Last Saturday, I headed to my big fat Polish family reunion to visit with a horde of people whose names must be re-learned every few years I visit them. There were numerous conversations between second cousins, great aunts and others that went something like this:
"Oh, you look so good now."
"You remember me, right?"
"Um, yes of course I do."
"I remember when you were this tall. You've grown so tall."
The occasion was in honor of a second or third cousin, whose name already escapes me until we introduce ourselves again in a few years, and it brought along with it a cornucopia of food and drink. Smoked salmon, fried venison, potato salad, beans and the best homemade wine I've ever had. It was the sort of feast I had only read about when the Fellowship made it to Rivendell. After my stomach expanded to the point of explosion, I sat around to get acquainted with my newfound relatives. Time quickly passed and the trees began to shine in the bronze glow of the setting sun, making everything more gorgeous. Conversation after conversation had worn me down and it was time to finally take in a gasp of some fresh air.
I sat my palms down so I could see the tops of my hands and pushed off to get out of my seat, hoping to unpeel my skin, which had slowly grown into the chair I was sitting in over the past couple of hours. On the way out the door to absorb the summer breeze and relieve my ears from the inaudible gurgling noise that 40 people talking at once makes, I crossed paths with the 90s era big screen television, larger than a refrigerator.
"Damn," I muttered underneath my breath when I saw what was on the screen. I glanced at my phone while it peeked out of my pocket with 8:30 painted on the screen. I sat down and was promptly greeted with a replay of DeAndre Hopkins pirouetting through the air like a fat kid attempting a cannon ball into the neighborhood pool. His skull took the majority of the shock from the fall and his brain shook like an AC/DC song upon impact with the ground.
"Yeah," my cousin's brother in law's room mate said. "He's out for the rest of the game."
"Eh, it did not look too bad. If anything, it will just be a minor concussion."
He then proceeded to catch me up to speed to what I missed, who was playing well, with a synopsis that even Spark Notes would be jealous of. Oh, the joys of preseason football. I watched Randy Bullock knock the ball out of the end zone on the kick off (something I can't ever remember a Texans kicker doing) and the second string defense get pushed around by Ryan Tannehill and the gang with a small semblance of interest.
Then disaster struck.
With Phillips brought the blitz on 2nd and 5. Tannehill decided to throw to his checkdown, Dustin Keller, who ran a three yard out into the flat. D.J. Swearinger read the play instantly and started to torpedo into Keller while the ball was still in the air. RIght after Keller received the ball and pivoted to run up the field, Swearinger's helmet was already into his knee. Keller rolled over as the football sputtered out lifelessly. The play was ruled dead. As the play ended, Keller remained laying on the turf like a child playing Ghosts in the Graveyard.
The replay began to show what really happened in a bang-bang play. It ran only once. Keller's knee bent like a hanger and protruded at an angle the human knee is never supposed to reach. After my one look at the replay, I knew there would be a 0% chance Keller would play again this year or possibly ever again. My salmon patties from earlier began to loopdaloop around inside me as the trainers rushed on the field and the cart was beckoned. Afterwards, I watched Tannehill show off his arm strength by zipping and slinging around more passes, but I couldn't really care. I felt sick. My football appetite had been quickly ruined.
I spent the remainder of the day listening to dirty jokes about masseuses and wax jobs. Jokes awakened by the mystical qualities Coors Light and homemade wine have on people, but they brought a smile on my face only once or twice. Keller's limp knee with everything ripped apart inside like cotton balls was still haunting the back of my mind.
Yesterday it was confirmed that Keller had a torn ACL, MCL, PCL and a dislocated knee cap. Now all the king's horses and all the king's men will attempt to put his knee back together again. His year is done. Hopefully one day he gets a chance to suit up again. The hit Swearinger made was a perfectly legal tackle that ended in catastrophe. It was an enormous case of bad luck. All Swearinger was doing was making a play on the ball, a play he's made a hundred times before without the calamitous results that occurred on Saturday. If he hit him anywhere else but the side of his knee, Keller would still be playing today.
There is an underlying reason why Swearinger went low instead of tackling high. When Swearinger was drafted by Houston, I had this to say:
...Swearinger is a wrecking ball that lives to hit and brings tenacity to every tackle. He plays with his ears back and looks extremely fast on the football field. An instinctive tackler, he knows when he can bring the knockout hit and when to opt for a more successful leg tackle. That being said, he needs to learn how to deliver these big hits legally at the NFL level. There are a couple of fine worthy helmet-to-helmet hits in the video, and those 15-yard penalties are killer. Hey, D.J., in the NFL they take your money, not your meal trades when you bruise someone's brain like that.
It seems he has already learned the error of his ways and has been taking the lower route when making tackles because of a fear of fines, suspensions and fifteen yard penalties.
"I was making a hit playing football,In this league you’ve got to go low. If you go high you’re going to get a fine.The rules say you can’t hit high so I went low and I’m sorry that happened. I would think you’d rather have more concussions than leg injuries. Leg injury, you can’t come back from that. A concussion, you be back in a couple in a couple of weeks."
So far this preseason there have been numerous guys go down with ACL/MCL tears. In my opinion, this has been the result of either the uptempo pace teams have started running, which leads to more plays being run and more chances for an injury to occur, or it is because the new CBA gives players too much time to rest their bodies. The longer rest helps joints, but weakens the tendons and leads to the tears we have seen thus far.
However, more tears are only going to occur this season as a result of contact like what we saw on Saturday night. Namely, players tackling low and going for thighs, hips and knees to avoid the fines and penalties. All of it stems from the 2011 helmet-to-helmet rules that are good for player's safety, but have not been executed well.
Today nobody knows exactly what a helmet-to-helmet hit really is. Referees are put at a nearly impossible angle sometimes to make a call that greatly affects the game. Sometimes, flags are thrown when a player leads with his helmet and slams the opposing player in the chest, which is legal. Other times, blatantly illegal hits are not called at all. The calls are usually inconsistent, and that inconsistency has neutered players. They have no idea what a legal high tackle looks like. All of this could be changed by simply allowing refs to review those plays. Instead, the competition committee opted to do what they usually do--pass more laws while failing to improve the execution. This time, the new law will take the form of another another helmet-to-helmet rule. Regardless of what rules are passed, the players have no idea what actually constitutes an illegal hit because of the failure in execution.
Now the NFL faces a conundrum. Their player safety rule to prevent concussions is going to lead to more ACL/MCL tears this season. Would they rather prevent an injury that leads to a player missing four weeks, but someday down the road will lead to memory loss, dementia, brain scarring and other ailments? Or would they rather prevent plays that keep a player out for the year, but does not cloud their consciousness in the future. You cut the head off the hydra and another sprouts up.
Plays like Saturday night's will end up being a theme this NFL season. It will be added to the refrigerator list of chores for the NFL to deal with that include PED use, a possible 18 game schedule, retired player injuries, and most importantly, whether the Redskins should change their mascot or not. The NFL will have to pass another rule making it illegal for players to lead with their heads when tackling low, and in order to help the defense out, they will ban cut blocks as well. Eventually players are going to have no clue how to even play the game anymore because of the tremendous amount of rules that will be passed. These issues won't just go away. It's just beginning. Right now, people don't care, just like the PED issue. People will care when it starts affecting on play on the field. Then everyone will have an opinion to yell over each other, but by then it will be too late.
NOFX Reeko (via stickpunk1)