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When Ed Meadows, a young, tough, not extraordinarily good Chicago Bear end, caught Detroit's Bobby Layne with a battering blind-side tackle last month while Layne was not carrying the ball, he did two things: he removed Bobby from the game via a concussion, and he set off a storm of protest against dirty football. "Meadows should have brought a blackjack," said the Detroit coach, Buddy Parker. "They had to get Layne, and they got him with deliberately dirty football." Parker's accusation was a serious one; if a game which can produce the fine men who graced the Silver Anniversary All-America (SI, Dec. 24) is being destroyed by the moral decay dirty play implies, the loss is ultimately everyone's.
No proof was adduced to support Parker's accusation, but the incident brought into sharp focus the growing feeling among fans, players and coaches that pro football is dirty. Sports Illustrated's Tex Maule last week questioned Bert Bell, the stubborn, honest commissioner of the National Football League for the last 11 years, on how serious the situation really is and on what Bell—and the league—is going to do about it.
Q: Do you think that pro football is dirty and getting dirtier?
A: [Growled in the rasp which is Bell's speaking voice] No. I don't believe there is dirty football. I never have. Sure, there are flare-ups. But I have never seen a maliciously dirty football player in my life and I don't believe there are any maliciously dirty players in the National Football League.
Q: How do you explain the protests from coaches, owners and fans?
A: I believe this. If you go back seven or eight years, three or four teams dominated the league. So games and individual plays weren't always as vital as they are now. Now any team can beat any other team in the league, and every game is important. The players get more excited, and officials have maybe 50 or 60 judgment calls to make in every game. They don't come equipped with radar or a zoomar lens, either. Now you got to remember every team uses movies, too. They can look for things and find things the officials may miss. But the situation is this—the movies aren't always right, either. The other day a man who is competent told me he would bet $10,000 he could set up a couple of cameras four feet on either side of the 50-yard line and get completely different pictures.
Q: How about the protest the Chicago Cardinals made against the Chicago Bears on their Dec. 9 game in which the Cards claimed their movies showed over 20 fouls by the Bears which were not called by the officials? Did you see those movies?
A: Wolfner [managing director of the Cardinals] sent the thing to me. I agree some mistakes were made. Nothing malicious.
Q: Then why did you refuse to let the Cardinals give a public showing of their game film?
A: I didn't say they couldn't show the film. What I said was that they couldn't show the thing and stop it whenever they wanted so they could point out the mistakes of the officials. I will never condone anyone holding the officials up to public ridicule.