Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived athletes like Earl Campbell and Jerome Bettis. These men were the definition of smash mouth football. They were known throughout the league for their bone-crushing hits on defenders who stood between them and a first down or the endzone. When hard hitting defenses dug into the trenches looking for a stop, these backs fought back by lowering their shoulders and bulldozing a path.
The NFL, under commissioner Roger Goodell, has recently passed a new rule that will take that hard-nose style of running away from the NFL. This new rule says that a player cannot lower the crown of his helmet and hit a defender outside of the tackle box. The rule applies to both sides of the ball but running backs will get the most attention in regards to the new addition to the rule book. Goodell and the competition committee have been on a mission to reduce the amount of concussions in the NFL and have done so by implementing rules to protect the quarterback, rules against hitting a defenseless receiver, and rules to push back kickoffs. But will this new rule put a damper on one of the things that helped build the NFL into what it is today?
Growing up, I remember seeing old highlights of Earl Campbell come across the television during an NFL game. I remember seeing a powder blue wrecking machine with the number 34 plastered on his uniform. To this day, I’ve never seen a man plow through other men like Campbell did. He took no prisoners. There were times when he would drag two men down the field for ten or so yards until he eventually either threw them off or he was gang-tackled. There was one play in particular that I remember seeing and it came against the Rams. Campbell took the pitch, slipped through a tackle and lowered his helmet and drove it straight into the defenders chest and kept on trucking for more yards. He was eventually thrown down by his jersey, which was ripped off of his body.
Did anyone stop and complain about that play? No sir. Instead, they praised Campbell for his hard running and admired his toughness. Here’s the original play:
Does this hit look familiar? If you’ve kept up with football or even turned on ESPN, you’ve seen a similar hit delivered from Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson to Philadelphia Eagles safety Kurt Coleman.
Could that hit cause a concussion? It’s likely. But don’t the players know that before they do it? The only thing going through Richardson’s mind was the same thing that was going through Campbell’s mind: First down.
Steelers fans, of all people, should know and appreciate this style of play. One of the most beloved Steelers of all time, Jerome Bettis, made a living off of trucking defenders. He did it so much he earned the nickname, “The Bus”. Bettis is still remembered today for his hit on one of the elite linebackers in the NFL, Brian Urlacher, in the snow at the goal line.
Is this new rule crossing the line? Some people think so. Will this new rule kill off the power running game and dismantle a league that guys like Bettis helped create? Only time will tell.
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