Back in your great-granddaddy’s day, football players didn’t need to spike the football or do a dance after scoring a touchdown. Amos Alonzo Stagg‘s boys at the University of Chicago simply juked and jived their way into the endzone and then handed the ball to the official.
Of course, the Maroons did a whole lot of other things, too, like employ two defensive backs behind nine-man fronts, rarely attempt a forward pass and play in front of capacity crowds of more than 1,000 fans.
This is the style traditionalists harken to whenever a player or coach does something supposedly disrespectful to the game. Apparently, Earl Bennett‘s shiny orange shoes, Rex Ryan‘s cussing and Rob Gronkowski‘s ball spike are the scourge of football and threaten to bring an end to the game we claim to love.
The height of ridiculousness came earlier this season when LSU punter Brad Wing had his first college touchdown wiped out because he — gasp! — raised his arms before crossing the goal line on a fake punt. This prompted a writer in Athens, Ga., where people are far from sympathetic to the Tigers, to insist excessive celebration penalties had gone too far.
There are certain types of activity that have to be weeded out, and Ndamukong Suh’s stomping incident on Thursday showed that. The iconic image of Chuck Bednarik posing over a prone Frank Gifford comes to mind. Disrespecting an opponent is never cool.
Here’s the thing about that Bednarik play, though: It happened in 1960. That’s the era so many old fuddy-duddies recall with fondness, as a time when the game was played the right way without all the prancing that is now a regular practice on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.
The inherent message there is that taking pleasure in a touchdown is abhorrent, but exulting in the pain of an opponent is the way football was meant to be played. That’s not the football I know.
One truth becomes inherently obvious the more one learns about history: The good old days never existed. People whine about how there are no running backs like Barry Sanders, who simply tossed the ball to the official after crossing the goal line. When Sanders was playing 15 years ago, they were wondering what happened to players like Kellen Winslow, who had to be helped off the field after a 1982 playoff game. When Winslow was playing, they complained there were no more two-way players like Bednarik. When Bednarik played, they recalled the days when men were men and didn’t need helmets. When Stagg and Pop Warner introduced ball fakes, pre-snap motion and unbalanced formations, folks wondered what happened to the smashmouth violence of the late 1800s.
Football is entertainment. Kids play it because it’s fun, and sometimes those kids become good enough to play on national television. Sometimes, those players make plays that remind them of why they dreamed of playing this sport in the first place, and they get happy. They might even do as Gronkowski does and spike the ball now and again. It’s horrible, I know.
If you want to watch old-fashioned, salt-of-the-earth grinders punching in to work every day and deliberately going about their business, go visit a steel mill. If you want to watch guys in snazzy shoes perform incredible feats of physical excellence and then take pleasure in it, football should be the place for you.