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John Underwood
August 21, 1978
Intimidation! Gang tackling! Pursuit! Those are now bywords in football, much as "sportsmanship" once was
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August 21, 1978

Punishment Is A Crime

Intimidation! Gang tackling! Pursuit! Those are now bywords in football, much as "sportsmanship" once was

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Once gang tackling became widespread, it was increasingly difficult to distinguish late hits and piling on from momentum. Coaches teach getting to the ball; officials know that. Too often, says San Diego State Trainer Bob Moore, the late hit is regarded as "a sign of team defense instead of a potentially dangerous act of overaggression."

The game, says Moore, is "wrapped up emotionally" in these tactics. "Combine that with officials not calling the late hits, and you have a dangerous situation. The injury does not always happen then. It takes a toll later on—the aspect of prolonged punishment. A player who has been hit head-on for three quarters might try to make an unusual dodge late in the game, take a clumsy step, get hit awkwardly and tear up a knee. I've seen it happen. All this could have started with a piling on early in the game."

Woody Hayes once said that a player good enough to make the Ohio State team "is good enough to change directions in midair." When John Ray was defensive coach at Notre Dame, he said that players like Alan Page, "as good as they are today, can be taught anything—to stop on a dime if you tell them." That being the case, would it be politic to ask them to do exactly that—to turn away from a pileup, to resist taking the "free shot" that momentum allows?

Is it necessary for a defensive player to unload on a receiver when it is obvious the ball is overthrown?

The colleges now have a rule against this practice, making the defender responsible for knowing where the ball is. The pros don't.

Is it necessary to tackle players who don't have the ball, just because they might get it?

Lou Holtz of Arkansas can tell you why he doesn't think so, although this is a favored tactic in the college game, where blindside hits on trailbacks in the option play are allowed. Indeed, the accepted defense against the wishbone or veer is to wipe out the quarterback on every play, whether he keeps the ball or not, and blindside the trailback before he gets it.

"It's legal," says Holtz, "but it's not ethical."

Is it necessary? If you are a defensive coach having to face an Alabama or Oklahoma wishbone, you might say yes, but Doug Dickey says there's another way. He thinks a defensive player responsible for the trailback can play the option as he would cover a pass receiver: go for the pitch if you wish, but if you play the man, just establish your ground until he gets the ball. If he runs into you beforehand, that's his fault. "There's no need to hit the pitch man on every play. Look at it from his standpoint. How would a linebacker like being blindsided time after time, sometimes when the play is past him?"

Is any blow to the head necessary?

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