Ed Bouchette on the Steelers: Skirts on quarterbacks?

In light of the recent fines on Hines Ward and James Harrison, doesn't it make you wonder what Jack Lambert would think of the direction the NFL has headed?

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Linebacker Jack Lambert wanted to put skirts on quarterbacks 30 years ago. Now the NFL is, essentially, outfitting defensive players in dresses.

Hines Ward was fined $10,000 for smacking Jacksonville cornerback Rashean Mathis Oct. 5. It was the second time in a row Ward was fined for unnecessary roughness against a defender. What might Lambert think of that?

Commissioner Roger Goodell has to be careful that his administration, in its zeal to fine everything that moves, does not alter the game and turn it into smurfball, or, as Troy Polamalu so eloquently put it, "a pansy game." The sport is brutal and physical, one reason it has become the most popular sport in America.

But it's getting to the point where French maids will show up wearing white gloves, walk through a locker room before the game and go, "Dust! That'll cost you $10,000."

Ward being fined for unnecessary roughness sends a message to every player. It tells them not to play too rough, boys, because Gene Washington and Ray Anderson are watching. They are the league's watchdogs, the men who view the videos on Mondays and dole out the fines.

It's getting so that Goodell, in an interview with the New York Times last week, said the league would consider weight limits for its players.

"People have talked about it. You never rule something like that out, but the reality is kids are just bigger now then they were before, and you can just see it. You'd have to really think hard about that one."

Think hard? It should not be a thought at all. The game has a way of weeding out players who are out of shape, and if they're big and in shape, what's the problem?

The league sounds as though it is playing mommy and worried that little Johnny might get hurt. What next, wide receivers cannot block at all? No one can tackle from behind?

The NFL should crack down on the real, vicious hits that are outlawed by the rules and forget the ticky-tack stuff because it waters down the message. If the idea is to protect the players, then protect them by punishing those hits that are outside the rules and can injure someone.

Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, who wrote a letter to the league to protest Ward's first unnecessary roughness fine against the Ravens, said the league showed some truly "gruesome hits" from this season on video during their meetings in St. Petersburg, Fla., the past week.

The clips showed "guys going out of their way to hit a quarterback on an interception," Rooney said, "hitting a kicker coming down the field, making a real effort.

"I think those guys should be bounced right out of the game. I wouldn't treat them nicely. A guy who goes out of his way and, it looks like, to maim somebody, I'd bounce him out of there, I'd look at it again and maybe suspend him again -- you lose him when he does it and you lose him the next game."

But hits like Ward's? Not in the same breath, Rooney said.

"You're asking the officials to do some things that are pretty hard to do, like the Hines thing -- he didn't get a flag and then they're saying he's too rough. He's a skinny kid, for crying out loud."

A good hit doesn't make it a good tackle

It's rare to see a defender wrap his arms around a ballcarrier to tackle him in football as it's played today. More often, they launch themselves into the runner with the idea that the force will bring him down. It's a big reason why there are more missed tackles than there were when Mike Wagner played.

"We don't see the tackling techniques like before,'' said Wagner, the starting free safety during the Steelers Super '70s teams. "You don't see the wrap-ups, you don't see them dropping their shoulder and driving. You see arm tackling, or no tackling, just trying to cut them out. They make a big hit and everyone bounces.

"I watched the Giants-Cleveland game last week. The NFL reminds me of high school football -- you see scrums, they can't get the running backs down, they're not wrapping them up and taking their legs down.''

James Farrior, the Steelers' defensive captain, agrees.

"That's what the game's come to. You have these super athletes, they can hit you running at full speed, they don't need to tackle you sometimes. I think the fundamentals of tackling are lost, they don't really teach you that."

Farrior also agreed that the big hit for a tackle has a better chance of making it onto the TV highlights shows than merely wrapping up a ballcarrier to bring him down.

"That has a lot to do with it," he said.

What's one or two more games? Plenty

The NFL will consider expanding the regular season by one or two games beyond its 16-game schedule for the obvious reason -- money. And while the players normally would resist extending their work schedule, they can be expected to go along provided they receive some of the extra money that would go with the extra games.

But what about the injury factor the NFL seems to be so concerned about? The more games they ask these guys to play, the more worn out they're going to get and the more chances of injury will be presented.

Yes, they would reduce the preseason by the number of games added to the regular season. But how many starters play long in those four preseason games? They'll be playing, for the most part, all of the one or two regular-season games that are added.

The NFL worries that more and more fans consider preseason games a waste of their time and money as more coaches rest more starters more often.

It's probably the only pro sport that worries about who plays in the preseason. When has anyone raised an issue about the integrity of not using starters long in preseason games in the NBA, NHL or baseball?

Those sports also have kept the length of their regular seasons steady. Baseball has played 162 games since 1961 and 1962. The NBA has played an 82-game schedule since 1967-68, two more than it had two years earlier. The NHL, which added four games to reach 84 in 1992-93, trimmed two games to its current 82-game schedule in 1995-96.

If the NFL adds two games, it will increase its regular-season schedule by 12.5 percent.


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