General | MAN ABOUT SPORTS

Lack of fundamentals making football unrecognizable

by Dave Wiggins

Like Howard Beale, the Peter Finch character in the classic film “Network,” MAS is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore.

The horrible blocking and tackling in football nowadays, that is.

In “Network,” you’ll recall viewers were persuaded by Beale to chuck their TVs out the window to exhibit their disgust with news programming.

Well, MAS wants to do the same with his Sony wide screen every time he is exposed to the execution of the grid sport’s two bedrock techniques nowadays.

But the thing’s too damn heavy to heave.

And expensive.

So, he is left to sit and seethe.

Or hurl the occasional Florida flip-flop that won’t nick his screen.

No more though.

MAS will no longer suffer in silence.

In lieu of hurling, he will instead engage in some good ol’ fashioned lambasting.

Here goes.

For the first 100 years plus of football, the shoulder block was employed if you wanted to remove a defender that stood before you and presented a threat to your team’s ball carrier or quarterback attempting to pass.

Firing out low and hard from one’s three-point stance and getting into your foe’s soft parts was the key to rooting him out.

The blocking surface consisted of your shoulder and forearm which had to be held close to the chest. If you extended your arms outward, you were flagged for illegal use of the hands.

But then at the end of last century, the rules were changed. You were permitted to extend your arms and make contact with your hands.

Thus, traditional shoulder blocking gave way to pushing and shoving, which eventually begat the present grabbing and clutching seen in such disgusting abundance these days.

Firing out low and hard has now been replaced by standing up, reaching and grabbing a foe’s jersey and holding on to it like he’s trying to run away with the wallet that he just picked from your pocket.

Offensive and defensive linemen used to engage in colossal collisions. Today, they often resemble old ladies engaging in a hand bag fight.

If you watch any game, EVERY offensive “blocker” (and MAS uses the term lightly) grabs and holds on EVERY play.

The secret to getting away with such jersey snagging, it seems, is doing it as subtly as possible, avoiding blatant clutching.

This is change for the better?

MAS thinks not.

No wonder offensive lineman no longer wear gargantuan shoulder pads that make them look like behemoths. No need, the shoulder block is now virtually extinct.

Teeny-weeny, humpty dumpty-looking shoulder pads — the rounded-type worn formerly only by prissy quarterbacks — are now de rigueur among offensive blockers.

As a high school and college linebacker, offensive holding used to greatly offend MAS’, um, delicate sensibilities regarding right and wrong.

He became furious when it happened to him. And, to this day, MAS still turns beet red upon seeing it happen to others.

Simply put, holding is CHEATING and not how the game is supposed be played.

Small wonder MAS’ TV screen is full of flip-flop smudges, if not shoe nicks.

So why did the rules on blocking become so hideously distorted?

MAS suspects an increase in the size and agility of defenders over the years eventually made them too hard to block legally.

So, rulebook changes were implemented to slant the playing field in favor of offensive blockers, even as it created a steep slope for defenders to traverse, the angle of which gets more severe yearly.

Hence, today’s gridiron grab-a-thons.

Now, let’s examine the disintegration of the other half of football’s foundation: tackling.

MAS can’t remember the last time he saw a good old-fashioned “form” tackle.

You know, where the tackler aims low and hard with his shoulder pads, driving through a ballcarrier’s lower body while wrapping his arms around the runner’s legs.

In the words of Vince Lombardi’s immortal sideline rant: “What in the hell’s goin’ on out there?! Grab, grab, grab. Nobody’s tacklin’.”

Or, Vince could have added about today’s pitiful effort, trying to “knock down” the ballcarrier, without wrapping the arms, in a manner aimed at keeping the “tacklers” chances of injury to a bare minimum.

Defenders also wear those mini-shoulder pads. Makes sense. Why wear regular shoulder pads if you’re not going to violently sink your shoulder into an opponent’s soft spots — as MAS and other defenders of bygone eras were implored to do by coaches.

And no wonder many running backs and receivers don’t wear knee pads, hip pads or thigh pads and their pants are cut at thigh level, making them look like they’re wearing Bermuda shorts.

After all, there is no longer a clear and present danger to those body parts by tacklers, so why should they accessorize with unnecessary equipment that only serves to impede them.

Now, helmets — whoa! — that’s another story.

In what some refer to — rightly or wrongly — as the wussification of an America preoccupied with concussions, players are outfitted with helmets so large they look like members of the old Astrodome grounds crew or, for millennials, Matt Damon in “The Martian.”

And rule changes galore regarding tackling, like outlawing leading with the head, have been put into effect.

All in the name of safety.

But that’s a whole other story best saved for another day: the inherent risks involved in playing football.

And whether they will eventually lead to the abolition of the sport in its current form.

Now, MAS understands the principle of evolution. Nothing stays the same. And that includes football.

But it has gotten to the point where MAS hardly recognizes key parts of the game anymore.

And when he no longer sees rudimentary skills like blocking and tackling employed properly, his enjoyment is greatly diminished.

To him, it’s just not the traditional sport of football.

MAS also gets it that some rule changes were necessary for further protection of participants because today’s players are bigger, faster and stronger.

But it seems to him that the rule makers have run amok.

At which point, will the essence of the game have been so heavily diluted by change, that it becomes almost unrecognizable?

When that time arrives, the rules makers probably anticipate that MAS and others of his cranky, old-school ilk will be long gone.

And few people, if any, will even be aware of what has happened to the once great game of football.

By then, not only will the players be infinitely safer but so too will passers-by walking under windows where MAS used to reside while on this earth.

Contact Man About Sports at: davwigg@gmail.com