It was January 17th, 1971. As an 11 year old smallish kid from a no sports family who was growing up in a 97 population town, Superbowl V was a pretty good way to see my first football game at the home of our families friends. I instantly fell in love with the game...and the horseshoe on the helmet. Since then, I have been a Colt fan and I feel truly blessed to have chosen such a great sport and such a fine franchise.
As I began to watch the game, I listened to others talk about the game and I quickly realized that each fan appreciates something different. Oh sure, we all love to see our team score a TD or win a game, but there are little victories, plays, or moments that each individual fan gleans joy and appreciation from. My appreciation has changed over time, especially with the increase in knowledge of how the game is played from the players perspective. The one thing that I get from watching the NFL is displays of incredible human ability being performed at the highest athletic level, and simultaneously being filmed by the best sports filming crew in the world. No other sport or event captures the amazing feats of athletic prowess quite as magnificently as the NFL does. The one handed catch by Marvin Harrison in the middle of the field against the Titans will be forever etched in my memory.
In the last few years, the league has begun to pay close attention to player safety, especially where concussions are concerned. As the information about how often it actually happens to the average player, how it is affecting the players in their life after football, how they try to hide it from their coaches and teammates, and how there is pressure to hide these events comes forward, it appears that we are heading down a road of disclosure that leaves no option for turning back. Well over 100 former players, many of whom are household names, have filed a collective lawsuit and this subject will get the attention it deserves whether fans or players like it or not.
I know that I have cheered many times when I saw a great hit put on a player. It is part of the game. But what we are all finding out, is that there are many parts of the game that some of us didn't know existed. I truly did not know that players targeted other players with intent to injure. Nor did I know that coaches would ask players to take other players out of the game in return for monetary compensation. Does that make me naive? Perhaps, but I don't think that I am alone. There are many fans who have played football, who see things differently than others, but both are legitimate fans. I am hearing a lot of fans crying out that the NFL is dying, that violence and injury is part of the game. That our current commissioner is trying to take the fun out of the game. Well, it is this writers opinion that he is actually trying to save the game. It is very easy to cite how rough and tough players from the past were. The rules were very lax and the play was extremely forceful. But this is where the argument against protecting players more loses its credibility....how does the force compare?
Players on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball have grown considerably since that first SB I watched. Todays TE's are bigger than many of yesterdays offensive tackles. In addition, players train year round, take supplements, have access to HGH, and work with nutritionists and conditioning experts. Basically, they have become freakish athletic specimens. The rules have to change because the physicality is changing. If it isn't, physics will win. More players will pass early, perhaps even on the field during a game. There is a fine line between keeping the game a big time contact sport, and keeping players from killing themselves. I don't think anyone wants to take away the physical battle that ensues every football Sunday. But it might be a good idea to work at keeping a balance between the improving human player and love by fans for violent contact.