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Sports Then and Now



Meditations on the Dangers of Modern Football From a Former Pro 3

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 →

NFL Playoffs Include Many Familiar Faces 6

Posted on December 29, 2014 by Dean Hybl
Led by quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray the Dallas Cowboys seem to have their best chance at making a playoff run since the days of Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman.

Led by quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray the Dallas Cowboys seem to have their best chance at making a playoff run since the days of Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman.

Technically the NFL trend of having at least five teams earn postseason bids after missing the playoffs the previous season held to form with the 2014 season, but there is something extremely familiar about all the teams vying to reach Super Bowl 49 (if the NFL isn’t going to use Roman Numerals for 50, I feel no obligation to use them for the upcoming game).

Six of the eight division champions for 2014 also won their division a year ago with Cincinnati yielding to Pittsburgh (though both teams are in the playoffs) and the Dallas Cowboys soaring past the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East.

Surprisingly, the longest playoff droughts to end this season belong to the Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals, who both last reached the playoffs in 2009. The Steelers and the Detroit Lions last reached the playoffs following the 2011 season.

After winning the Super Bowl following the 2012 campaign, the Baltimore Ravens missed the postseason in 2013, but are now in the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years.

The four teams receiving a bye should be of little surprise, though in our “what have you done for me lately” society all four were written off at some point during the season.

Both the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots were sold down the river before the season had reached October, only to both rebound for 12 win seasons.

The defending champion Seattle Seahawks looked vulnerable after three early season losses and some less than inspiring offensive performances, but recovered to again win the NFC West and earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos looked powerful early, but seemed to lose some of their offensive compulsion in the final six weeks of the campaign and “limped” to a 12 win season, though that does represent the lowest victory total in Manning’s three seasons with the team.

The first weekend of playoff games should be quite interesting as each game has an interesting storyline.

The first game of the weekend will feature a team on their third quarterback traveling to face a team that finished the season with a losing record and actually had to win their last four games just to reach the postseason. The Carolina Panthers won five fewer games than in 2013, but surprisingly became the first team to repeat as NFC South champions since the division formed in 2002. Their opponents, the Arizona Cardinals, looked like a Super Bowl contender before losing their top two quarterbacks and leading rusher. Even with their third quarterback they seem to be a superior squad to the Panthers, but this will likely be a hard fought game where the home field could be enough to help Carolina pull out a win.
Read the rest of this entry →

Broncos Outlast Cowboys, Patriots and Seahawks Fall From Perfection: Week 5 NFL Headlines 1

Posted on October 08, 2013 by Andy Larmand

As we took off into the second quarter of the season (for most teams), the fascinating phenomena kept rolling in. Included in this week’s list is something that hasn’t happened to the New England offense in seven years, a first for any quarterback since the merger, the continuation of home dominance for one NFC North team, a record-tying day for one tight end and an offensive outburst in Dallas. Here are your Week 5 NFL headlines.

Travis Benjamin had a career night in the return game for the red-hot Browns.

Travis Benjamin had a career night in the return game for the red-hot Browns.

The Browns scored their first rushing touchdown of the season (and it wasn’t Trent Richardson) in their fifth game and stayed perfect when starting quarterback Brian Hoyer as they beat the Bills, 37-24, on Thursday night. They did, however, lose Hoyer for the season with a partially torn ACL suffered early in the game. Cleveland punt returner, Travis Benjamin, tied a franchise record with 166 punt return yards in the win for the first-place Browns. Their 37 points were the most they have scored in a game since putting up 41 back in 2009. Since Week 3, they are averaging 28.3 points per game after averaging eight points per game in the first two weeks.

The Patriots fell from the ranks of the unbeaten and the Bengals improved to 6-22 against the AFC East since 1998 as New England managed only six points in the 13-6 loss. The six points were the fewest for the high-powered New England offense since being shut out on Dec. 10, 2006, 21-0, in Week 14 against Miami. The Bengals’ 5-22 record had been the third-worst against one division in that span. Andy Dalton’s first-quarter interception in the red zone was the first red-zone pick of his career. Tom Brady fell two short of the all-time record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass as he failed to record one in game No. 53. The Pats had won 63 straight games when allowing 13 points or less with their last such loss coming in 2001. Read the rest of this entry →

Chiefs, Giants Among Surprises, Luck Ties Impressive Mark: Week 4 NFL Headlines 1

Posted on October 01, 2013 by Andy Larmand
The Saints' offense, led by Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, has them off to a 4-0 start.

The Saints’ offense, led by Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles (43), has them off to a 4-0 start.

For the first time in 2013, the NFL traveled across the pond to Wembley Stadium in Week 4 for a matchup of a couple of surprise 0-3 teams and did not disappoint the locals. Also featured is Andrew Luck matching an impressive quarterback mark, a double-digit, fourth-quarter comeback in Houston, Denver scoring and then scoring some more and the Chiefs improving to 4-0. Perhaps more notably, the blue team in New York is now 0-4.

The 49ers and Rams began the week in an NFC West showdown on Thursday night and after two straight losses in Weeks 2 and 3, the Niners kept a three-game losing streak off of Jim Harbaugh’s resume with a 35-11 rout of St. Louis. Harbaugh has still never lost three in a row as 49ers head coach. The Rams finished the night with 18 total rushing yards on 19 attempts. They have now recorded less than 100 yards on the ground in nine straight games. Also, they were the first team since 2008 with 19-plus rush attempts and 18 or fewer yards. They were also the last team to do that. San Fran improved to 5-0 all-time when Colin Kaepernick throws two or more touchdown passes.

The Vikings scored a first-quarter touchdown for the eighth straight game as Christian Ponder connected with Greg Jennings from 70 yards out to help them get up, 10-0, on the Steelers in London. The eight straight with a touchdown in the first quarter is a team record for them. Pittsburgh is 0-4 for the first time since 1968. Jennings needs just two more 70-yard touchdown receptions to tie the all-time record of nine held by Jerry Rice.

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Panthers Embarrass Giants, Body Parts Lost: Week 3 NFL Headlines 1

Posted on September 24, 2013 by Andy Larmand

As September continues to move toward October, this NFL season is providing us with some truths that stand the test of time and some that have and will continue to shock us all. And then, there are the teams or players who break the norm – finally. Week 3 saw the end of an almost-century-long losing streak, the worst loss ever for one head coach, a potential Cinderella story getting to 3-0, a first for the 49ers since 1958, and the Jaguars, well, being the Jaguars. Here are your Week 3 NFL headlines.

Alex Smith in Kansas City is working out all right so far as KC is 3-0.

Alex Smith in Kansas City is working out all right so far as KC is 3-0.

The Eagles lost their eighth straight game at home and the Chiefs, led by former Eagles coach, Andy Reid, improved to 3-0 with a 26-16 win to open the week on Thursday night. It is just the second time Philly has ever lost eight in a row at home and first time since 1936-37. Lesean McCoy managed his third-highest rushing total in the loss, but only second-highest of the season with 158 yards and Michael Vick posted a career-high 61-yard run. The Chiefs joined the 2002 Panthers as the last team to start a season 3-0 after winning two or fewer games the year before. Alex Smith became the first Kansas City signal caller to win his first three starts with the team since Joe Montana in 1993.

Calvin Johnson tied Torry Holt as the fourth-fastest player to accumulate 8,000 career receiving yards as he did so in his 95th career game and Detroit beat the Redskins, 27-20. The win was the first ever for the Lions in the city of Washington (1-21) as they had not beaten the Redskins on the road since they were in Boston in 1935. The Skins fell to 0-3, but Robert Griffin III’s 975 yards through three games are the second-most all-time by a quarterback who started out 0-3. Matthew Stafford became just the second quarterback since 2001 to throw for 200-plus yards in the first half of each of his first three games of a season. Read the rest of this entry →

Rodgers Has A Day, Manuel Shocks Panthers: Week 2 NFL Headlines 1

Posted on September 18, 2013 by Andy Larmand

Week 1 had a lot, but Week 2 might have it beat. There was everything from a weather delay (those 49ers) to four last-second wins, of course some interesting quirks mixed in and who could forget about the Manning Bowl. Here are your Week 2 NFL headlines.

Aaron Rodgers was the top performer in Week 2.

Aaron Rodgers was the top performer in Week 2.

Tom Brady threw a touchdown pass in his 50th consecutive game as the Patriots beat the Jets, 13-10, to open the week on Thursday Night Football, but was also below a 50-percent completion rate for the first time since 2009. He now sits just four behind the all-time record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass. New England forced four turnovers and now have at least one in 29 straight games, the longest since the Eagles did that between 2003-04. The win gave the Pats 12 straight victories over division opponents, which is the longest current streak in the league, according to Elias. The only other time the Patriots began a season 2-0 with both wins by three points or less was in 1999. They won this one despite having more punts (11) than first downs (9) – the first time that has happened in the Bill Belichick era. Julian Edelman had 13 catches, but just 78 yards. That is the third-fewest yards in a 13-catch game in the Super Bowl Era. Brady improved to 6-0 in his career in games played on a Thursday.

Cordarrelle Patterson tied a team record with a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as the Vikings fell to 0-2 with a 31-30 loss to the BearsAdrian Peterson had 100 rushing yards and has just 193 through two games. He had only 144 last year, however. After doing so nine times last season, the Bears scored their first defensive touchdown of 2013 with an interception return from Tim Jennings in the win. Their 10 defensive touchdowns since the start of last year are the most in the league. Devin Hester had 249 kick return yards in the win, setting a new franchise record. Jay Cutler hit Martellus Bennett on a 16-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds left in one of four games to be decided in the final seconds. Bennett became the fourth player in Bears’ history to catch a touchdown in each of his first two games with the team.

Aaron Rodgers threw for 335 yards in the first half alone as the Packers got out to a 24-0 lead and topped the Redskins, 38-20. Rodgers finished the game 34-of-42 with a career-high 480 yards – tying the Packers’ record. In so doing, he became the first NFL quarterback to record 480 yards passing and throw four touchdowns with no interceptions since Y.A. Tittle in 1962. James Starks had 132 yards rushing and became Green Bay’s first 100-yard rusher since 2010.  They won their eighth straight home game and their 21st of 22. Washington fell behind 24-0 after two quarters and have now been outscored 50-7 in the first half this season. The Pack now rank second in the NFL with 66 points scored. The Broncos, who are first, have scored 66 points in the second half. Read the rest of this entry →

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