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The consequence is a desperate kind of existence. Transferred to the field, to the game itself, desperation and win-or-else intensity combine with the high physical properties of the game to produce a war ethic that gets people hurt.
"When you have a cancer, you cut it out," says Corso, "you don't put a bandage over it because it won't heal. It all starts with the coaches. What they do dictates what the players do. But we don't cut 'em out. We find a coach is a habitual crook, and we put him on probation, and the next year he's coaching in an All-Star game. We glorify people who have broken the rules. Until we stop doing that, we'll have bums setting examples."
Most coaches accept injury. They complain about it, alibi it, and pay respects to its seriousness, but they accept it. They stand sympathetically over the fallen bodies of their players and call it "the breaks." As the casualty lists mount, they become even more stoical.
Last season, after losing Heisman Trophy candidate Matt Cavanaugh and 24 other players for one game or more, Pitt's Jackie Sherrill called it "the normal risk of football." Villanova's Dick Bedesem said of the rising tide of knee injuries, "I don't think there's anything much you can do." At Davey Nelson's University of Delaware, Coach Tubby Raymond said he thought "Everything that can be done to make football safe is being done. I personally feel there's a great deal more made out of the danger of football than there really is."
Compounding this reluctance to face reality is an inherent suspicion coaches have of rule changes. The result is that they maintain a death grip on the status quo. Clipping was first taught by Walter Camp in 1908, but it was not outlawed until 1949. The crackback block, murderous on knees and nothing more than a legal clip, was not outlawed until 1971 in the colleges, 1974 in the pros. Fearful of change, of having "proven" methods taken from them, coaches, it has been said, would defend a blackjack to the base of the skull if it had been "done that way" in the past.
The analogy, of course, is ridiculous.
Or is it?
Consider the knee. According to the Stanford Research Institute's report, 25% of lost-time injuries to pro football players involve the knee. It is the part of an athlete's body most susceptible to serious injury, and hardly suited to football. The Detroit Lions have had 22 knee operations in the last three years; the Miami Dolphins had 11 in 1976. Of the 26 lost-time injuries that ruined a good Maryland team last year, 18 were below the waist. "But I don't know how we could have eliminated them," said Coach Jerry Claiborne. In a game with Texas A&M in late October, undermanned underdog SMU took a 21-7 lead in the second quarter—and then suffered knee or leg injuries to six defensive starters and lost 38-21. "We were going down like chopped wheat," said Mustang Coach Ron Meyer.
Knee injuries are death on careers. In his eight years with the St. Louis Cardinals, Defensive Back Jerry Stovall broke his nose, lost five teeth, fractured his cheekbone, broke a clavicle, ripped his sternum, broke seven ribs, broke a big toe three times and suffered 11 broken fingers. But it was a knee injury that ended his career in 1971. Knee operations are a dime a dozen—not in cost, but in frequency. Miami Dolphin defensive stars Dick Anderson and Mike Kolen have had three each in the last four years, and they're both retiring before their time, unhealed. Kansas City's E. J. Holub still limps after a record 12 knee operations. After four operations and an abrupt retirement from the San Diego Chargers, Kevin Hardy, then 29, told The Washington Post in 1974 that he experienced almost constant pain, could not run, could not enjoy a round of golf without a cart, could not join his non-football-playing friends skiing or playing tennis or frolicking with their sons. He said he had truly learned "what all those coaches meant when they said you had to pay the price."