Lurtsema's Reaction: Over-Protecting Players

Some of the water-cooler talk brought on by the accident of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has former Viking Bob Lurtsema saying people are babying players. At some point, players have to be accountable to themselves and ready to accept the responsibilities and consequences that go with that.

VU: With the whole Ben Roethlisberger accident in the rear-view mirror, I'm wondering if you know what sort of previsions the modern-day players have in their contracts and if you had any of those back when you played, as far as off-the-field activities and what you could or couldn't do?

Back in my day, we had a dress code and basically weren't allowed to go to certain bars where known gangsters hung out, or those who were involved in betting. But there weren't a lot of strong restrictions. No. 1, we weren't making that kind of money and, No. 2, we had offseason jobs to keep our money coming in. They just wanted to protect our image. With the laws changing so much from back in the 1960s and '70s, they'd just cut us with no lawsuit going back on them. There was no violating our rights or anything like that—if you screwed up or were bad for the image, you were cut and that was it. You didn't have to explain it.

Now they have to go through the union and they had no right to cut me. We had accountability and pretty much knew it. If you liked football, you played it. If you didn't, you were out. Remember, what we were being paid, you had to love the game to play it. Nowadays, it can be about money and a lot of times players really don't give a darn what people think of them.

VU: I know you do some snowmobiling with players, current and past. Have you ever talked to them about what activities are regulated, like if they would get hurt doing that if they could be cut without any compensation or signing bonus? Do you know how that all works?

The Vikings actually have the Artic Blast, where the players all get involved and ride their machines. So we have fund-raising events where we have a motorcycle run for the Viking Children's Fund and we have the snowmobile run. If you get hurt, of course, then your contract can become null and void, but how long do you have to baby-sit these little kids who are 24, 28 and 34 years old. You don't have to baby-sit them. If they want to go out and have a chance of getting hurt, so be it. The public wants to micro-babysit these kids. Let them live a little bit. If something happens, God forbid, it's a sad situation, but for them to tell me when I was 25 that I can't do this and I can't do that, that ain't going to happen. You have to have your independence. I'll give you what I've got, but don't control my entire life. Nor should the fans try to control the players' lives either.

VU: How much of these offseason workouts are about conditioning and how much are necessary on the mental aspect because of all the coaching turnover and all the new systems being implemented?

With the new coaches, I think the mental aspect is most important. I'm a firm believer that you have to think on the run. If you're thinking before the snap of the ball, you're really in trouble because the game will not slow down. That expression, "the game slowing down," that's when you know what's ahead of you and what's going to develop. That's when the game slows down and that's when you excel in your game. So the mental part of the offseason is a good thing.

As far as all these drills they do, I think some of them are absolutely a waste of time—a total waste of time. They come in and talk about weight factor, but it's not weight factor, it's leverage. A lot of these guys have lousy stances. I watch their stance and they come out high. They can be 20 pounds lighter and come out lower and actually be twice as strong. That might sound like a dumb statement, but when you watch how you can use the leverage of your opponent, you're at an advantage. Sure, you have to be strong, but there's a limit and they've gone over this limit. I've seen too many players get heavy, and I think Kevin Williams is going to be a prime example. He got his weight back down, now he's in shape and now he's going to play some football.

I think some of these exercises are an absolute waste of time. I think they get too muscle-bound and lose their agility. Back when I played way back in 1910, the biggest thing was after you worked out and did your weight program, you go out and play basketball and keep your muscles coordinated. I don't see any basketball courts over there at the Vikings facility. You need to keep the agility.

VU: They're probably worried about the players getting hurt playing basketball, like what happened with Randy Moss in his rookie year.

There you go, micro-coaching these little kids. Let them play; let Randy play. If you get hurt, you get hurt. You can get hurt walking across the street. Forget if you've got a lot of money tied up in the guy. The money is not going to pay off if the guy's not happy. If he's not a happy camper, all of the sudden he's going to be playing for money. Let him live.

God forbid, Karl Kassulke, when he was in that motorcycle accident, it was the saddest thing in the world and everybody from the bottom of their hearts reached out for Karl. But did anybody ever say they would never ride on a cycle or they would never do something? No. It was just a terrible, terrible situation and those things happen in everybody's life.

I think the public is getting fed up with it too. Roethlisberger, it was a sad situation, but it was like he hurt the team, he hurt the fans, he hurt everybody that ever believed in the Pittsburgh Steelers. What do you mean? He's just normal; he's no different than a fan. If that's the way it is, tell every fan that rides a bike not to ride a bike because they might not be sitting in the seat that Roethlisberger looks up to every time before he throws a touchdown. If the seat is empty, then it's going to break his heart, you know?

Bob Lurtsema was a 12-year veteran defensive lineman in the NFL, playing with the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, and the longtime publisher of Viking Update. He joins for a weekly Q & A session, and his monthly column appears in the magazine.

Viking Update Top Stories