We're quickly arriving at the point where it will be easier for the NFL to tell players what they can do rather than what they can't do.
In Sunday's win over the Arizona Cardinals, Kam Chancellor was penalized during a play that was negated by another penalty for unnecessary roughness. It killed the momentum that the big hit created and sent the entire Arizona sideline into a bizarre reaction that never should've been, and never would've happened just a year ago.
It was also another example of how too many rules and inconsistent enforcement of the rules emanating from Roger Goodell's perch in New York City are a serious threat to the validity and tradition of a great game that's been built up for more than a century.
Chancellor's block was a beautiful, textbook block that sent tight end Todd Heap flying. It's the kind of block that will get you a highlight on SportsCenter and congratulated by coaches and teammates in films the next day. It's also the kind of play that totally ignited the 12th Man just as it would in any NFL city. It's a momentum builder. It's the essence of the hard-hitting legacy of the NFL and the kind of play that can turn an entire game around.
Instead, it turned into an interruption, nearly a bench-clearing brawl, and a reminder to fans that the officials and the NFL rules committee are taking the game out of the players' hands, and burying it in a rulebook.
I was so outraged by what I witnessed, I nearly got myself ejected from the press box. Here's how I saw it:
• Earlier during the same play, Brandon Mebane threw an IDENTICAL block on Cardinals guard Rex Hadnot. Just as Chancellor did, Mebane put his head in front of Hadnot, caught him not expecting the block, and dumped him directly onto his fat butt. No penalty, no outrage, no one starting a fight over the block.
• Heap was within striking distance of Thomas, and left unblocked, surely would've been applauded for making the same type of big hit on Thomas that Chancellor put on him.
• Chancellor's hit was perfectly legal in every way. He did not make helmet-to-helmet contact, did not put his head down, and did not launch himself.
• You are not allowed to block anyone below the waist on a change-of-possession play. Knowing this, Chancellor hit Heap high in the shoulder/chest area. Where exactly is he supposed to hit him then?
• There was a 3-4 second delay between the hit and the flag. I'm convinced that the referee was waiting to see the result of the play. I'm sure that had Heap bounced up off the ground, there wouldn't have been a penalty.
Players around the league will pick up on this. It's the reason why soccer players "flop" on the field. If someone appears to be hurt, then surely there should be a penalty. Trust me, that's next.
In the end, it was determined that Heap had the wind knocked out of him and he was back in the game less than 10 minutes later.
The proliferation of the NFL rulebook over the past 10 years is shocking. It's not just new rules; it's the interpretation of rules that fills the pages up. Seahawks fans will remember a bizarre penalty on Matt Hasselbeck for an illegal block in Super Bowl XL during a Steelers interception return. How could Hasselbeck be penalized for a block while trying to make a tackle on an interception return?
This explains it:
Players cannot run, dive into, cut, or throw their bodies against or on an opponent who is out of the play or should not have reasonably anticipated such contact.
Reasonably anticipated such contact? While you're on the football field, you should be anticipating contact at all times! If not, the basketball court and the soccer "pitch" are always available to you as an alternative. Besides, who's to say what a reasonable amount of time is? That's totally subjective.
What happened to self-preservation?
Several of the penalties and fines that we've seen over the past two seasons used to be regulated by common sense and a strong sense of self-preservation, not penalties. Why are receivers getting blown up on crossing patterns by the defense? There's an age-old rule for wide receivers stating that you never run a crossing pattern through a zone defense. Otherwise you'll suffer the type of hit like the one that Dunta Robinson put on DeSean Jackson last year. Or the hit that James Harrison put on Mohamed Massaquoi.
Notice that this clip is on the NFL.com website along with plenty of corporate sponsorships. They're getting it both ways: $75,000 from Harrison and plenty of advertising dollars from big business. Oh, the hypocrisy!
As for Chancellor's hit on Heap, help us out here coach Whisenhunt
The Arizona players and coaches, particularly head coach Ken Whisenhunt, were outraged over Chancellor's block. Whisenhunt wandered out onto the field mouthing obscenities at the Seahawks defense. He played the same position as Heap for three different teams and if there's one thing he learned while playing for nearly a decade in the NFL, it's that you better get your head on a swivel (anticipate that block) during an interception return.
In Whisenhunt's day, the only reaction he would've gotten from a coach is: "Open your eyes, dummy!"
But today, there's protection for someone who isn't smart enough or doesn't possess the instinct of self-preservation. Worse yet, judging from the reaction from the Cardinals sideline on Sunday, players now feel ENTITLED to that protection. Ironically, Arizona linebacker Joey Porter, who's been fined as much as anyone, was especially angry and tried to pick a fight with Chancellor on the 50-yard line.
I wrote in an earlier entry about a group of Buffalo Bills players that tried to start a fight over a clean hit by Denver Broncos safety Rahim Moore that they deemed to be illegal.
Here's what Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick had to say about not
getting his fair share of protection: "Every time I throw the ball I'm on the ground. I get hit in the head ... and I don't know why I don't get the 15-yard flags like everybody else do (sic)."
That happened fast, didn't it?
The NFL is effectively attempting to take the pain and the risk out of the game. Professional football is a game that involves both -- it's part of the allure. Anyone that thinks they can take that side of the equation away without affecting the other side of the equation -- the reward -- is foolish.
No one wants to see someone get seriously injured just as no one really wants to see a deadly crash during a NASCAR event. But super-charged racecars "swapping paint" at high speeds is part of the attraction. Just as big hits in the NFL are what lights up 63,000 people at CenturyLink Field. The greater the risk, the greater the reward.
Tell me that doesn't look exactly like Kam Chancellor's hit. Except Steve Largent makes some helmet-to-helmet contact. What a criminal!