus Ware arrived. Knowing he’d be too late to sack Big Ben, Ware did what any good pass rusher would do – go for the strip as Roethlisberger brought his arm back to throw. Ware was about a half second too slow to make even that happen, but in reaching out for the ball, Ware’s right arm grazed Big Ben’s helmet. Flag thrown. First down, Steelers.
While it was a comically bad call, it wasn’t even the most fucked up thing about the play. See, Ware never even hit Roethlisberger in the way you’d try to sack, or knock the quarterback down. In fact, Ware never even went to the ground himself. He merely flailed about in the way players moving at ridiculously fast speeds tend to do on a football field.
Of course, this didn’t stop Big Ben from taking a dive in what looked like a game of charades if ‘stepping on a landmine’ had been the topic. And while catching a DeMarcus Ware bicep to the dome doesn’t exactly sound pleasant, lets not forget that Roethlisberger’s chins alone weigh 250 pounds. This isn’t a guy that gets dropped easily.
But that’s just the thing that makes the rule so susceptible to this kind of Ginobli-level method acting. Whereas penalties like pass interference are left to the referees to judge based on the severity of the infraction, coming into contact with a quarterback’s helmet, even in painfully obvious incidental situations, yields a flag, 15 yards, and no questions asked.
Eventually, more players are going to start doing what Roethlisberger did. And why not? When games are on the line and the rule mandates that refs have to make the call regardless, what’s a little theatrics just to seal the deal?
While flopping in the NBA has always been considered a cheap way of drawing a foul, the ramifications in football are even greater. And that’s not getting into the impact on the integrity of the game itself (which is in the shitter anyway). The Cowboys were fortunate and won the game despite the call, but considering the time remaining and field position, those extra 15 yards and a first down could have meant a lot more than just your average free throws.
I think we can all agree that player safety is a good thing. Even if it is just a buzzword coming from the lip service of the NFL. But in trying to cover their own ass, the NFL has created another problem – a credibility one. And once more players start to take advantage of that loophole, it’ll only compound the issue. By taking the rules from the hands of the very people who are paid to govern them, the NFL will only further alienate the fanbase. Not because of fewer big hits, but because of more erroneous penalties.
So maybe we should call it flag football.