"Quality Of The Game and Butkus"



Quality of the Game and Butkus  PART I


By Dr. Ken 

For those who enjoy professional football and care about the quality of the game, it is rather easy to consider and agree with the criticisms of today’s game relative to a past era. I can recall that in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, if one made the comment that “Pro football players in the past were tougher and played a ‘better’ game” the usual retort would be “I disagree because today’s players are so much bigger, faster, and stronger” and one would have agreed and perhaps conceded that the game played from one era to another was comparable in quality. One rarely hears those arguments any longer. The absolutely horrid lack of fundamentals makes it difficult to defend today’s game as “better.”

The N.Y. Giants of the early 1970’s demonstrate basic running game fundamentals


“Basketball on grass” is perhaps a more accurate description of what has become a glorified Seven-on-Seven passing tournament every football Saturday and Sunday. Despite the change in rules that gives enormous advantages to the offensive blockers with extension of the arms and what has become legalized holding, few offensive linemen of this current era could consistently run-block at a barely acceptable level if asked to do so in a 1960’s run-first offense. What seems like WWF choke holds are standard “no penalty” procedures for offensive linemen intent on protecting their quarterbacks as even the “arms extended” blocking rules have not allowed them to consistently curtail the rush of opposing defensive linemen. They also seem content with the knowledge that as long as there isn’t eighteen inches of jersey being pulled from an opponent’s body that they won’t be called for holding, thus, they hold.

On defense its worse. It seems as if anyone who makes what we used to refer to as a “form tackle” is singled out by the analysts as having made “a great tackle.” No, they made a proper tackle, a correct tackle, not a great tackle.

Nebraska DB Kent Smith: head up, hit through the man, wrap!


I have, as a former secondary school educator and administrator placed much of the blame on Sesame Street. Before one wonders how you make the leap from “lack of football fundamentals and absence of tackling skills” to Sesame Street, please consider the following rant. I can recall speaking with the head of the Graduate Department of Special Education at Hofstra University in the winter of 1970 as we discussed a television show that had debuted only months before. The show of course was Sesame Street, supposedly designed to enhance the learning skills of young children, but we both saw and agreed upon what was from our perspective, obvious shortcomings. Still hailed as a significant positive step in pre-school educational preparation, it was and remains my opinion that the quick cuts and multitude of brief segments that focus upon the orienting response of the brain has done little more than add to the inability of most children to properly focus their attention on any singular task. The barrage of sights and sounds, and “cutesy” approaches to presenting material conditioned young children to receive their information in this way and again, in my opinion, opened the door to ESPN and similar types of sports reporting shows which have functioned with a similar format. In fairness to ESPN, movie trailers, television show highlights, and commercials are presented in the same manner, with rapid changes for a multitude of images and of course, to maintain interest, there is accompanying noise and lots of it. Though the cause or causes of the steady decline in educational achievement is the center of constant debate, with genetics, media, and other factors all contributing to the problem, what we have cultivated are two or three generations of adults with increased incident of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders and related inabilities to pay attention to anything that isn’t presented to them as a sensory Blitzkrieg. Still revered by many educators, Sesame Street has in effect contributed to if not having given rise to an industry of psychological counseling and pharmacology that would be difficult to rival.

Big Ben Davidson’s “form tackling” still felt like a “kill shot” 


Watching ESPN, we now have a culture of celebrity that has merged with the bang-bang media blitz mentality. The goal is not to be a “good player” but to be a “known player.” Again, this is a reflection of the entire society and what holds value for the typical person on the street. The signs for this came early. In a mid-1970’s poll, Psychology Today Magazine revealed that those considered as “Heroes to the American Public” of the 1950’s through the mid-1960’s included individuals such as General and President Dwight Eisenhower, President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Marie Curie, and others who “represented values and made significant contributions to the benefit of society.” By the mid-1970’s most of the so-called heroes included actors, actresses, and rock and roll performers. The most glaring difference was a representation of values and achievement versus celebrity status. Few on the more modern list could claim any true contribution to the well being of their fellow man, other than providing entertainment value through their work. I am not denigrating this quality but to place them above those whose life’s work and accomplishments shaped the course of history, or saved lives mystified me. It has only become worse as today’s culture of Jersey Shore and “reality” type television shows glorifies nothing of substance, ability, or talent, only of “being known.” In athletics, the same mentality prevails. Our defensive players are not content to run to their offensive opponent, break down into correct tackling position, make contact, wrap, and drop their man as they attempt to hit “through the opponent.” Almost every player goes for the kill shot, the big hit that will put them squarely in the eye of the big mouthed bombastic commentators who can ooh-and-ah at their “huge hit” and obligatory celebration gyrations. Is it even possible to count the number of mediocre running backs who are made to look like All Pros only because no one knows how to tackle any longer? Compounding the lack of tackling ability is of course, the refusal of players to practice tackling and/or hard contact and the hesitation on the part of management to allow it. Players are paid too much money to expect them to practice in a manner that might cause injury and of course, that subtracts from the “product on the field” on game day. This shortsightedness prevents all involved from understanding that the “product on the field” stinks to begin with because of the lack of fundamentals.



Being known, being “somebody,” and perhaps getting an endorsement contract has led the most marginal of players to embarrass themselves weekly. Let’s face reality in the world of pro football. If you are a special teams player and this is your limited and defined role, and you are fulfilling this role not because you are the incarnation of Steve Tasker, Mickey Walker, or Bill Brown, then you are an NFL player who is barely hanging on to your job. You are not only expected to maintain your lane responsibility when covering kicks, you need to tackle and do everything else correctly as your very livelihood is at stake. Yet even if three touchdowns behind, a special teams tackle will initiate the most grotesque display of shimmy-shakes and unsportsmanlike wiggling from the least valuable man on the roster.



Again, look back to the mentality of the players and what they believe is expected of them. They want to be “a highlight,” they want to be the center of attention, they want to be someone. It is the athletic version of Sesame Street awash in our cultural equivalent of the Badlands. It makes the accomplishments of those from the previous era even more significant. It demands a discussion about Butkus, all of them!


Continued next month: