SI Vault
Morton Sharnik
September 18, 1972
It is the week of the Big Game and some of the players, conduits to the head coach—which means they are close to the boss—are exhorting the unchosen. Black studs as well as white dudes—Field Hands and Animals, The Boomer calls them—are banging on the metal lockers, stomping on the concrete floor, shouting, "Whoo-e-e, we're going to do it! Yeah! We're going to win! Right on!"
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September 18, 1972

Strong Impulses And A Short Fuse

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To keep the defensive end at bay, the tackle will try to vary his techniques. The orthodox style is to set up deep and then make contact. At that point the rusher is on a collision course with the passer, so the tackle attempts to block to the outside, forcing the end wider than he wants to go. The tackle's actions are a series of counters, which means he is constantly being slapped and pulled and grabbed as well as bumped.

Occasionally the tackle will try a quick cut, to drive his head into the face of the defensive end, stun him momentarily, then drop back and wait. Sometimes the tackle will set up short and try to handle the rusher before he picks up momentum. If the defensive end tries to go inside, the tackle will attempt to stop him with a running block.

"You try all your routines and pick out the ones that work," says Mix. "Sometimes they all are effective, sometimes none of them are. Lately, it seems the latter is true. It used to be you battled the ends, but now they've recruited so many incredibly strong, fast athletes that they fly by, and you never feel a thing except shame."

Almost all of the time the tackle works alone, doing a solo. Those expressions of teamwork, high-low and double team, are seldom in his playbook. Therefore there is no shifting responsibility for failure. The responsibility for a missed block is his alone. It is painfully obvious that the tackle and not the ball or the playing conditions or a teammate busted the play. This is the reason why players and coaches talk about the inordinate pressure of the job, and that is why many consider offensive tackle the least-desirable position in sport.

"When we're beaten, it's a reflection on our manhood," says Mix. "We've lost a physical battle, unlike a defensive back who loses a footrace or the endless variety of reasonable excuses that can be made for other positions. I try to rationalize my feelings, but when the defensive end gets to the passer, I feel shamed."

No matter how intelligent the tackle may be, he cannot escape the feeling. Continues Mix, "I know it's silly, and I've tried to purge myself, but it's bred into us—big muscular men don't lose fights. So I feel embarrassed."

Caught up in his private struggle, the tackle loses contact with the game. The brilliant play boldly drawn in precise Xs and Os on a pre-game blackboard is as relevant as ticktacktoe. All the tackle is aware of are fists thumping, legs churning and bodies bumping. "It's chaos," says Brown, "a frenzied ball."

In the melee, it's hard for the tackle to keep his cool, but he must. For the coolest, there is a simple dodge. When a tackle is beaten, he gets as far away from the play as possible. The point is to create confusion when the coaches break down the game films. Other than the runaway routine, the tackle can only shout to the quarterback to fend for himself. The so-called lookout block, or early warning system, is of limited use. Passers are not brave souls. They do not want advice but protection.

Occasionally, when the shame is great, even a Brown will lose his cool. In 1966 the Eagles played St. Louis and Brown was matched against Joe Robb, a wily journeyman defensive end. To compensate for the mismatch, the Cards stunted all afternoon, and Brown kept getting caught in the confusion. Midway through the game, The Boomer was in a fury. After several holding penalties on Brown, Robb eluded him and dumped the quarterback. When he did it again The Boomer tried to kick him.

In the five years since, Brown has been all but invincible, yet he almost repeated the debacle in Philadelphia two years ago. In his first time back after being traded to the Rams, The Boomer got into a footrace with Tim Rossovich. For the first quarter The Boomer was in trouble, and again he almost lost control. "Then Jimmy Nettles [the Ram corner-back] came over and told me, 'Settle down, Boomer. Free and easy.' That's what I always tell them. 'Free and easy.' No strain, no pain. I realized Rossovich was running a game on me, and nobody does that. Only The Boomer runs games. So I settled down, and then I was back in control."

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