I think this new rule is good for the game for one primary reason, and it doesn't have to do with safety.
It's good because it's making offensive players play under some of the same constraints as defensive players. It's about fairness. Hey, if a defensive player can't initiate a forcible blow with the crown of his helmet, then an offensive player shouldn't be able to, either.
This makes the confrontations in the open field fairer, and all the restrictions on defensive players had been tilting those confrontations more toward the offense. No helmet-to-helmet hits, no launching, no contact to the head or neck area. They all applied to defenders. Now there's something similar an offensive player can't do.
Do I think this rule will be difficult to officiate? Absolutely. It's fraught with all kinds of potential problems. You're asking the officials, who are already charged with monitoring too many things, to judge an offensive player's intent when he braces for contact or decides to deliver a hit in the open field.
Helmets inevitably are going to collide at some of these moments, and the officials will have to determine whether the runner intended for that to happen, or if it was just incidental. Deciding that at game speed in the heat of the moment will be, yet, another judgment call for an already overtaxed officiating crew, and any accompanying 15-yard penalty could be the difference between being in scoring position and having to punt. These calls could, and will, change some games.
But all the extra protections for quarterbacks, defenseless receivers and the like have led to game-changing calls, too. There was a lot of howling in the beginning and there still is, but it just takes time before any rule attempting to limit violence becomes more accepted. It will be no different with this one.
The intent question is so sticky here that I think this rule, and some others like it, might eventually be subject to replay review, but that's a discussion for another day.
At the moment, the league is continuing to protect players from themselves in the name of safety. Over the long haul, players with fewer post-career brain issues will be saying thanks. In the short term, I think it only makes sense for a non-quarterback-related restriction to apply uniformly to all players on the field.
They didn't even table it for more fact-finding, conversation, consideration, second thoughts, third thoughts, etc. Isn't something this critical to the game's allure worthy of more time spent on its passage?
The fact that the answer to that question is no might say it all about the importance of addressing player safety. Clearly, it is job one in Commissioner Roger Goodell's NFL.
Now I worry that I may never again hear words that I had come to associate with the very meaning of the game. Will I ever again hear a coach yell out, "Drop your pads," to a young running back trying to announce his intentions in an NFL training camp. Will I ever again hear the words "initiate contact." Are those days gone? Did they leave us today forever more when the NFL passed a rule prohibiting offensive players from striking an opponent with the crown of the helmet while outside the tackle box.
"Duck!" Is that what I'm going to hear coaches yell to their players?
How do you drop your pads without dropping your head? You don't. How do you initiate contact without dropping your pads, which would run the risk of striking the helmet of a defender who attempted to protect himself by dropping his pads and his helmet? You don't.
Chuck Noll always told his players "first contact wins." Not anymore. Not in this NFL.
I'm exaggerating? I'm making this worse than it really is? OK, maybe, or maybe not. Either way, cut me a break because I'm in mourning today for a game I've loved since before Sputnik. I'm in mourning for a culture that is being forced to change because I'm part of that culture and I don't want to change. It was one of the few things about myself I genuinely liked.
It's been a bad day. The doctor told me this morning I have to have shoulder surgery and he said it's gonna hurt. Then, this afternoon, I lost the love of my life, which is to say the big, pounding running back I always idolized and dreamed of being since I stopped being a little kid and became a little adult. Now I know what the doctor meant when he said it's gonna hurt.
I wanted so badly for the Packers to draft a pounder. Why do it now? You're not allowed to pound, at least not outside the tackle box. Isn't that where it's most fun? The big guy dropping his pads on the safety that's about to become road kill?
All right, give me a few days and I'll get over it, as I did when they first started softening the game and Jack Lambert made that infamous remark about quarterbacks and skirts. I'll come around, as I have for every one of these game-softening, player-safety measures.
But it's gonna hurt.
Cast your vote in the poll on the right, please.