It's Monday night. We're watching the ABC game with the sound turned off. They break for a commercial, and all of a sudden my 11-year-old is yelling, "Turn it on! That's L.C." Sure enough, it's L.C. Greenwood doing a commercial (my boy is a heavy Steeler fan).
"Can you name the Steel Curtain defensive line?" I ask him.
"Sure," he says. "L.C. and Mean Joe and Mad Dog and, uh, and..."
"C'mon now," I say, "all four." Suddenly he shoots a fist into the air. "And Fats Holmes!" he yells.
"Right," I say. "Now name this year's defensive line."
Yeah, I know. It's cruel. It's unfair. Why should he be able to do what no adult east or west of McKeesport can do? "Goodman, Dunn and Beasley," I tell him. His look is as blank as if I'd said Rote, McKissack and Benners.
Where have they gone? Defenses don't even have nicknames anymore. There's no more Steel Curtain, with Mean Joe and Fats, no more Fearsome Foursome with Rosey and Deacon and Merlin the Magician, no more Purple People Eaters or Doomsday Defense or Gold or Silver Rush. O.K., you say there's one—Miami's Killer Bees—but give me another. I dare you, just one more.
I can hear the snickers out there. What's wrong with Dr. Z? Put him out to pasture. Doesn't he know the game is different now? It's a speed game, it's played in space. It's a game of formations and motion, freeze frames and chalkboards. It's a game of situation substitutions: You move your pieces on the board, we move ours. Cerebral football played on synthetic grass.
It's corporate football and I think it's dull. I hear Woody Widenhofer, the Steelers' defensive coordinator, tell me, "We can use up to 20 different players on one series. Everybody makes a contribution. It's better than the old Steel Curtain defense," and I want to kill him. Makes a contribution? What is this, the March of Dimes?
"You watch defensive guys today, and you know they are making more money than you ever did, and they aren't playing the game as they should be," says Nitschke, the Hall of Fame middle linebacker on the Packers' glory teams of the '60s. "They don't know how to tackle. All they worry about is pass defense and blitzing and doing sneaky things."