Writer Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review thinks Steelers' Linebacker James Harrison should "stop whining" and "quit complaining" about the NFL's crackdown on illegal hits and the fines and punishments that could occur afterward. Well Joe, when the Tea Party stops complaining about taxes and when liberals stop complaining about the Tea Party then maybe Harrison will have to stop barking about these new rule changes. People in all forms of employment are allowed to voice their displeasure with new rules and procedures so why can't he? Let me say first and foremost that any player who obviously goes at another opponent's head should be penalized and fined, that is not the issue in my opinion. Where the NFL and the owners are going here is in a direction to destroy the game that was built on aggressiveness, execution, toughness and intimidation and all 32 owners know it. If you think these new penalties and punishments are about 'player safety' then I have a bridge from New York City to Ireland I'd like to sell you. This is about money and if the fans know it, then surely everyone else does right? Why is it about money? Here's why...
As much as football is the ultimate team game, it, like other pro sports is also star-driven as well. Fans glorify the quarterback, the running backs and the receivers. If players like James Harrison hit them too hard they could be hurt and unavailable for the rest of the game or heaven forbid they might miss another game. In that case, fans might then stop going to games if Peyton Manning is crushed (illegally of course) by LaMarr Woodley because we all know that fans don't care about watching the defense right? They are just there for the offensive fireworks and we won't have fireworks if Jim freaking Sorgi is in the game. Some owners like the Rooneys, actually get that fans do enjoy watching the defense. They understand that a big hit is going to create water cooler talk as much as a great TD catch will, but Roger Goodell and his cronies are not interested in the good of the game or the fans. They are interested in money and 'growing the game.' Remember that the Commish would love to get this game in Europe permanently with a NFL franchise or two across the pond. How in the world would he explain the violence in our 'American Game' to the European fan base? Never mind that these are the same folks that riot and attack each other following 0-0 soccer games. They get violence Mr. Goodell so stop trying to act as if they don't. Don't read much into the fact that this vote which was 32-0 was as unanimous as it appears. Art Rooney II had serious reservations about it, especially since it has already been dubbed 'The Steelers' Rule.' The Owners and Goodell will continue to tell us this is about player safety and to a degree, they are right, it is about player safety, but then what is really 'safe' about football? Does a NASCAR driver get behind the wheel thinking about 'driver safety' as he cruises along the backstretch of Daytona at 188mph? No, he knows the possibility always exists of him getting hurt or killed. Football players are the same. They know the risks. The game of football is tough, it can be violent and it can be dangerous. Every guy that straps it on 16 times each fall knows this and is fighting as we speak for more long-term health care and benefits well into retirement, but these continued changes to the rules and their stiffer penalties are killing the game. Going back to the days of the 'Mel Blount' Rule, defenses continue to be punished while offenses continue to thrive. You don't like a 13-10 game? Then go watch Arena football. Some of us like seeing solid defense, good tackling and stiff coverage, but apparently the owners don't. They want to see games every week played in the 30's because 'the fans love scoring.' I think you'd be surprised by how many DON'T love all the scoring, at least not all the time. The game many of us knew as kids is nearly gone. The days of Al Davis' mantra of "The other team's quarterback must go down" would be met with a fine for even thinking it today. It's OK though right Commish? As long as the receivers continue to run across the field with no fear of being hit and QB's will hang in the pocket as long as they'd like because the only place a defender can hit them now is about a 6" area around the mid-section right? Where the League and its' Owners are really missing the boat is what they could be doing for the future of the game. They could be establishing camps and clinics for Pop Warner Leagues and high school coaches about proper tackling techniques, but there is no money in that. At least not right now and the Owners want money now!!! So James Harrison and hundreds of other players who have been tackling the same way for their entire lives are supposed to change in the blink of an eye? Joe Starkey's column went on to say that despite the fines and penalties the Steelers still went to the Super Bowl arguing that aggressive play could still be had on the field without all the 'illegal hits'. Starkey is absolutely right about the aggressiveness and I think we all agree guys that head-hunt should be penalized and fined, but Starkey is missing the point. The more the League continues to tell defenders what they can't do however, the more the aggressiveness goes away and we are left with patty-cake. The Steelers made it to the Super Bowl in spite of the discipline imposed upon them with talent, hard work and ability and to say it was anything other than that would be wrong.
Pro football was once a brilliant ballet of aggressiveness almost made to fit the instrumental music of NFL Films and the perfect voice of Jon Facenda and now the league would like the music of a Manhattan elevator teamed with the voice of David Spade (No offense David, love your work, but the voice is a little weak). The game is changing folks and is changing fast and despite the 'player safety' contention (oh let's add 2 extra games too!) from the Owners, the changes are not good. James Harrison has every right to say what he has on this issue and I believe that not because I'm a Steelers' fan, I believe it because I'm a fan of the game of football. Owners continue to want more and more from the players yet don't want to compensate them in the form of long-term health. Hmmm, if I do my math right, this pretty much means Owners want more for less all in the name of 'player safety.'
Congrats to Hines Ward and Kym Johnson for their DWTS victory this week. Ward has always been a favorite of mine and although I didn't catch every week, it was a pleasure to watch a guy work as hard as he did at a craft that he did not know as one he knows so well like football. And if anyone doubts the full power and reach of the Steeler Nation then let this victory for Hines put those doubts to rest.
Beating a dead horse here potentially, but I can't say enough about the interview this past week Matt and I did with Steelers' LB Stevenson Sylvester. All of our interviews have been great and memorable, but Sly is as humble, unique and funny as anyone.
Speaking of Matt, make sure you get into the forum and check out everything he has done to make steeleraddicts.com the place for Steelers' fans. Take a minute to thank him for the hard work.
Have a great day Steeler Nation!
Marc 'SteelDad' Uhlmann