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Sports Then and Now



Meditations on the Dangers of Modern Football From a Former Pro 0

Posted on April 24, 2015 by Thane Ritchie
Thane Ritchie was a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears during two years as part of the NFL.

Thane Ritchie was a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears during two years as part of the NFL.

American football faces a crisis today, even as the NFL remains more popular than ever. With the ever-increasing evidence and incidence of long-term brain damage from contact sports, the future of American football may not resemble its current form. When I think about the game, I am reminded of the Lao-Tzu quote, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”. Indeed, wise words that ought to be heeded by those who can change the NFL’s present course.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
When I played tight end for the Steelers and Bears in 1989 and 1990, respectively, the average weight for my position fell somewhere around 235 pounds. In the 1950s you would be hard-pressed to find a lineman that weighed that much. Today’s NFL players continue to get larger and larger. Modern offensive linemen average 310 pounds – a nearly 40-pound increase over average O-line weights in the 1980s. What’s more, they aren’t just heavier than they used to be; they’re faster now, too. When the whistle blows, today’s football player might endure g-forces over 15 times stronger than that of an F-16 fighter jet roll.

A couple years ago, NPR compared two of the hardest-hitting players from vastly different eras of pro football. When the 190-pound defensive lineman Red Badgro hit you at full speed in 1930, the New York Giant took you down with approximately 970 pounds of force. Today, 335-pound Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who also runs the 40-yard-dash in less than five seconds, can deliver 1,700 pounds of force at top speed. So what does this mean? If spread evenly across the body, it’s the difference between a very hard hit and an extremely hard hit. The differences become profound, however, when you examine how that force can be concentrated today. Today’s “bigger, faster, stronger” athletes play on a football field that is increasingly more vicious and more dangerous.

Paved With Good Intentions
Anyone familiar with football of the ‘30s can picture the padded leather helmets that make yesterday’s heroes of the gridiron look at best, foolish, and at worst, like they must have a death wish. But not only were the physics of the hits back then “softer” than they are now, the head was never, ever, used as a weapon. If nothing else, the lack of protection to the head and face led to greater care and awareness of these vital body parts. Shoulder and arm tackles were the standard way to bring a man down.

In pursuit of advanced protection, the plastic football helmet debuted in the 1940s and underwent substantial development over the subsequent decades. By the 1980s, polycarbonate alloy became plastic de rigeur for helmets from Pop Warner to the pros. Keeping pace with the enhanced safety of these space-age head protectors, bold, innovative techniques for their use were introduced to the sport. Unfortunately, these tactics trended toward offensive, rather than defensive, strategies. Read the rest of this entry →

What’s New in Football? 0

Posted on April 18, 2015 by Ashley Andrews
Bringing the NFL back to Los Angeles has been a big part of the NFL's off-season discussions.

Bringing the NFL back to Los Angeles has been a big part of the NFL’s off-season discussions.

In an effort to weed out truth from gossip, this article explores the NFL’s rumor mill…..

There have been many rumors about upcoming changes in the NFL, and Commissioner Roger Goodell has stated that fans can look forward to the league evolving in the next couple years. Goodell does have an exceptional reputation for making decisions that improve the league’s brand, so it’s exciting to see what’s in store.

Are new stadiums being built? Is the National Football League interested in establishing new expansion teams? These are questions fans are asking right now, but the people in charge are keeping mum, except for few details.

All About the Benjamins
Goodell has a solid reputation for helping owners maximize their annual earnings, and most (if not all) the upcoming changes are geared toward more profits. The NFL hasn’t experienced any problems generating impressive revenue each season, but that isn’t going to stop expansion from happening.

Statistics show that the NFL has consistently increased its profits each year, and the overall revenue is over $9 billion. The commissioner, league officials, and team owners are going to continue to push for additional revenue, which is why expansion rumors should be believed. Expanding their market is a surefire way to earn teams more money. It’s the right time to establish a new team in a big city. Read the rest of this entry →

The Economics of Early Retirement from Football Comments Off

Posted on April 02, 2015 by Peter Getty
Chris Borland decided after just one NFL season that the financial gains of playing in the NFL weren't worth the physical risks.

Chris Borland decided after just one NFL season that the financial gains of playing in the NFL weren’t worth the physical risks.

49ers linebacker Chris Borland recently sparked controversy when he retired after a successful rookie year. Stating health reasons, specifically long-term damage from repeated head injuries, Borland expressed concerns of residual neurological conditions and shortened life span. Two weeks after Borland announced his retirement, University of Michigan offensive lineman Jack Miller followed suit — college football is facing just as much scrutiny over concussion-related injuries as the NFL. Last year, Miller’s coach was criticized for allowing quarterback Shane Morris to play even after an apparent concussion.

Will early retirement from professional and college football be more common in the upcoming years? Borland made $574,359 in his only year in the NFL, on top of a $617,436 signing bonus (three-quarters of which he will return). Although he surrenders nearly $3 million over the three remaining years of his rookie contract, he enters the next phase of his career with financial security if he plays his cards right. Miller, an NFL prospect with a potentially big salary, will not earn a dime playing football. How agonizing this decision must have been for him. He, like Borland, could have put in a year or two of pro football and retired early with hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank. In the end, the debilitating effects of past and likely future concussions proved greater than the reward of a large paycheck. Read the rest of this entry →

Super Bowl Favorites After Week 11 5

Posted on November 19, 2014 by Niko de Jonge
Larry Fitzgerald and the Arizona Cardinals are the favorites to reach the Super Bowl, but with six games left anything can happen.

Larry Fitzgerald and the Arizona Cardinals have the best record in football, but are still not the favorites to reach the Super Bowl.

We are now heading into Week 12 in the NFL and the teams have started to really define themselves as contenders or pretenders for this year’s Super Bowl.  With almost every team having played 10 games thus far the playoff picture has really started to present itself as teams get ready for the stretch run.

Below I’ll look at some of the favorites and include their current odds from reputable sportsbook Bovada.lv.  According to this Bovada sportsbook review, they’re a great sportsbook for American bettors.

Arizona Cardinals 10/1

One surprise is the team that currently leads the NFL with a 9-1 record.  The Arizona Cardinals have had a remarkable year so far, posting this record in arguably the toughest division in the National Football League.  With the Cards performing so well, the Seahawks and 49ers, who have been at the top of the league for the past few seasons are in a real tough spot when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs. Not all is good with the Cards though.  They lost their franchise quarterback Carson Palmer for the remainder of the season.  They won their first game without Palmer under center last week over a strong Lions team, so all might not be lost.  According to Bovada Sportsbook, even though they have the best record in the NFL, the Cards are still only the 4th favorites to win the Super Bowl with odds of 10/1.

Let’s look at the 3 teams being given a better shot than the Cards.

New England Patriots 4/1

The Pats are looking like a Championship contender once again.  They’re 8-2 on the season and are currently riding a 6 game winning streak.  The Pats are currently tied with the Green Bay Packers as having the best point differential in the league at +105 and Tom Brady and company look like they haven’t lost a step having scored the second most points in the league to this point.

Add in the fact that the Pats simply blew out the Colts and the Broncos, two top end teams in their last two games and you can see why this team is a 4/1 favorite to win the Super Bowl this season. Read the rest of this entry →

Red Grange: The Galloping Ghost 5

Posted on October 05, 2014 by Dean Hybl
Red Grange

Red Grange

The October Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month was the NFL’s first superstar and marquee attraction.

The NFL was less than five years old and struggling to gain a foothold in popularity when Red Grange put the league on the map during a 67-day, 19-game, barnstorming tour that is credited with legitimizing professional football and the NFL. Read the rest of this entry →

Will Officials Really Increase Defensive Holding Calls During the Regular Season? 2

Posted on August 17, 2014 by Dean Hybl
New emphasis should reduce the ability of Richard Sherman to hold defenders downfield.

New emphasis should reduce the ability of Richard Sherman to hold receivers downfield.

After watching Richard Sherman and other “top” defensive backs manhandle receivers during the 2013 season while rarely being penalized, the NFL has made a point of emphasis for 2014 to crack down on defenders using their hands to keep receivers from getting into their routes.

So far in the preseason officials have been throwing flags like confetti during a parade, but it is not yet clear whether NFL Week 1 odds should be adjusted to account for the change.

There is no question that in recent years some of the top defensive players in the league have been able to skirt the rules originally created in the late 1970s to keep defensive backs like Hall of Famer Mel Blount from completely dominating the game.

The 1978 rules to limit the ability of defenders to put hands on receivers were the first of a multitude of rules that have been created over the last 36 years that have helped increase offense within the game.

The impact in 1978 was immediate.

In 1977, only one quarterback, Joe Ferguson of the Buffalo Bills at 200.2 yards per game, averaged 200 yards passing per game and only Bob Griese (22) and Ken Stabler (20) had 20 or more touchdown passes.

The 1978 season did also see the addition of two more games, but regardless, the increase in passing offense was quite obvious. Fran Tarkenton led the league averaging 216 passing yards per game and six quarterbacks averaged 200 or more yards per game. In addition, Terry Bradshaw tossed 28 touchdown passes and four others eclipsed 20 touchdown passes.

Of course, that was just the start of the offensive explosion in the NFL. In 1979 Dan Fouts passed for 4,082 yards (255 per game) and 10 eclipsed 200 yards passing per contest.

In 1981 Fouts became the first quarterback in NFL history to average 300 yards per game and half of the teams in the NFL (14 of 28) had a starting quarterback who averaged more than 200 yards per game. Fouts and Steve Bartkowski of the Atlanta Falcons passed for at least 30 touchdowns and 11 quarterbacks had 20 or more touchdown passes.

Those numbers seem a bit pedestrian compared to the current game when 26 of 32 teams had a starting quarterback passing for more than 200 yards per game in 2013, but were important in the evolution of the game.

Surprisingly, even with such prolific offense, some defenses have still been able to have an impact. That was certainly the case in 2013 when the Seattle Seahawks allowed opponents only 14.4 points per contest.

They were especially dominant in the playoffs when they held both the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers nearly 10 points below their season averages to reach the Super Bowl. Read the rest of this entry →

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    • Horton Smith: First Masters Champion
      April 3, 2015 | 8:58 am
      Horton Smith

      Horton Smith

      In 1934, the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month became the first winner of what is now considered among the most prestigious of all golf tournament championships.

      Horton Smith made his professional golf debut in 1926, in 1929 he won eight tournaments and in 1930 finished third in the U.S. Open and tied for fourth at the British Open. However, he entered the first-ever Masters (then known as the Augusta National Invitational) in 1934 without having previously won any of the tournaments that would eventually be considered the “majors”.

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