But left to their own devices, coaches are not likely to go off at all. How many ribs were crushed and spleens ruptured before spearing was disallowed? How many more will go before the helmet is legislated out of the hit business entirely? How many ligaments were torn before crackback blocks were outlawed, and how many more will go before all downfield blocking below the waist is eliminated?
Given the growing prospects of intervention by the courts, coaches can no longer afford to ignore medical evidence. To paraphrase Dr. Clancy, "We're not coaches, but they're not doctors, either." The rules of football are not immutable. The administration of any game has as its first tenet of rule-making the question: Is it safe for those who play it? To keep a sport healthy as well as attractive, the definition of what is "legal" often has to be based on what is "necessary." In light of the medical evidence, the growing number of liability suits and the soaring cost of insurance, the following "necessities" should be examined.
Is it necessary to block any player below the waist on any downfield play?
Former Coach of the Year Ara Parseghian doesn't think so. Parseghian says below-the-waist blocks outside the legal clipping zone—four yards on either side of the center, three yards on either side of the line of scrimmage—are not necessary at all. "On any play where there's a scramble of 22 men," he says, "blindside hits and unprotected hits on knees occur." Florida Coach Doug Dickey thinks that, anyway, the more effective block in that circumstance is "the one where you go through your man, not down at his knees." In January of 1977 the American Football Coaches Association recommended a ban on below-the-waist blocks, but the proposal was overwhelmingly defeated by the NCAA Rules Committee. The NFL has no formal proposals on such a rule change under consideration.
Is the chop block necessary?
No, says Corso. No, says Dickey. No, say Parseghian, Royal and Washington's Don James. No, says Wisconsin Middle Guard Dan Relich. No, no, no.
The rollup block, in which an offensive lineman "rolls" up the back of a defender's legs, is similar in concept. It also is not necessary.
Is it necessary for a third, and even a fourth, 260-pound lineman to help two other 260-pounders put away a ballcarrier when he's already trapped or on the way down?
Norm Evans, the veteran Seattle Sea-hawk offensive tackle and All-Pro, thinks not. Evans is "bugged" by all the piling on he sees in football, the redundant hits on ballcarriers and quarterbacks. He thinks a greater burden should be put on defensive players to make them more aware of the obvious. Should they not know that when they deliver that extra blow they might be doing unnecessary harm? That because they're in the neighborhood doesn't mean they have to crash the party? Should they not be as aware of bounds markers as offensive players? Would it be too much to ask that they realize the ballcarrier is going out of bounds anyway and that it is not necessary to ride him another five yards out?
Late, redundant hits go hand in glove with gang tackling, a tactic spawned by Southern college coaches years ago and given widespread respectability under the euphemism "pursuit." Pursuit is an incontrovertible virtue of defense. The trouble with pursuit is that it often translates into vicious finishing-off blows on backs whose momentum has already been stopped. Contrary to popular belief, the whistle does not have to be blown to signify a player is down. The whistle is to alert everybody that the play is over, not to signify that a ballcarrier's momentum has been stopped.