February 7, 2012 by David Gillaspie
(originally posted on oregonsportsnews.com)
The thrill of victory
Everyone feels the excitement around a Super Bowl. Those who don’t are lying. From sports fans to gardening fans, everyone digs the biggest game in all of sports.
Maybe the winner-takes-all format drives the thrill machine leading to Super Sunday. After all, it’s not a series of seven games like baseball and basketball.
Players say an NFL game feels like a car crash each week. What kind of crash would an NBA Finals game 7 be, or Major League Baseball’s World Series game 7? No other sport has as many occupational hazards as NFL football.
Take a solid hit in the NBA for example. It used to be worth cheering when big man took a charge in the middle of the key. A cutting guard doesn’t see him and runs into the man-wall full speed. To make it worse he’s looking for the ball.
The guard crumbles to the floor in a complete collapse. His ankles fold, knees shake. His hips can’t support his torso. The only functioning body parts are the arms he throws out to keep his head from bouncing.
A hit like that is hard to fake. It’s not on the same scale as a receiver catching a late ball across the middle, but it still counts. The receiver gets pin-wheeled in the air by a defensive back patrolling his territory like a North Korean border guard and all agree it’s part of the game.
Those hits happen all the time in football. Every play has a wipe out where you marvel at human endurance and football pads when they get up and trot back to the huddle.
At least the NFL brought in rules against head to head hits. No one wants another life threatening hit, just a good hard slammer that makes a room say, “OHHH.” Those are gruesome enough.
The NBA has gone the opposite direction. They are more in line with European soccer than a NASCAR pile up. You might see collision that sends one player flying. You feel the pain. Then slow motions shows a laundry foul, the kind where acting lessons play a bigger part than first aid.
Rubbing against someone’s jersey and taking a dive to fool the refs is no way to build a hard-nosed reputation like the NFL.
If soccer is a bad analogy for basketball hits, consider this: a mid-fielder leaps high for a header with an opponent climbing the ladder beside him. The first guy drops like he’s been shot and the ref whips out a red card. Teammates lift the fallen soccer star under each arm to drag him off.
The ejected player leaves the field.
Slow motion shows the impact. Of their jerseys. Five minutes later the crippled player is back on the pitch flying to the ball.
Basketball watches and learns. When Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics went down in an important game a few years back, he left the court in a wheel chair. He returned on foot to play later, no wheel chair.
Do football games have wheel chairs, you wonder? If they do, they’re inside the ambulance near the stretcher. When injured football players leave, it’s on that stretcher or riding on the back of a cart. They don’t usually come back to play the rest of the game. They go to a hospital.
How about the boys of summer? Baseball hits come in two varieties. One is a base hit. The other is the collision. At least baseball hits are authentic, even if the worst come from outfielders on the same team running into each other while chasing a fly ball. Soccer needs to study that film to add more realism to their act.
The hardest hits include the one Pete Rose leveled on catcher Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game. Even Ty Cobb has to appreciate that one, though he’d probably say Charlie Hustle needed to come in spikes high around crotch level the way they did in his day. The appendectomy slide isn’t seen as much in the modern era.
Big hits make football players seem like supermen when they pop back to their feet. Sports fans feel it when they see their favorite guys take the hits and get up afterward.
Even with all the big hits, football is changing. Is it becoming a victim of the ‘nanny state’ where over protection is the rule? Since NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said player safety is his main issue, you might think so. But you’d be wrong.
The name of the game is big men slamming into one another. The linemen who do it are unique in the world of sports. They are the reason for building new stadiums, for raising television contracts, and winning Super Bowls. They are who rivet sports fans to the screen.
The next time you hear a non-sports fan call football a child’s game played by grown men with over active pituitary glands, share your knowledge. Tell them how professional football players take the field in spite of the known risks.
Explain how they face life changing head trauma and bone crushing danger on every play. Remind them that current players know of retirees dying in their forties and fifties. They know they’ll be gone before their time, yet they still pull on their pants one leg at a time and buckle their chin straps.
Just like you, NFL football players know about the bad things, but they hope and pray and prepare hard so it won’t happen to them. For that they deserve even grudging respect.
Try to explain the idea to the next person who doesn’t get it. Then show them the difference between cheering in front of a television screen and at the stadium.
Make them a sports fan and you’ve made a new friend.