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But the picture is not all bad, and there are some good influences at work.. The various all-star games are an example. In professional football, we've had a Pro Bowl game now for four years, and it has done more good than can ever be measured. You get to know personally the men you've been playing against all year. You play with them. And the chances are that next season when you're against them again you'll still play hard but it will be clean. You just don't go out and hit your friends in the face with an elbow.
A GOOD SIDE TOO
There are coaches and players who deserve credit too, for their own good influence. I remember one incident that happened to me five or six years ago when the Cleveland Browns played three games in eight days. It was a rough schedule. We played the New York Yankees in New York on Sunday, then flew all night to Los Angeles where we played the Dons on Thanksgiving Day. I was hurt in that game. My knee was twisted badly. And we still had another game with the 49ers in San Francisco on Sunday.
The morning of the San Francisco game, I could hardly walk. I had soaked the knee in hot mineral baths but was still hobbling on the way to the stadium. Paul Brown, our coach, didn't want me to dress for the game but our trainer suggested taping my leg before I decided definitely. It felt a lot better with tape and I dressed to stay in reserve. In the first few minutes of play, I was needed and went into the game. I couldn't run, but I could drag my leg back fast enough to pass. I played the whole game, and we were lucky to win, 31-28.
After it was over, I found out that Buck Shaw, the 49ers' coach, had given his team specific orders to be careful of my knee. Thinking back, I remembered several times when it had been obvious. They could have ruined me if they had wanted to?and completely within the rules too. But even though it was a close game and they were losing, they played it Buck Shaw's way. I've had a warm feeling for the 49ers ever since. And a special feeling for Buck Shaw. I think football?win or lose?should be played Shaw's way. Unfortunately, that kind of football is becoming more and more the exception instead of the rule.
THE EMOTIONAL APPROACH
I don't condemn any one person or group for the viciousness in modern football. It's not as simple as that. I know there are coaches who tell their players to "get so-and-so." Sometimes they specify that it must be by fair means. Sometimes they don't. It usually doesn't make much difference. The player-coach relationship, particularly in high school and college, is often an emotional one. When the coach says, "Get that man," you get him.
I know, also, that there are players who are consistently looking for a chance to do a little extra damage to an opponent when the officials aren't looking. But if you weeded out all those players and all the coaches, I'm not sure you would have solved the problem. The cause goes deeper than individuals. I think it goes down to something I mentioned a while back?today's tremendous overemphasis on winning.
Football has always been played to win; and that's right. But when the pressure to win begins to overshadow both the rules and the spirit of the game?as it does in many places today?I think it's going too far.
The pressure to win comes from many sources. In professional football, it comes from the fans and owners. In college, it is always the alumni who demand a winning team. Coaches know that their win-loss records are the important factor in holding their jobs. Players often are given athletic scholarships on a so-called "trial basis" with the obvious implication that they either produce or else. And there's pressure of another sort on both high school and college players from their fellow students. I know from my own experience that with most of the students, you're a hero when you're winning, and a bum when you lose.