Bam, zap, wow, boom and crack. No, I am not talking about the sound effects we hear while sitting through an old Batman TV episode, nor am I referring to a current narration of “America’s most violent game” by NFL Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster John Madden. I am alluding to the sounds caused by the Pittsburgh Steelers recent graduate from “Madman” University with a Ph.D. in “anti-cross-the-middle-ism.” James Harrison makes those ear shattering noises when he meets another player head to head on the gridiron. The Steelers beat the Browns 28-10, but Harrison beat Cleveland wide receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi 2-0, both leaving the game with head injuries.
The way Mr. Harrison delivers punishment it is very difficult to discern whether to: 1. Throw a penalty flag after he finishes off a play; 2. Charge him with simple assault and deliver him to the nursing home of the retired magistrate that presided over the “underground courthouse” that was located within the bowels of old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. A special branch of jurisprudence was practiced in the “night court” with a no-nonsense judge who charged, tried and sentenced fan/felons for various violations of “civilization codes” that were routinely and consistently violated during a typical Eagles game; 3. Strap Harrison to a chair, administer Gatorade intravenously and force him to watch game films of old school assaulters Bronco Nagurski, Dick Butkus, “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, Deacon Jones, Jack Lambert, Jack Tatum, Mel Blount and Donnie Shell delivering treacherous and pre-meditated torture to offenses of yesteryear B.F. (before fines); 4. Sanction and permit the issuance of special gun permits to offensive players directed to create a GPS free route across the middle en route to the end zone. These players would have to have special firearms training to be accurate in hitting a target area just below Harrison’s knees and above his ankles or 5. Finally, suspend Harrison for a minimum of four games for posing as a chiropractor and practicing the art of headhunting and neck bone rearranging within the confines of an NFL stadium without a license.
In a 1984 article in Sports Illustrated, Paul Zimmerman wrote, “It’s not the kind of thing you’d want your mother or your wife to see. It’s what Attila must’ve looked like while he was sacking a village, or the way a Viking chieftain was with his blood lust up. Only this Viking wears No. 58 and he’s dressed in the gold and black of the Steelers, eyes flashing in a maniacal frenzy; blood flecking his nose; his mouth, minus three front teeth, bared in a hideous leer. Jack Lambert’s portrait epitomizes the viciousness and cruelty of our national game.”
The NFL, pressed by the “hard lemonade” drinkers, is being held at gunpoint with the rule book pressed into the wall. At this very moment, the game is being robbed of its gladiator ambiance. Concussions are a product of the game not the result of helmet to helmet, smelts to smelts hits. Is James Harrison supposed to ring the doorbell and introduce himself before he rings the opposing player’s bell? Football is a violent and bloodthirsty sport played by violent men in violent and bloodthirsty times. If men are going to be paid to fling each other around and smash each other onto the ground then don’t expect them to leave the field of play with injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome or some other malady usually associated with being an MBA or some other white collar vocation that requires your XP skills to be picture perfect as opposed to your tackling techniques.
Zimmerman went on to say, “At one time middle linebackers roamed the league like goliaths. Nitschke, Butkus, Schmidt—names as tough as the people who carried them. Willie Lanier, with the pad he wore on the front of his helmet. Mike Curtis, the Animal. Bob Griese talks about staring across the line at Butkus and feeling his legs turn to jelly.”
This next observation is by no means meant to trivialize or minimize the importance of the men and women who shed blood, sweat and tears for the freedom of our country. Soldiers are trained to kill other human beings as one of the processes of and in the act of war. But often when they return home, they retain the aggressive, survival traits that have been woven into their psyche. Similar issues may possibly apply to James Harrison, the pro football player. He is just doing what he was trained to do. Athletes who play football are taught from the earliest ages to hit first and ask questions later. As soon as they develop and refine that skill to its optimum level, the two-headed dragon called the “book of rules” attempts to change the nature of the game as well as the nature of the “beast.” When James Harrison stops an opposing player in his tracks it is a thing of beauty. My suggestion is to leave the beauty, (the game) and the beast, (the players) alone. Let the games begin.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741.)