Chuck Wing, Deseret News
What is happening to football?
The NFL postponed the Philadelphia Eagles versus the Minnesota Vikings game until today. Because of snow?
That is what some diehard lovers of the game now claim: We are seeing the sissification of football.
One of those critics is former BYU defensive star Derik Stevenson. Two weeks ago he picked up an AP story that ran in the Deseret News and read an article about concussions being up 21 percent in the NFL.
"What is happening to my sport?" he asks in a recent e-mail to me.
Stevenson played for the Cougars in 1992 and 95-98. You might remember Stevenson. He's the BYU player who saw his father get in a scuffle with Utah fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium when Ryan Kaneshiro's 32-yard field goal hit the upright and dropped harmlessly to the ground. Stevenson dove into the fray in the stands to his dad's aid.
"After hanging up the football helmet in 2000, I stopped following the sport for about six or seven years. After playing it for almost 20 years I wanted to focus on other things. Now I sit down and turn on a weekend matchup and I simply shake my head. What are they trying to do to football? It is being turned into something I almost don't recognize.
"Maybe my extended absence from playing and even watching allows me to see what the committed observer doesn't see. When did they start to discourage and even make illegal the vicious hits? From the time I was six years old I was instructed as a tackler to 'lead with my eyes.' You were to put your helmet straight into the ball-carrier's face. I tried to hit that way until I was 26. It was the technique of the 'sure tackler' and the 'crowd pleaser.' Sure there are risks involved, but that's football ... That's life! Do people know that every player gets hurt every game? They will have to outlaw the entire sport when word of that fact gets out."
It is true. Rule changes to protect the quarterback have impacted defensive players and taken some aggression out of the game.
"On top of trying to make slobber-knockers illegal, did you see the Bears vs. Patriots game?" asked Stevenson.
The weather factor came into play that day.
"Did you see how many players wore long-sleeved shirts because it was cold? Really?
"I used to start to salivate when I lined up across from a tight end or running back in thermal underwear. I could smell weakness. I knew I would have him in tears before halftime. Did you notice that the one linebacker from my era, Brian Urlacher, didn't even have an undershirt on under his pads? Too much pride in that guy. Raised in a tougher time. It could have been 40 below and he'd be shirtless. That's what men do.
"Back at BYU, if a freshman or JC transfer came out onto the practice field in November or December with a sweatshirt under his pads I promptly sent him back into the locker room to change, even the kickers and quarterbacks. If they refused, they usually got punched in the mouth. They have other sports for guys like that."
Maybe there's a sprinkle of hyperbole there. Maybe not.
"Even worse than the players dressing like sissies ... what's with these guys writhing on the turf in agony every other play? My Pop Warner coaches told me at six that I could 'never show signs of weakness.' They told me that it would only make the enemy stronger.
"I played almost 20 years and refused to let on that I was hurt or tired. It's why coaches don't let you bend over with your hands on your knees during conditioning or scrimmages. Guys today act like European soccer players. A few seconds later, they prance off the field as if nothing happened. You would've had to shoot (former BYU star linebacker) Rob Morris with a gun to make him lay down until the trainers came out. If (former BYU star offensive lineman) John Tait had both legs ripped off during a game he would have dragged himself off the field using only his arms. You were to never lay down on the field of battle."
Well, Derik, now they are canceling NFL games because of snow. It may have been due to safety and transportation issues; it may have been the facilities were simply unmanageable for crowds to move around inside the stadium. I don't know if it was due to discomfort of players, but Dick Butkus certainly would not have been amused and I bet you aren't either.
The Eagles-Vikings game tonight will be the NFL's first Tuesday game since Oct. 1, 1946.
"I guess it was a different time. It'll soon be a different sport," Stevenson said.
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