|Keep your head up: It's hunting season|
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist
-- R-Dub's NFL Proverb No. 11
Maybe you've noticed that some receivers have been royally concussed and all but decapitated lately. The League has fined, suspended or admonished safeties (an ironic descriptive title, isn't it?) such as Kenoy Kennedy, Darren Woodson, Rodney Harrison and Brian Dawkins for hits on Chris Chambers, Darrell Jackson, Jerry Rice and Ike Hilliard, respectively. Only wise old head Rice got up.
No way to make this funny.
No way to make it not football, either.
As Guru Tom Jackson says, "You can't legislate hitting out of football."
You run the slant, the quick post, the crosser, part of the charm is you might get your head handed over. Without that threat, it's touch football; even politicians can play it. The history of the League is rife with Cliff Harrises, Ken Houstons, Jack Tatums, Steve Atwaters, de-cleaters, snot-bubblers, Grim Reapers who made WRs pay for crossing the river Styx en route to Glory.
Can't legislate them away. They are football, same as Emmitt Smith. They are the reflection of the nobility of Emmitt. They are Darth Vader's Theme by John Williams. They are Doctor Lecter. They are Grendel. They are Clubber Lang. Whatever you think of their conduct, without them, there can be no hero, there can be no epic poem. So listen up, people -- there are ways to deal with them.
Be smarter. Live to catch another ball. They switch off their brains to become human projectiles. You don't have to. Don't drop your head. Keep it up. Not on a swivel, let your peripheral vision take care of the field, but keep your head up. Know what's going on. Clowns who never played pro football talk about "aw, he heard the footsteps." But those clowns can't clear up your double-vision, stop your screaming headache, de-concuss you, staunch the blood from your mouth and nose. Those aren't footsteps you hear. Those are bells tolling, and no need to ask for whom. So if the QB leads you too far into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, do you have to go? Well, sure you do, but it's how you go in there that matters.
Ahmad Rashad, in his playing days at Minnesota, would tell Fran Tarkenton, "You've got three steps to get it in there," meaning if Francis led him too far into the Kill Zone, Ahmad wouldn't be there, at least not in the prescribed (read near-doofus) manner. He would either drop-step or side-step the defender, or take him on, with the front -- not the crown, never drop your head, or else you may end up learning more about the human spine than you'd care to -- of his own helmet. Blow him up instead. It's football for him too. He can get hit too. That was Walter Payton's great secret. He took the initiative. He delivered the blow. Or, just peel off at the last second (with ball, if possible), keeping your senses and ability to get open on another play. It's like a fighter giving with a punch just at the point of impact, making the difference between a KO and a glancing blow, as old man Rice did in the end zone two weeks ago, when the Chargers' Harrison tried to blow him up.
Live to slant another day. Gene Washington can fine the Beasts, but he can't help you. Unless you watch film on him. Gene never got blown up bad either. Kept his head up. And so, for the most part, do our authors of Week 8 Uncensored Thought Balloons:
Donovan McNabb, QB, Philadelphia Eagles -- "I'm a bear. If I was on the Bears, they'd be 5-2. Thought we had the best Chunky Soup spot, until I saw Bettis' and his mom's. 'Can I have your son's number?' 'Sure! 36.' Great. Hey, Strahan. Sorry I won't be staying so you can tackle me, then strike a Muscle Beach pose. Buh-bye."
Derrick Mason, WR, Tennessee Titans -- "I am the secret weapon. We get me back. We win. I score twice. Why talk about only Eddie George and Steve McNair? Everybody in Nashville blind, deef and dumb? Wait a minute. Don't answer that. May depress me more."
Matt Millen, GM, Detroit Lions -- "Zzzzzzzz ... huh? Cowards! Oh. I said that already? Anybody got Barry Sanders' phone number?"
John Randle, DT, Seattle Seahawks -- "Hope nobody finds out I moonlighted at Fox as that voodoo guy they showed before them baseball games. Hope nobody finds out I'm wearing a push-up bra under my shoulder pads. Hope nobody finds out it's padded."
Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago Bears -- "My God ... it's beginning to dawn on me ... we ... we actually stink. It's a weird feeling, when you've never stunk before ... strange. Makes you not want to go to the grocery store or movies. Police notice. They hold their noses. They say things. I may have to slap one of them. Then that's a sure lawsuit. Pro football is more complicated than I thought."
Jim Haslett, coach, New Orleans Saints -- "Vick napalmed us, OK? All you smart guys at this presser asking me how we let him do that. Let him? You fools. You idiots. Luckily, I ain't as dumb as you look. I'm not Mora. I'm not ripping the guys when I'll need these same guys to win me a game next week. Vick will be under somebody else's fingernails by then. All will be forgiven. Chill."
Tim Couch, QB, Cleveland Browns -- "How you like me now, fans! Hunh! Hunh! Who's the man now! Like Cleveland had all these great QBs in the first place. What legacy am I competing with? Brian Sipe? Bernie Kosar, pro model? Please. Otto Who?"
Jeff Garcia, QB, San Francisco 49ers -- "Somebody asked if it was hard, playing with Terrell. Not playing with him. Listening to him. Putting up with him. Makes me want to hurl, really, but it cuts both ways. There's projectile vomit, then there's TD passes. I'm not supposed to be here anyway. Mooch never cared for my game."
Jake Plummer, QB, Arizona Cardinals -- "Garcia. Me. Garcia. Me. Garcia. Me. Letterman would take me every time. You? I think I could put up with Terrell Owens and his antics. I need a deep threat. Boston's arms are like anchors. Must slow him down."
Brian Griese, QB, Denver Broncos -- "What's wrong with Lloyd Carr? What's wrong with my Wolves? I don't get 'The Big Chill' at all. That girl, she wanted me to rent it. Last time I listen to her. New England? They ain't so tough. Somebody threw a bottle at Pat Bowlen? What kind? Wasn't Coors, was it? Full or empty?"
Antowain Smith, RB, New England Patriots -- "Portis, a rook, rushes 26 times. I get 13. I may be stupido, but I can count. Too bad Belly and Brady can't. I'm walking here! I'm walking right here!"
Tom Coughlin, coach, Jacksonville Jaguars -- "I'm the rainmaker around here. I'm the ... say, what was that? Spittle? Somebody loogied me? You! Fan! I cut you, No-Heart! You're gone!"
Plaxico Burress, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers -- "Swann? Stallworth? What they got to do with it? Can't relate to them. What can they say to me? I'm down with T.O., Key, Moss. Hines says they're bitches, 'hos. What do Hiney know? He only got one cell phone."
Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens -- "Pranged my shoulder, tried to yank it back in place, rub some dirt on it, like normal, but it's still useless. Flopping like a busted balloon. If I don't play, what am I? Who am I? Nada? Who said that? Eddie? That you, Eddie?"
Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."