Disclaimer: Here at theguyonthewall.com, I usually love to dive into stories that I cannot only discuss from a comedic standpoint, but also from an informative angle. This issue on the other hand does not have much humor attributed to it because it is such a serious and unfortunate side of football. With that being read, if you are squeamish or can’t hold your cookies please do not watch any of the videos that accompany the text.
I can remember it like it was yesterday; January 3rd, 2003 the Tostitos Fiesta bowl,1 Ohio State and The U. At the time I did not understand the significance of the game because I was a young kid watching football with my father, just enjoying the moment. With a little over 11 minutes left in the 4th quarter, superstar running back Willis McGahee snuck through the right side of his offensive line awaiting a screen pass. His guard and tackle sprinted out to provide the routine screen escort blocking services. McGahee caught the ball and looked for a seam, but like a bat out of hell, Buckeye safety Will Allen dived into McGahee’s leg and stopped the play in its tracks.
Immediately you can see McGahee down with 3 trainers surrounding him trying to figure out what’s wrong. At this point I’m thinking “Wow! What a great hit, he blew that screen up!!!,” but in reality while Allen did shut the screen down, he also shut down McGahee’s immediate dreams of NFL stardom. The replay that followed was the single most gruesome thing I ever saw as a football fan. I wasn’t a doctor, but I knew that legs weren’t supposed to bend like that.
Miami would go on to lose the game and speculation would ensue about McGahee as to whether an NFL team would take a chance on him early in the draft. 2 Luckily McGahee rebounded and went on to have a decent NFL career, but the issue remains the same. Low hits can have devastating results and in todays NFL they will start to become more common.
By now, everyone including my Mom3 is aware of the NFL’s concussion issues and how those problems have propelled them to institute rule changes to protect the league from future lawsuits. In my eyes, one of the direct results of the move away from head and neck area hits is an increase in volume of low hits. I want to discuss a couple of incidents that happened this year that potentially stem from the NFL’s “don’t hit a guy above the waist campaign.”
The most common low-hitting justification is made in the situation when a tight end, in this example Dustin Keller, is hit low by a much smaller defensive back. Since the tight end position is a hybrid offensive lineman/receiver, they tend to be bigger than the average safety that is coming up to tackle them when the ball is thrown in the seam. Before the legislation that made head shots illegal, safeties and corners would lay an unsuspecting receiver out to the tune of a pat on the butt from the sideline coaches, and a mental edge in that fact that the receiver will be thinking twice next time they run that route. In today’s league the same hit earns them a personal foul and some heavy liposuction to the old bank account.
Taking a quick look at the size differential per NFL.com, Keller comes in at 6’2” 255 pounds; while the safety that made the play D.J Swearinger tops off at 5’10” 208 pounds. For those of you doing the math at home that’s a 47 pound difference which means a lot in a sport where the bigger guy can drop his shoulder and plow right through his would-be tackler. One of the most basic principles in football is “low man wins;” this especially comes into play when the ball carrier has 47 pounds on a defender. When faced with this scenario Swearinger:
- Conditioned to hit low because high hits are flagged and fined.
- Understanding he’s giving up some pounds, doesn’t aim for the waist because Keller might be able to maintain balance.
cuts Keller low, subsequently blowing out his knee.
Now with Cobb, who is a receiver and therefore smaller than an NFL tightend, the following dialogue may take place between and random Green Bay fan and I:
Random Green Bay fan: “Well I understand why you hit Keller low because of the size issue, but what about Cobb? Most safeties aren’t giving up too much size to him!!!”
Guyonthewall: “Listen, I understand your frustration, but let me build a case.”
While many NFL fans have played some form of football sandlot, Pop-Warner, high school, college, fantasy, and Madden most have not played professionally and would never be able to simulate the speed at which the game is played. Using my time playing high school football as a guinea pig, I can remember when I had a big guy coming directly at me I wasn’t thinking about which part of their leg I was going to make contact with when I went low. That moment happens so fast, and it’s even faster in the NFL. Football is a game that is played on pure instincts; on the field a player doesn’t have time to a logically breakdown where to place their shoulder at 100mph.
I see a lot of people talking about form-tackle this and form-tackle that, but those type of hits require some of the most precise execution that many NFL players don’t even posses. In a perfect world, everyone would tackle like that, and injuries like what we see with Cobb and Keller wouldn’t happen. But this is the real world; imperfect, flawed, and dangerous in all of its glory.
Random Green Bay fan: 🙁
GOTW: “You guys have Aaron Rodgers.”
Random Green Bay fan: 🙂
The NFL wants to limit the risk it faces from future lawsuits from ex-players trying to get a piece of the pie for their sacrifices on the field. By taking away the headshot at the expense of the leg shot, they are already building a case for their concern for player safety, which will play well in court.
The most interesting issue in this whole thing is that most players rather be hit high than low, as the latter threatens their entire career and ability to make money. Even with all the reports of the true nature of concussions, most guys rather bang their brain than blow an ACL. Nobody wants their career cut short, but also no one wants the horrors of brain injuries in their retirement. This may be a no-win for the shield and the players. While we can legislate the game, no one can deny the target area is shrinking and every player is getting bigger, faster, and stronger.