Stomp is seen as step in the wrong direction - Some Ram related
Stomp is seen as step in the wrong direction
John Russell © AP
The actions of Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth have opened a dialogue about the violent nature of the NFL and acceptable behavior by players.
Conrad Dobler's reputation as pro football's dirtiest player didn't come by accident, even if he believes some of his actions have since become urban myth.
"Over the years I've become worse than Jeffrey Dahmer," he maintains now.
Dobler, an offensive guard in the 1970s and early '80s, would leg whip opponents during his days with the St. Louis Cardinals, Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints.
He admittedly saved hits for the gray area just before the whistle. He'd punch defensive linemen in the solar plexus when they'd go airborne to knock down passes, figuring it was the quickest way to bring their hands down. He bit the fingers of the Minnesota Vikings' Doug Sutherland because he claimed the defensive lineman first tried to gouge his eye through his face mask.
"I used to say that some men get vasectomies," said Dobler, who now runs a health-care staffing business in Texas and Kansas. "I used to give them."
But even Dobler, poster child for pushing the NFL's envelope, was stunned by the head-stomping actions Sunday of the Tennessee Titans' Albert Haynesworth, whose use of the exposed face of Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode as a glorified welcome mat earned a five-game suspension without pay.
"That's not dirty," Dobler said. "That's criminal. That's having no respect for yourself or the game or the people that play in it, no respect whatsoever. And if he has no respect for a game that's paying him that much money, he has no respect for anything."
The misstep, figuratively and literally, was a clear breach of football etiquette. Even Haynesworth recognized the gravity of his actions after the fact, labeling them "disgusting."
Line of violence often blurred
Yet often, the line between vile and violent isn't so cut and dried.
Techniques such as cut blocking are legal but detested and denounced by many defensive linemen who are on the receiving end. Hard shots by safeties to receivers' heads are fineable offenses from the league but to some extent considered part of doing business by many players.
The world beneath the scrum for a loose ball can be a breeding ground for abhorrent actions in the name of coming up with the football, although some players and coaches state that what happens there often is overstated.
"A guy grabbed my throat and tried to choke me on the bottom of the pile last year, but what can I do about it?" Broncos tight end Stephen Alexander said. "It wasn't caught on film. And the ref didn't see it."
It's getting harder to not get caught doing something along those lines and paying the price, what with high-definition television, myriad camera angles and a football operations department whose job is to catch them via film review.
Rules changes have stressed player safety through the years, helping change the climate but making NFL Films poorer for it, without the rough- and-tumble techniques of a previous generation.
But as Haynesworth's case proves, heinous acts can't be stamped out completely, so to speak, when players are asked to walk the line between civilized and amped.
"There's a code among players, even though we play a violent game," said Broncos safety John Lynch, who has been fined heavily for helmet-to-helmet contact and once received a warning letter from the league that he would be watched closely during the playoffs because of his actions.
"And it's always been my view that they don't mind hits, things of that nature. People kind of see that as football. I think what they mind is things that happen after the play. Taking a guy's helmet off and stepping on them, that's obvious."
But just as often it isn't apparent and, despite the league's version of Big Brother and a nation of fans watching, even seen.
Spitting in someone's face is seen as the ultimate sign of disrespect. Bill Romanowski spitting on J.J. Stokes during a 1997 game between Denver and the San Francisco ***** drew nationwide attention. No one but the parties involved probably knew that Dwayne Carswell did the same thing to Derrick Thomas during Carswell's rookie season three seasons earlier.
Many times, retaliation is what's caught, not the act that prompted it. New England's Logan Mankins decried the treatment he had received from the Broncos' Ebenezer Ekuban during the regular season last year before punching Ekuban in the groin, drawing an ejection.
Neil carried a label
Former Broncos guard Dan Neil used to seethe every time he played against linebacker Donnie Edwards because of what he considered a retaliatory incident for his cut blocking. The now-retired offensive lineman claims Edwards grabbed his arm and tried to hyperextend it.
"It was blatant as could be," Neil recalled this week.
During his career, Neil was named in a vote by peers in Sports Illustrated as one of the league's top-five dirtiest players. It's a charge he denies. But it goes back to those gray areas, where legality and morality converge.
The Broncos' cut-blocking style has resulted in five opponents suffering broken bones in their legs and ankles since 2001, elevating them to cheap- shot artists in the minds of many teams, despite the fact cut blocking occurs leaguewide.
Neil was involved in one of those injury-inducing plays but insists even today that he fanned on an attempted cut block to linebacker Bryan Cox's legs in the open field on a screen pass in '01 and it was Cox landing wrong that resulted in a broken leg.
"I don't think we ever intentionally crossed the line," Neil said. "We never sat there and said, 'I'm going to do a dirty block on this play.' There was nothing premeditated."
And that's where Neil and many other players draw the line between what's considered hard- nosed and dirty: intent.
"Anything you know in your mind is not right is crossing the line," Alexander said.
Nasty chop blocks irk Broncos defensive tackle Gerard Warren most, something he says he witnessed on teammate Demetrin Veal against the Kansas City Chiefs three weeks ago. He believes the punishment for that action should be as harsh as the one for Haynesworth, because it can end careers, too.
But, that said, it's impossible to legislate everything, and that's coming from someone who has seen players' groins grabbed and punched in secrecy on the field.
"The violent nature of the game is evident no matter how many rules changes you have," Warren said. "Think back to the beginning of football; the president wanted to ban it. Remember? It was just a bunch of barbarians out there fighting on the field.
"You police it as much as you can. But what's over the top? I can't put a definitive word on that. It all has to do with the individual. At the end of the day, if I step on your head, I've got to take responsibility for that. And how do I back my actions for what I did? There's nothing I can say that's a good reason for doing that. It just comes down to common sense."
Back in the day . . .
Warren's sense of history is impressive.
A national controversy broke out in the early 20th century about the violence in football, predating the NFL. A series of meetings was conducted by 19 colleges in 1905-06, supposedly at the behest of Theodore Roosevelt, to deal with the issue.
The then-president threatened to ban the sport unless rules were modified to reduce the numbers of deaths and disabilities.
In 1905, according to the Yale Daily News, 18 players died and 149 suffered serious injuries. But after the new rules were enacted, the sport was cleaned up.
By the time defensive end Ed Sprinkle played for the Chicago Bears from 1944-55, the game firmly had taken root.
Labeled by Collier's Magazine as "The Meanest Man in Pro Football" for his physical style, Sprinkle became known for a clothesline technique, now banned but then legal, that was a bad match for the single-bar face mask era. He would come over the top of blockers and rain down on ballcarriers and quarterbacks with resounding force. He broke Frankie Filchock's nose in the 1946 NFL championship game using the technique that earned him the nickname, "The Hook."
"But I never stomped on anybody or slugged anybody. I was playing football," he said.
Sprinkle recalled Bucko Kilroy of the Philadelphia Eagles kicking Bears guard Ray Bray and witnessed guys getting "slugged or losing their temper" in his day. But even in that nascent era, when quarterbacks often ran for their lives and rules weren't designed to protect them like today, he contended he never saw an act like the one involving Haynesworth.
"Some guys had a reputation of being kind of tough," Sprinkle said. "But something like that would have been intolerable, really."
That was the league's stance when it handed down Haynesworth's punishment, the longest ever doled out for on-field behavior and the first suspension for playing actions handed down since Green Bay's Charles Martin got two games for slamming Chicago quarterback Jim McMahon on his shoulder in 1986.
But New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison thinks a seasonlong ban was warranted so Haynesworth could think about his life's priorities. Dobler and Sprinkle think even a lifetime ban should be considered.
"You have to treat human beings as human beings," Harrison said. "You can't just blatantly be out there trying to hurt someone. If you're stepping on someone's face, what are you doing? You're intentionally trying to hurt someone. There's no place for that."
Some might say Harrison is the wrong person to be making such judgments, because he is among the most polarizing figures in the league.
Harrison's talent is undeniable, but he has made only one Pro Bowl in his career, probably because of extracurricular activities he has employed meant to take players out of their comfort zone. He has been fined more than $200,000 in his career for his actions.
Pushing the boundaries
Harrison, like Dobler a generation before, constantly pushes boundaries in an effort to get opponents out of their game and turn their attention toward him instead of the task at hand. He has been known to strike opponents standing around the pile when the play essentially is over. He'll also frequently put his hands inside face masks and hit in the back when opponents aren't looking.
"I have peace in my heart. But when it comes time to suit up, I do what I have to do," Harrison said. "I'm at peace, but I'll do my job, too."
But Neil said all those extracurricular activities don't really work in a testosterone-filled sport like football.
"It's unnecessary and I don't think there's a place for it, but I accept that's the way some players play the game," he said. "Some guys think they have to intimidate people or play mean and tough and dirty, and there's really no need for it because you're not going to intimidate anybody out there."
Those players with questionable on-field rap sheets are cataloged and discussed in locker room settings, according to Lynch. The so-called "cheap- shot artists" also are dealt with on the field, usually legally, so as not to stoop to that level.
In the season opener in September in St. Louis, Lynch related a story about one young Rams player receiving a warning that he was developing a reputation and he had better "watch it."
And watch it, fans do. The NFL has become the nation's most popular sport, in part because of the game's skill level - and violence.
Weeding out dirty play has a functional purpose, because needless injuries never are warranted. But it also has to do with the league wanting to maintain an image of controlled chaos mixed with unbelievable skill and speed.
But for all the rules and fines, in the end, it's up to the players to leave crossing the line to the first- down marker and end zone.
"I think it goes back to how your mom raised you - treat people the way you want to be treated," Lynch said. "Does somebody want to get the (snot) knocked out of them? No. But it goes along with what we do. The other stuff, you're going, 'Come on, man. You don't need to do that.' I think you just kind of learn it."
Re: Stomp is seen as step in the wrong direction - Some Ram related
<In the season opener in September in St. Louis, Lynch related a story about one young Rams player receiving a warning that he was developing a reputation and he had better "watch it.">
I wonder who they were referring to. Anyone know??