“Personally, I think it’s a shame, all the star football players who retired in the prime of life. Lou Groza, washed up at 43. Ben Agajanian, prematurely retired at 45. Y. A. Tittle, gone when he was 38 and Bob Waterfield at 33. Norm Van Brocklin hung them up at 35 as did Otto Graham, the finest quarterback I’ve ever seen. Why, that’s a tragedy. Does anybody really think Otto Graham couldn’t have played six or eight more seasons? Of course he could. Even now, at 49, Otto handles himself better than most of the young bucks right out of college. But like all the others, he fell victim to one of pro football’s many unreasoning prejudices: that you’re no longer capable of playing when you reach 30 or 35. Baloney!” –George Blanda, age 43
BLOOMINGBURG, NY – The NFL is celebrating its 100th birthday this season and in retrospect, I’m looking back in comparing today’s NFL to those of bygone eras. While not going all the way back to the leather helmet years, I’m staying within the fifty-plus years I’ve been around and familiar with all things NFL.
Tom Brady is the new George Blanda
Tom Brady just turned forty-two years old early this month and shows no sign of decline or willingness to hang up his cleats, even as he enters his twentieth year in the league. His physical condition and overall health is something to marvel about, so maybe there is something to be said about avocado ice cream and being married to a supermodel that keeps a man young (wink, wink). Before Touchdown Tommy there was a guy named George Blanda, whose hair was as silver as his Oakland Raiders team helmet by career end. Blanda, also a quarterback, spent twenty-six seasons on the gridiron with the final nine strictly as a kicker for the Silver & Black. Placekickers are known for longevity but Brady gets the nod here for playing a more physically demanding position his entire career. Edge: Now
Rubber gloves are the new Stickum
In the 1970’s there was a goopy like substance called Stickum that improved gripping power. It was used in baseball to help hitters grip a bat and pole vaulters as well but the NFL helped this man-made substance soar to its notoriety like no other. Wide receivers and defensive backs, most famously Fred Bilitnekoff and Lester Hayes, respectively, would bathe in this stuff in order to catch a football. Today, we have the tacky rubberized gloves that so many players wear to grip/haul in the pigskin. Stickum was banned by the NFL but somehow the proliferation of these gloves are allowed to help gain a competitive advantage. Stickum was way cooler. Edge: Then
Concussions are the new knee injury
There was a time where once an athlete in any sport suffered a blown out knee their career was all but over. Modern medicine and technology have come a long way in helping those get back on the field in about a year with aggressive rehabilitation. Many an NFL player saw their careers end before the advent of medical strides. These men could barely walk post NFL career. Fast forward to today and the concussion. This is so serious a condition the league faced a lawsuit over them and knowingly put players in peril by clearing them to get back on the field. One concussion is bad enough but once you suffer one you are prone to more and becomes a question of when the next one is coming rather than if another is to occur. Concussions are severe in today’s game due to the speed at which bigger and stronger men are playing the game. Egde: Now
Back up quarterbacks
Can you name more than five or six back up quarterbacks today? Used to be that teams had very viable and capable understudies at the QB position. While the game has changed to keep the quarterback clean and injury free, you can’t tell me no here because the rules are meant to protect the signal caller, there is less a need for a quality backup. In the 70’s and 80’s the second-string QB pushed the starter to the point of a controversy over who should be the starter. Names like Don Strock, Steve DeBerg, and Craig Morton come to mind while today’s dreck dot the NFL landscape. And yes, Colin Kaepernick is an upgrade at back up QB and probably deserves that role. Edge: Then
That’s all for now. Comment below and come back tomorrow for a man that starts on any team in any era, Ben Whitney.