Rule changes were unanimously approved by the NFL on Tuesday. As expected the biggest rule changes involve player safety. The biggest change of all has nothing to do with rules. The biggest change of all includes a fundamental shift in the way the game is played.
The NFL has issued their latest edict. The following hits on players in a "defenseless posture" are now illegal:
• A player in the act or just after throwing a pass.
• A receiver attempting to catch a pass or one who has not completed a catch and hasn't had time to protect himself or hasn't clearly become a runner. If the receiver/runner is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player.
• A runner whose forward progress has been stopped and is already in the grasp of a tackler.
• A kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air.
• A player on the ground at the end of a play.
• A kicker/punter during the kick or return.
• A quarterback any time after a change of possession (i.e. turnover).
• A player who receives a "blindside" block when the blocker is moving toward his own end-line and approaches the opponent from behind or the side.
In years past, a player stepped on the field with a dark heart and painted face, caring little for his "brother" or fellow man. He knew there were certain taboos: don't dive at an opponent's knees, don't jump on the back of his legs, don't gouge at his eyes, don't flatten his cradle (groin) etc. These are things that happened but players knew the usual suspects, prepared for their tactics and exacted revenge.
But the context in which you played the game was clear: you were not your brother's keeper. Have at him and do it with intent forged in the competitive fires of righteous rage and retribution. Your opponent deserved one thing and one thing only: to be driven into the ground with malice or, as Conan would say, "To see your enemy driven before you."
That's what was "good" in the old NFL.
Tuesday's proclamation from the owners meeting in Indianapolis has changed the essence of the game - forever.
The NFL has always been a proactive league and this metamorphosis has been under way for years. They know concussions are a serious subject, a threat to the very existence of the game. If these rule changes were not instituted, the game would eventually go away.
Why would mothers want their children playing a game that could impede their progress as a healthy, productive human being? Why would they allow them to take up a sport that could cause such pain and suffering now…or later?
They wouldn't. And that's why I applaud what the league is doing.
It hurts for me to say this. I love the game. I loved the pain and suffering. I loved making my enemy feel that pain and suffering - legally. I didn't want the NFL to change the game I loved.
And then I thought of my son, Vedder James; he's 16-months old. It changed everything. I experienced a paradigm-shift in my view of the game and what the owners were doing to the game and why it was changing.
What if Vedder wants to play the game? Wouldn't I want it to be a safer game to play?
Football has taught me so many wonderful things about life and about myself: how to take a hit, how to deal with adversity, how to get up again and again and again and do it again. Football has taught me to persevere. Football has been a wonderful teacher.
And now the game has taught me again and will teach our youth another important lesson in life: you are your brother's keeper.