Holler: Some proposals destined for defeat

At the NFL owners meetings, a rule change is being considered to eliminate running backs from delivering a blow. Simply, it's a bad proposal that needs to be eliminated itself.

When NFL owners get together, policy is made. It also is subject to proposals brought forward by the Competition Committee, a bipartisan group of NFL coaches, owners and executives that identify potential changes to the rules. This week in Phoenix, owners have been given a recommendation that is currently being debated. The issue is new. The debate is not.

More than 40 years after Bud Grant and Don Shula were professional rivals, the proposals from the Competition Committee are controversial. Grant was one of the first coaches to embrace the three-team philosophy of football – that special teams were just as important as offense and defense. It didn't go unnoticed.

Grant figured out a way to block kicks that no other team had yet considered. The formula was simple – take two guys who felt fortunate to have a job on an NFL roster drop on all-fours and let another large man with cleats step on their backs and jump up to block a kick.

The Vikings blocked two kicks against Shula's Dolphins in a "meaningless game," by Grant's own recollection. The following year, the Competition Committee made it illegal for defensive players to use another player as a human catapult to block field goals or extra points. Forty years later, Grant is still bitter. The Competition Committee (run by Shula) took away a competitive advantage he had discovered.

The power of the Competition Committee has diminished in the decades that have followed. It used to be tacit to business that owners followed the committee recommendations as they were presented. That's no longer the case and somewhere on a still-frozen lake where the crappies are biting, Grant is shrugging his shoulders and smiling.

As the NFL owners meet in Arizona this week, one of the topics is a proposal to potentially punish running backs for lowering their heads prior to making contact with defenders by calling a 15-yard personal foul for effectively protecting themselves from absorbing a big hit, as opposed to delivering one.

The only message sent by this proposal is that nobody currently sitting on the Competition Committee apparently has ever played in the NFL.

Running backs, by the nature of the position they play, are the pawns on the NFL chessboard. At many positions, when you hit the age of 30, you're at the prime of your career. Quarterbacks are battle tested. Defensive ends have perfected swim moves. Cornerbacks get the benefit of the doubt.

For running backs, hitting 30 means putting up the "Gone fishin'" sign for the vast majority of them. The career of a running back is as precarious as any in NFL. The proposal has been met by almost universal scorn.


By its definition, it takes away the one thing dominant running backs have in their favor – the fear factor they can deliver a big hit to an opponent. Adrian Peterson isn't one who accepts running out of bounds when he can drop a shoulder and gain an extra couple of yards. That's how Peterson is wired. That's how nearly every running back of lesser pedigree is wired.

At a time when quarterbacks are as protected as they have ever been, running backs have become an endangered species. When Peterson gets handed the ball, there are 11 full-grown men with bad intentions out to stop him. At any cost. A reasonable deciphering of the new rules proposal effectively says that running backs can't drop their helmets to avoid a shot to the chest from a 250-pound man with a 20-yard running head of steam.

Maybe those proposing the rules change have never seen Adrian Peterson coming at full speed with bad intentions of his own. The basic premise of football is that defenders stop the guy who has the ball in his hands. Quarterbacks are well protected. Running backs are not. The chorus has begun in opposition.

Good rules come out of the owners meetings. This is not one of them. The changes in the way the NFL game is played has benefitted some, but not all. Running backs take a beating. Those who can "give back" should be applauded, not penalized.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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