SI Vault
Walter Bingham
November 11, 1963
There have been more injuries in pro football this year than ever before. In their concern over unnecessary roughness, officials are tightening up on rules and carefully studying game films for hidden infractions
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November 11, 1963

A War On Ferocity

There have been more injuries in pro football this year than ever before. In their concern over unnecessary roughness, officials are tightening up on rules and carefully studying game films for hidden infractions

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As a matter of traditional courtesy in he National Football League, the home team provides a stretcher for the use of the players. And a good thing, too. This season in the NFL, the stretcher has been as important to the game as the football. Never before have so many knees, ribs, ankles, backs and shoulders snapped, crackled and popped. No game report is complete without a casualty list. GIANTS WIN, TITTLE HURT. JOE SCHMIDT OUT FOR MONTH. JURGENSEN SIDELINED. And so on and on and on. The question is, has the violent world of pro football become too violent? Is the game getting too rough? Sample this:

A few Sundays ago in St. Louis, Bart Starr, the Green Bay quarterback, was attacked on the field by Jimmy Hill, a Cardinal defensive back. Attacked is the word, too, not tackled. Starr was running with the ball when the two met near the sideline. As they collided, Hill's right forearm shot forward. Starr ducked and the blow glanced off his helmet. As both men fell, Hill jabbed back at Starr with his right elbow, but Starr was out of range. Hill scrambled to his knees and, as Starr rolled over on his back and started to sit up, Hill punched him in the face. Starr fell back again.

Even as Starr was falling, white handkerchiefs from two officials fluttered to the ground. Hill was thrown out of the game for misconduct, costing him a stiff fine and costing his team 15 yards plus Hill's services. But for Green Bay the price was far greater. Starr, groggy, had to be helped from the field by two teammates. He played no more that day—though Green Bay, leading 23-0 when Starr left, had no trouble winning—and after the game it was discovered he had a broken right hand and would be unable to play for several weeks. Movies revealed that Starr broke his hand when he fell on top of it, but the film clearly showed that the awkwardness of the fall was caused by Hill's right forearm thrust, which Starr had to duck. One irate Packer fan sent a telegram to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. "Do you ban Jimmy Hill for life," he asked, "or do we hire Sonny Liston?"

Not a bad question. There are some games in which even Sonny Liston would not be safe. Those who saw this year's Giant-Brown game in New York watched the best heavyweight fight of the year. The Giants tried to stop Jim Brown by beating him up. Only one unnecessary roughness penalty was called against the Giants, but several others might have been. "Being hit in the face didn't stop me from running," Brown said later. Brown personally defeated the Giants, but after the game his eyes were puffed and nearly closed. "Football is a rough game," he said, "but I don't expect to get hit in the face every game. That's not normal."

Brown is right. Punches in the face are not normal in pro football, but they well may become so unless the five officials on the field are constantly alert to this damaging fact: roughness, one of the ingredients that makes pro football so popular, can ruin the sport if it gets out of control (see cover). Hear Pete Rozelle, the commissioner, who was in St. Louis the day Starr was slugged; Rozelle saw the play and was appalled.

"The war against roughness in pro football is a continuing war," he said several days ago in his New York office. " Bert Bell fought the war when he was commissioner, and I'm fighting it now. Before the season began we made a tour of the training camps and told the players that if they weren't concerned "about their own physical well-being, we were. The players represent big investments and the league, apart from any emotional factor, can't afford to have them hurt."

To help him fight his war against roughness, Rozelle hired Joe Kuharich, the former Notre Dame coach, as supervisor of officials. "I wanted a football expert in the office," says Rozelle. "God knows I'm not." While it would be inaccurate to imply that Kuharich's sole duty is to battle dirty football, it would be equally inaccurate to say he is not concerned with it. Kuharich accompanied Rozelle when he made his tour of training camps last summer. "We explained to the players what they could do and what they couldn't do," says Kuharich. "We told them what was legal and what was illegal. And we told them that the officials would be watching them closely. We don't want officials to decide the outcome of a game. We want a flow of action uninterrupted by penalties, but we can't allow the game to get out of control either."

Most players in the NFL think the officials are doing a good job of keeping roughness to a minimum—most of the time. "They're calling things pretty close," says Eddie LeBaron, the veteran quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. "The officials are very good." Wayne Walker, Detroit Lions' linebacker agrees. "You've got to watch what you do," he says. "That 15-yard penalty for losing your temper could cost you a lot of money if it happened to lose you a game that kept you out of the championship." Bob Gain, a Cleveland defensive tackle, lost his temper recently. "In our game with Los Angeles one of the Rams hit me from behind after the play was over, so I kicked him. It was a foolish thing to do, and it cost us 15 yards."

That's the kind of talk Kuharich likes to hear. "Temperamental outbursts only hurt your own team," he says. Kuharich always refers to unnecessary roughness, even Jimmy Hill's kind, as a temperamental outburst. "The sooner the players learn that the better." The sustained Giant attack on Jimmy Brown is not so easily categorized.

As supervisor of officials, Joe Kuharich has a job most men would enjoy. Each weekday morning he leaves his home in New Rochelle, catches the 8:35 commuter train to Grand Central Station and walks six blocks to the mid- Manhattan offices of the National Football League. Once seated behind his desk and served his morning cup of coffee by a pretty receptionist, he attaches a roll of film to a projector and, one by one, watches every game played in the NFL the week before. He runs the film through from opening kickoff to final gun, studying the positioning of his officials, where they were on crucial plays, how they called the plays and whether they were correct or not. The films help Kuharich to answer the wires or memos that inevitably arrive on his desk the Monday following the weekend's games, complaints from club owners or coaches that one of the officials blew a play. Recently Harland Svare, coach of the Rams, wired Kuharich, protesting an unnecessary roughness call against one of his linemen in a game with the Bears. Kuharich studied the film, running and rerunning the play in slow motion. The penalty occurred on a kicking play, the Bears punting to the Rams. "There it is," Joe shouted. The film showed a Ram lineman swinging a bandaged arm, uppercut style, at the Bears' Ronnie Bull. As Bull fell, the Ram lineman kicked him in the back, then turned and headed innocently upfield. But the umpire's flag was already on the ground. "A good call," said Kuharich proudly. "That's the kind of stuff we have to watch."

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