"Quarterbacks should wear a dress," quipped, quite notoriously, Steelers linebacker and toothless warrior Jack Lambert after the 1978 season, the first of three years when he was penalized by the league for brutalizing Browns quarterback Brian Sipe.
Lambert, in all of his brash and honest viciousness, never denied his ill intentions. Bone-breaking hits were part of the game, he said.
In Lambert’s era, they certainly were. Modern-day taboos like bench-clearing brawls and low blows were commonplace in these more lawless days of football. Today, however, players are protected from such halycon brutality, partly to harmonize the league’s image, and partly to protect its neck from endless concussion controversies and lawsuits.
A big hit on a receiver while he stretches out over the middle of the field for a ball is now heavily penalized, as are hits to the head of any player. Quarterbacks especially benefit from the league’s firmer stance on player safety. Referees are quick to penalize a defensive player for hitting a QB late, and flags are also thrown when QB's are hit too hard or are driven into the ground.
Such was the case Monday night in the Bears vs. Lions game, when hard-hitting and controversial Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh slammed Bears QB Jay Cutler into the dirt. While Cutler missed only one play, a contingent of Bears players and personnel were none too pleased with the hit, calling it reckless and vicious.
"A Suh. What u did to Jay wasn't cool. Great players don't have to do that,” tweeted star Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, who’s no stranger to controversy himself.
Suh’s reputation preceds him on this hit. As of 2011, he was the most-penalized player in the league, having accrued nine personal foul calls in his first year-and-a-half. During that same period, he was fined nearly $43,000 for those hits, according to The Sporting News. Then, of course, there was the notorious “stomping incident” where Suh repeatedly pushed Packers OL Evan Dietrich-Smith’s head into the ground before stomping on his arm, all after the whistle. The action cost Suh two games and did nothing to clean up his sullied reputation.
Naturally, Suh’s hit on Jay Cutler wouldn’t garner the same attention if it had been thrown by a player like DeMarcus Ware — who’s every bit of a defensive menace as Suh is, except Ware carries no controversial baggage. We expect Ware to play effectively and cleanly. From Suh, we expect similar results, but with the possiblity that they may be achieved in a more brutal manner.
Viewing Suh’s hit on Cutler within an unobstructed prism is the biggest difficulty in this case. Suh claims that at the speed he was moving, with the momentum he had, and with the weight he carries, he couldn’t help but pummel the Bears QB into the ground.
"I couldn't control my momentum, especially at that high speed," Suh said. "I'm chasing him. He's running away from me.”
The lineman makes a convincing argument in concluding that severity of the collision was unavoidable. He is indeed a freakish athlete who possesses incredible speed and agility for a man his size, not to mention herculean strength. Can we really fault defensive players for being the otherworldly type of athletes we expect them to be, physically gifted to the point of being able to hurl opposing players onto the surface not by ill will, but by the sheer strength we ogle over?
Sure, Jack Lambert may have gone the extra mile to brutalize the QB, but for all we know, and for all we can expect, Ndamukong Suh may just be far too fast, strong, and driven by his own momentum to let up on the QB.
So where do you draw the line? Is Suh not supposed to tackle the QB at all, out of a fear that his physique alone could hurt the hapless hurler?
The Suh-Cutler collision was a powerful one. It does not appear, however, that Suh intentionally drove Cutler into the surface, though the placement of his forearm near Cutler’s neck/lower helmet area will certainly warrant a second look from Commissioner Roger Goodell.
I don’t think anyone wants a return to the Jack Lambert era of brutality, but at the same time, do we really want to create a state of two-hand touch football? The NFL is reaping what it has sown with players like Ndamukong Suh. Gentle, immensely powerful players may be an oxymoron.