Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Hit Police

John Lynch has made a career of hitting people. Typically opposing wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. Hitting them hard.

Dare come over the middle? John Lynch will be there, waiting to unload. His aggressive play has made him a well-known and well-regarded defensive back. He helped lead Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl victory two years ago. 12 years in the league, 5 Pro-Bowl selections. An elite player.

After last season, Tampa Bay decided to move its defense in a different direction. Goodbye, Warren Sapp, goodbye John Lynch. So after a long career in Tampa, John Lynch signed with the Denver Broncos.

This past Sunday, John Lynch delivered a big hit on Dante Hall, the Kansas City WR who is better known as a punt returner. The hit made all the highlight shows. Why? Because Hall dared come downfield in Lynch's territory, trying to make a catch. And what happened?

Lynch leveled him. Big-time hit. Right up there with the Eagles' hits on Jeff Feagles (by Jeremiah Trotter) and Eli Manning (by Jerome McDougle, I believe).

Old-time football.

Smash-mouth football.

The type of football that fans pay to see.

The type of football that the NFL sells.

And the type of football that the NFL makes the hitters pay for. They fined John Lynch $7,500 for a hit that the opposing coach, Dick Vermeil, thought was clean.

Lynch, of course, is appealing. He rightfully points out the hypocrisy that is the NFL. Sell the hits and the hitting, but fine the hitters.

Promote the passing game, change rules to give the league more offense, but sell the violence. Except for one big problem, the premises cannot always co-exist. The fans may want more offense, but they don't want flag football. They want collisions, not just contact, good old American football, not ice dancing.

Which means that the desire for more offense will collide with the desire for hard-hitting action. Probably in every game, in every week. Which means, correspondingly, that the NFL has to figure out what to do about this tension. And quickly, before the Hit Police end up putting too many good DBs on the sidelines or in the poor house.

And the NFL needs to do something other than make public fools out of its administration to are doing some Monday-morning refereeing.

If you want to fine the John Lynches of the world, fine, but then don't feature the hard-hitting action as part of your sales pitch. If you want to outlaw that type of hitting, outlaw it, but have fun writing the rules to define what type of hitting is acceptable. And have fun putting red "hands off" jerseys on all skill position players on offense.

Otherwise, save the press releases and the fines for the really bad stuff.

And let the defensive players play the game.

Which is, lest the NFL administration need reminding, tackle football.


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