Tim Rogers has covered prep sports for four decades, spending most of that time as a self-described “newspaper” man in Northeast Ohio. Today Mr. Rogers goes digital. JJHuddle.com is proud to announce a new weekly column by Rogers that will appear every Wednesday. The topic? Anything high school related. The writer? One of Ohio’s best at covering preps. Today we welcome Tim to the line up.
Rogers: Over and Out
By Tim Rogers
Tackling the Issue of Flawed Football Fundamentals
We need to make a change.
It has been 50 years since I tackled anyone in a competitive football game but the words of my coaches on the FleetWing youth teams (RIP) still ring true.
“Hit him low” was the coaching mantra of youth football in Cleveland – and around the country, I assume – in the early 1960s. It was a simple and efficient directive, as plain as the number on your jersey. Grab the guy carrying the football around the ankles and he wasn’t going anywhere. Wrap your arms around his legs below the knees and he’ll drop in an instant.
“A ball carrier makes his living with his legs,” one of my volunteer coaches astutely pointed out. “Take his legs away and he’s done for. Grab him around the shoulders and he’s liable to drag you 10 yards. That’s not the goal. Keep your head up and tackle the guy by his feet.”
Obviously, the game and its coaching has changed. I am not too sure for the better.
“Hit him low” has been replaced with “Take his head off.”
If you don’t believe that you simply are not paying attention. Or, you have pulled your stadium blanket over your head and stuck it in the turf.
As the game evolved into the free-for-all that it has become, a simple, clean tackle is no longer sufficient. You have to hit the guy so hard and so high that you separate him from the ball. You have to ring his bell. Clean his clock. Knock his face in the dirt. Don’t worry about wrapping him up. Just hit him in the head with all the force you can. Use your helmet, if need be. That’s what football has become.
All in the name of football glory. I say bull.
Just as the dunk has contributed to the de-emphasis of skills in basketball, sacrificing solid tackling technique for blatant physical destruction is taking something away from football.
And, don’t give me the argument that football is a physical game. I get that. It’s always been a physical game. But, there is a difference between playing physically and playing with an intent to injure. Players at all levels have been coached to play that way, from peewees to pros.
“Everyone wants to see the big blow-up tackle,” said Beau Rugg, the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s director of officiating. “That’s all you see on television. We need to better identify what is legal and what isn’t. Kids are not being taught the proper way to make a tackle.”
The practice of not using your arms to make a tackle, like many of the game’s other ills — i.e. taunting, excessive celebration, trash talking, showboating – have filtered down from the professional ranks.
How often have you witnessed this scenario, whether it was on a Friday night or a Saturday/Sunday afternoon: A wide receiver makes a catch. Simultaneously, or in an instant, he is whacked around the head or shoulders by a defender? Instead of falling, the receiver bounces off the would-be tackler and runs into the end zone.
If you haven’t seen that, watch a Browns game. Happens at least three or four times. Defenders routinely sacrifice tackling technique for machismo. Spare me. Give me the guy who makes plays.
Is it any wonder that concussions in football are piling up faster than the national debt, despite the improvements in equipment?
You can add all the sideline doctors and athletic trainers you want. You can import NASA scientists to improve the effectiveness of helmets. It won’t help. Defensive players wear helmets too and helmets have become weapons.
Am I saying all coaches are using the “mayhem first” approach? Not by any means. But, too many are.
So, where does the blame lie?
Part of the blame lies at the feet of the professionals. Obviously, the financial stakes are higher on a Sunday than on your basic Friday night. Youngsters watch the professionals on television and try to emulate them. Happens in every sport. Television promotes the violence by repeatedly airing replays of lethal hits while ignoring clean, open-field tackles at the feet. Why not just show Mike Tyson’s greatest knockouts and be done with it?
I get the difference between the NFL and the Federal League. I realize the divergence between the Big Ten and the Midwest Athletic Conference. If the NFL wants to play that way, fine. It’s their league. Risking life-threatening injury in exchange for a multi-million dollar contract goes with the territory. It’s the risk you take. Ditto the NCAA to some extent.
But something must be done before this really gets out of hand at the high school level.
Here is my proposal:
Just make it illegal. If a player makes a hit above the arm pits with no attempt to use his arms it is a 15-yard penalty and automatic ejection for the rest of that game and another. Yes, it is a judgment call, but so is pass interference.
If the same player does it again, he is expelled for the remainder of the season and the school is fined $1,000. If it’s a different player the same penalty applies to the player and the school is fined another $1,000.
Over the top, you say? High school football should be and can be fun. Sitting in a hospital with an intentionally-caused concussion is not. The choice is a no-brainer.