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Though several defensive players told SI on Sunday night that they hadn't altered their style, there was none of the helmet-to-helmet fireworks in Week 7 that had characterized Week 6. Titans defensive back Alterraun Verner, who drilled Eagles wideout Chad Hall in the midsection, said the hit "had nothing to do with the new rule. I tried to separate him from the ball. I've never tried to aim at the head."
After Pittsburgh's victory over Miami, Harrison reiterated that he wouldn't change anything about how he has played football since the age of 10. But early in the fourth quarter, instead of pile-driving a nearly prone Ronnie Brown, Harrison pulled up on the Dolphins running back. "The way he was going down, if I hit him, we would have hit helmet to helmet," Harrison said. "Obviously I didn't want to do that."
Zero illegal helmet hits, zero defenseless-receiver penalties across 13 games last Sunday: NFL vice president of officiating Carl Johnson felt the new points of emphasis had accomplished their objective. "I've seen a change in behavior in one week," Johnson said. "It's what we kept hearing players couldn't adjust to, but they did."
BROOKING HAS a four-year-old son, Logan. Asked what he'd do when it came time for him to play a fall sport, Brooking said, "Sign him up. It's the greatest sport in the world. The teamwork and the other intangibles—the work ethic, even the situation we're in right now with the Cowboys. We start 1--4, and everyone's saying, 'The season's lost. It's over.' Well, not to me. The only thing I know to do is to go out and keep fighting. Where did I learn that? From football."
Halfway across the country, in her eastern Massachusetts home, McKee took a break from her study of the human brain—she's been a neurologist since 1984—and did what she does most Sundays: She settled in for a day of football. Steelers-Dolphins at 1, Chargers-Patriots at 4, Vikings and her beloved Packers at 8:30. McKee was born and raised in Appleton, Wis., a half hour from Lambeau Field, and says that every Sunday she's "glued" to the TV to get her football fix.
It's a little ironic, really, that this hard-core fan with a quick laugh is doing the grim but necessary research that could significantly change the way football is played—and how it's perceived. Will people ask, more and more, if it's a game our youth should be playing and our society worshipping? "I love football," McKee said, "but I feel as if I almost have an obligation with the knowledge I have. I can't sit on it. I owe it to public health. I just wish we could take the hits to the head out of the game, maybe make it more of a finesse game.
"I wonder: Can we make it more of an Indy 500 and less of a demolition derby?"