I know a lot of people blame a third-rate second string quarterback taking a knee in San Francisco for the loss in popularity of the National Football League, but it was a hall of fame super star quarterback’s bent knee that really did the deed. It was the first game of the 2008 campaign and Brady got hit while throwing a pass. A defender tried to tackle him while a running back tried to block the defensive player. Back then the owners of NFL teams tried to field the best teams they could. They owned teams and players. They paid the best price they could afford for a quarterback to play the game of football. Back then quarterbacks dropped back and tried to throw complete passes, blockers tried to stop defensive players from hitting the quarterback, and linebackers tried to hit quarterbacks to keep them from completing passes. Every body tried to do their job…that sound familiar to you Patriot fans?? But then Brady got hit. You can take a look at the play for yourself. Personally I hate watching replays of injuries. It reminds my body about old aches and pains.
The play is awkward. In spite of the commentary of the always over dramatic Dan Dierdorf who says Brady took “a tremendous shot” to the knee, it was really just a freak play. It wasn’t too different from the Lawrence Taylor – Joe Theismann leg breaker. It was angles and forces and bodies intersecting in a game of controlled violence. And, just like the LT – Theismann play, there was no penalty on the field and no fine levied against the player who applied the hit.
But something happened on the way to the Emergency Room. All of a sudden it dawned on the owners that one of the stars of the league was going to be out for the season, and that concerned them. Were people going to watch NFL games if there were no stars? Wasn’t Brady’s absence going to cause a fall in ratings? Shouldn’t they do something to protect their product? So….the NFL competition committee decided to do something about it. They instituted a new rule, the Brady rule that basically said you couldn’t do what the defender did when he hit Tom Brady’s knee.
What you need to know about the competition committee is that they meet every year to discuss the rules of the game and other issues impacting how the game is played. It is made up of a collection of owners, general managers and head coaches of NFL teams, not players and not fans of the game or people who watch the games for entertainment. All the people on the competition committee earn their living from the game of football as it is played in the National Football League. You understand what that means? It means people who are protecting their bank accounts are deciding what the game of football is and what it isn’t. You have to think about that for a while before you begin to understand why the NFL is dead on its feet. And it is dead. They should have paid attention to NASCAR which is another dead sport.
All you need to do is catch a wide angle camera shot of the stands at a NASCAR race these days and you’ll see thousands of empty seats in racing venues that were selling out not long ago. NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing began its decline when it decided to implement rules that would make racing more safe and competitive. They stopped being stock cars (in other words cars outfitted with gear that technically anyone could buy and put in their personal (stock) car) and morphed into sheet metal shells full of high tech custom built mechanical gear. The rules and procedures they adopted meant the cars were faux stock cars and the races were no longer decided by drivers, they were decided by back room big shots, NASCAR officials and their version of referees making calls on race day. It is boring and frustrating to watch and the outcome is determined by things fans aren’t interested in. NASCAR used to be exciting to watch because it was a real competition, now it is an exercise in technical details and sometimes the most interesting thing that happens is that someone gets caught cheating by bending a fender in a quarter of an inch to get a mechanical advantage over the other teams. And even when that happens NASCAR doesn’t do anything dramatic like taking their race result completely away from them.
The NFL died the day they decided a player was more important than the game. Brady is a great quarterback and will be in the Hall of Fame – and I hate the Patriots but you gotta give them their due – but he is not the game of football. When he started to get up from getting popped by a good solid hit and throwing his arms up in the air in the motion of throwing a flag, the game started to disgust me. Terry Bradshaw would never have thought of doing that (another team and quarterback I hated). The Brady rule was just the start. If the quarterbacks were so important, how could they be the stars they needed to be without receivers to catch their passes thrown from the bubble of untouchability? Receivers had to be protected too. So we got the “defenseless player” rule to keep them from getting popped too hard. And if a quarterback’s knees are important, surely his head is more important so we got the “can’t touch a quarterback’s head area rule. The game is ruined now and people are trying to figure out why no one is watching. It is true that while all the rule changes were happening the sports media decided to become social commentators (thank you so much Bob Costas et al) and players did really stupid things off the field (thank you so much Ray Rice et al) and then came the socially aware protests (thank you so much Colin Kaepernick et al), but all those things proceeded out of a weakened structure. You add in the truly ridiculous replay rules and questions about how many receivers can dance on the head of a pin and the zebras running around having coffee conferences during games and not only is it boring, it is unintelligible. What is a legal hit and what isn’t? What is a pass reception and what isn’t? What is a fumble and what isn’t? Who can get hit in the head and who can’t? (that’s a good question to ask Cam Newton and Tom Brady at a presser) Is a touchdown a touchdown if you can’t see the football in a pile of 250 lb men? Once the game became so diluted that the average fan can’t understand it and they can understand that some egg head with a lot of money is running the show, the game is dead to them. The NFL committed suicide but its taking a long time to die. I guess that’s what happens when you bleed out from a gun shot to the knee.