But if "softer" means that more quarterbacks will stay healthier and have longer careers, the game will be better as a result. And a ban on head-hunting won't exactly put pass rushers out of business. "I haven't
noticed any changes in their aggressiveness," Aikman says. The stats bear that out. In 1994 there were 4.18 sacks per game; this season the figure is up to 4.5.
"Defensive players keep saying, 'You're taking our game away,' " says Washington, a star receiver for the 49ers in the 1970s. "I understand their feelings, but we're all in this together, and all we're trying to do is eliminate the unnecessary hits to the quarterback, especially to the head. Players should want to win because they're better, not because they've knocked somebody out of the game so they could face an inferior player."
Washington will not have an easy time selling that argument to defensive players. "I'm not changing," Vinson Smith vows. "Football is a mean, brutal sport, and we have to play on instinct. Look at animals. Look at the cheetah. When he wants dinner, he's going to get it. Instinct tells him he's hungry, and instinct tells him where to find the food. They can't stop us from getting to the quarterback."
That is a costly vow these days in the NFL.