Dubious helmet use in blocking and tackling was covered in Part I of this series, but the head is open to other needless attacks. Clubbing, the forearm blow to the neck, has been outlawed in colleges since 1949, but vestiges of it are still around. Fred Akers, the Texas coach, says he "cringes" when he sees rival teams come on the field "with their arms taped to the elbows. I know it's going to be a long day. You should see some of the forearms [hits] we get on ballcarriers, frame by frame. It makes you want to throw up."
In its most virulent expression (the Atkinson and Morgan cases), clubbing has been "cracked down on" in the NFL, according to McNally, but Tom Landry still sees it happening. "They should call a penalty for every blow to a player's head," the Cowboy coach says. "If officials don't stop it," says his assistant, Ermal Allen, "some Sunday some ballcarrier or receiver is going to lose his life."
The overall picture is clear: the rules of the game do not protect the players. The rules are not always "fair" to both parties in the more than 2,000 separate one-on-one hits that are made in the course of a normal football game. The rules need revision. So, it would seem, does the degree of punishment.
John Unitas says the easiest way to stop the foul play of the more brutal players is to "throw them out of the game. That would cure it." Doug Plank, although perhaps an unlikely advocate, agrees. "It would be like enforcing the death penalty," he says. "Right now you practically have to hit somebody on the back and trample on his head to get thrown out. If an official came up [and warned me what would happen] I might not like it, but I'd make darn sure that whatever he was watching [out for] I didn't do in that game."
But what good is a 15-yard penalty for clipping if your player is on his back with a torn knee? Herman Rohrig, the Big Ten's supervisor of officials, says, "We have to impress on players and coaches that football is not an exercise in annihilation." Coaches get more safety conscious when it costs them 15 yards. A way to impress them further might be a 20-yard penalty. Would a player think twice before aiming a forearm at someone's neck if he knew it would cost his team 20 yards—or even 30? Would a 30-yard penalty make a coach more conscious of his humanity?
Would the following be likely to happen this coming New Year's Day? In 1965 Texas played Alabama in the Orange Bowl. It was the last college game for the Tide's Joe Namath. He had just come off knee surgery. Bear Bryant tells how Darrell Royal warned his Texas players before the game, "If anybody hits Namath's knee, he's on the bench. We'll win without that." Namath lasted the game and came within a foot of a touchdown that would have beaten Texas in the last minute.
In commenting on the current atmosphere, Royal, who is now Texas' athletic director, says, "So-and-so [coach of a rival team] was showing films on his highlight show last season. He came to a really vicious hit on a player. The player's helmet flew off. So-and-so laughed, and ran it again."
Such attitudes become license, says Royal. License leads to injury. It begins with the simplest unsportsmanlike acts, acts that are sanctioned by their toleration. What Stanford Coach Bill Walsh calls "the theatrics of the game. Standing over an injured player and using profane language. Pointing to a beaten cornerback after catching a pass. Tactics intended to diminish or physically hurt players. Fifteen or 20 years ago, you could name one or two dirty players on a team. Now there's continuous talking, insults and, before you know it, a clothesline from behind. Or a tackle on a player who is helpless, or when he doesn't expect to be hit without the ball."
Such play not only psychs the crowd to demand more theatrics, says Royal, but acts as a career boost for the perpetrators. "We glamorize hoodlums, the guys who foul and hold. The worst examples of sportsmanship become our heroes. The way Conrad Dobler plays is nothing to emulate."
College people tend to blame the pros for the spread of these aberrations. They are probably not far wrong. SEC Referee Pete Williams says he is appalled by what he sees passing for sportsmanship in the NFL. "Everybody says football is a violent game. It wasn't meant to be. It was meant to be a game of skill and speed and physical prowess. It has become a violent game. A game of intimidation. I watch the pros and it makes me sick. A guy is going down, a 260-pounder hits him anyway. Receivers are clobbered to 'make 'em think.' The hay-hook, the hammer, the clothesline—those things were coined by the pros, and they get copied."