Don’t even get me started about the rule changes in the NFL. In the 1970s, the league changed the rules for illegal contact on receivers because Pittsburgh cornerback Mel Blount was too physically tough. Receivers were then granted a free run after five yards.
Now, we have rules named for a player who couldn’t identify tough even if he spent the entire weekend watching GoodFellas.
Say what you want about the need to protect players (and I question that as a true motive for the NFL). The “Brady Rules” for quarterbacks have taken the game to new lows. Heavy breathing in or around a quarterback’s midsection is now considered borderline activity.
No player has fallen victim to this alleged interest in “player safety” (which is more of an interest in player investment) than James Harrison.
I have very mixed feelings on Harrison. He is not a nice man. He does not have a pleasant disposition. He could never have played football in the SEC, because he is not genteel at all (check the video in case you missed it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROCDQTzAe94).
But what else do you want out of your defensive players? Really, does any fan, coach, or owner want an outside linebacker that plays with finesse and panache like “Bieber” Brady? If you’re a defensive player in the National Football League and you don’t have a nasty edge, you won’t be playing there for long.
Football is—or, once was—about hitting the other team harder and faster than they hit you. James Harrison understands that better than anyone in the league, better than the commissioner. That makes him great at his craft.
What bothers me is that Harrison refuses to change. He needs to change, he needs to do it soon. He is not going to win a battle of wills with His Excellency Roger Goodell. Making changes will save Mr. Harrison a lot of money, make him a much better player, and keep him in the league a lot longer.
Leading with the crown of the helmet is not only dangerous, but it is not good form. If Harrison would put his face in the numbers of the quarterback or running back, it’s still going to have an impact and it will make him an even more effective tackler.
Oh, he will still draw flags for “driving” people into the ground. But it will cut down on the fines, suspensions, and missed tackles.
There is another thing about impact hits that people do not realize. The hitter often takes just as much of a blow as the target. If blows by/to the head shorten careers, then James Harrison might not last very long. He already broke an orbital bone in his eye this season. How many more shots will his head have to take before something devastating happens?
I would rather not see another NFL player walking around asking his wife how to tie his shoes. The motives of the league are secondary to Harrison’s need to take care of himself.
Maybe I just can’t see through my black-and-gold glasses, but I do not consider Harrison a dirty player. Like the entire Steeler organization, he’s “old school.” He plays with the reckless abandon that characterized football in the 1970s. He plays in the shadow and style of the old “Steel Curtain.”
In fact, Harrison might be a choir boy compared to Jack Lambert.
But times have changed, and the game has changed. What we know about head injuries has changed. And now, James Harrison must change.
Hopefully he will realize that soon, or Roger Goodell might not have Harrison to kick around much longer.