Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jay Cutler and the Changing Culture of Football

When I played high school football  for Naperville Central we had two a days in August with half pads in the morning and full pad workout in the afternoon. We were given little yellow salt pills against dehydration. Salt pills! Think about that for your blood pressure. But that's the way it worked and nobody drank Gatorade or special electrolyte drinks and water was held out as a reward for a good practice. The temperatures reached one hundred on some days and I remember just collapsing in bed at night and going back the next day. I broke my little finger during practice and the trainer taped it up and put two Popsicle sticks on it and that's how I practiced every day. Then my elbow got infected from getting hit so many times and the doctor drained puss and blood out of it every few days and gave me massive antibiotics and I just kept playing.

I remember reading a book called Meat on the Hoof at the time about a player with the Dallas Cowboys. His strategy was to hit the other guy so hard that he would think twice about hitting you back. I would read this book between the morning practice and afternoon and then go back and try and kill kids on the tackling drills. And it worked. The coaches couldnt' believe how hard I could hit and no one thought about concussions or heat stroke or not playing with pain. You just played or you quit.

Now we have Jay Culter who left with a knee injury that to a lot of people didn't seem that bad. If this had occurred even five years ago they would have just taped him up and sent him back in. But times have changed and football players with scrambled brains from concussions, unable to walk from the ceaseless beating they took for years in the NFL, has the football players, the coaches, the NFL, all considering that the old blood and guts culture of football is probably not sustainable anymore.

People know too much for one thing.  They talk about the long term effect of concussions and football players are a lot big bigger, faster, stronger and hit like freight trains now. The sport has changed and all you have to do is watch these players getting knocked out cold to know that the old football culture is on life support. Nobody but Jay Cutler knows what his pain threshold was with his knee, but it is a different world now and that slight difference gave him permission to leave.

Right or wrong, he left the game and I think we will see more common sense approaches to a game that used to be play under any circumstances. My memories of two a days in high school football come down to my little finger that healed without being set. A crooked little nub of grid iron glory.

Rocket Man will blast off February 15th


Books by William Hazelgrove