Football Has Changed

Fourth and 20, from their own 24 yard line.  12 seconds left in the game, and we lead 10-6.  The game of football has changed. it was different back then. It was the first time in eight games a team had even been able to score on us, and on the line: our undefeated season.  The Hail Mary goes deep down the left sideline, is tipped on the way down, lands right in the receivers arms, and he’s gone.  With him went our perfect season.  Though I was only 12 then, I can remember it as though it were yesterday.  I can also remember how we were taught to play the game back then, and see how much different it has become today.  Much of what we were taught back then was the three yards and a cloud of dust mentality.  Run the ball, play great defense.  Throughout the past few years, a slow shift has begun and the game of football has changed.  The NFL has a lot to do with this.

Whatever the league seems fit to put an emphasis on trickles down through college and even high school and Pop Warner leagues.  High scores and offense are the trend and the fundamentals are changing.  On defense, we were taught to punish the opponent, to put our helmets on the ball.  Drive with our legs through a tackle and drop the ball carrier.  On offense as a ball carrier, it was the same concept.  Hard fought tough yards, bruising attacks right up the gut intended to wear down and wear out the opponent.  I will never forget the words of my high school coach, “for crying out loud you can fall forward and pick up three yards Eastman!”  Seriously, I think we passed the ball three times my senior year.  Today, 16 years later, that same school runs a spread offense from the shotgun formation, and throws at least half the time.

Today kids are not taught to play the in the same way I was taught.  Watching my son’s practices when he played, I was amazed at the differences from when I was a kid.  They are no longer taught to hit and drive, but to stop, catch, wrap and grab cloth.   As we were once taught to lower a shoulder and deliver a blow, runners would stay upright and take a hit to the chest.  The emphasis on safety and avoiding injuries and concussions seem to have taken the primary focus in today’s football, at least at the younger levels, to the point where it has literally changed the fundamentals.  And when you change the fundamentals, you change the game.  Today’s professionals are now fined for the same hits that used to be considered great plays.  Rules changes come every year now with more and more emphasis on protecting the players.  End zone celebrations that used to be frowned upon are now popular practice, and in fact mimicked at the lower levels. In part thanks to fantasy football, offense is as popular as it has ever been, and with rules changes every year records continue to be broken.

This being said, most of these changes are for the better.  Safety is a good thing, and I don’t believe anyone is necessarily against it.  As we look into the future though, and as more parents feel uneasy about their kids playing football due to concussions, CTE, and other long term physical affects, should we fear for the future of the game?  Players today are retiring earlier trying to save some bit of their bodies for after their playing days.

Recently retired player Antwaan Randle El spoke with Brand McCullough of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and said, “It’s a tough pill to swallow because I love the game of football, but I tell parents, you can have the right helmet, the perfect pads on, and still end up with a paraplegic kid. There’s no correcting it. There’s no helmet that’s going to correct it. There’s no teaching that’s going to correct it. It just comes down to it’s a physically violent game. Football players are in a car wreck every week.  I wouldn’t be surprised if football isn’t around in 20, 25 years.”

Chris Borland left the San Francisco 49ers, and the game entirely, some would say before his prime.  Borland said “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”(Link To Article/Video)

Will our outlook on Football one day change as a society?  There once was a time when we would gather in groups to cheer and roar at another form of so called “entertainment” in Roman times.  I am sure I am not the first one to draw comparison between the gladiators in the Colosseum, and football in modern stadiums.  Yet it still serves the point.  As time has passed such “games” are now looked back upon as ruthless and barbaric.  Those events are not accepted in the more civilized society that we have become today, or at least we like to think so. Sometimes, I am not so sure.

So, could it be possible that our so beloved game could one day fall off the map and become nothing but a memory of time in man’s history where we played a sport that caused paralysis, long term brain injuries, and in a few cases, deaths?  Could it be possible that the game will be looked at by future generations as an ignorant time in our past, where we did not understand the repercussions of one of our favorite past times? Could we possibly evolve to that point?  With the way the world seems to be headed today, it might look doubtful, but we have come from the dark ages before.  One thing that we all know for sure is, nothing lasts forever, and what goes up will always come down.  There is no arguing right now that the NFL is definitely at the top of the mountain.

But will it stay that way?