(left) Junior Seau while playing for the New England Patriots
Junior Seau was one of my favorite players in the NFL for many years. Recently, he was found dead in his apartment from an apparent suicide. It seemed unlikely that at age 43, Seau would commit suicide but some feel that concussions received during his playing years could have been a factor since they are thought to induce negative reactions like mood swings.
Former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson is another NFL guy who committed suicide last year at age 51. He left a note saying he wanted his brain studied to try to find out the relationship of head injuries that may bring on suicide. Seau’s family has also donated his brain for the same purpose. Both Duerson and Seau died from gunshot wounds to the chest.
Now, more than 1,000 players are suing the NFL claiming that they were never given enough protection to stave off concussion injuries.
With the NFL cruising in high gear from high TV ratings of their Sunday slate of games in the afternoon and evening, what effect will this action have? Let’s not forget the NFL Network and the everlasting Monday Night Football on ESPN. The latter has been a winner since 1970.
Take a moment and think of the latter statement: Monday Night Football has been on TV since 1970! Who would think a pro football game being broadcast on Monday in prime time on a major network (ABC) would last 42 years?
A lot of its success was due to some good games and especially to the three man announcing crew of Keith Jackson (replaced after one season by Frank Gifford), former Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback “Dandy Don” Meredith, and the irrepressible Howard Cosell.
It didn’t hurt that the 1970s produced a lot of great football especially from the Miami Dolphins who still are the only NFL team to play a season undefeated (1972), and the Pittsburgh Steelers with Terry Bradshaw and company who dominated the Super Bowl in that era.
Gifford was basically a vanilla referee during the broadcasts of MNF while the constant interaction of country boy former player Meredith and the stuffy, conceited, New Yorker Cosell made for great broadcasting. On one occasion Cosell droned on about a coach "eschewing the field goal." It was an attempt to show off his expansive vocabulary as "Howad" was prone to do, so Dandy Don intoned: "S-what Howard?"
In one MNF game in Miami, an obviously inebriated fan ran across the field during a time out prompting Cosell to go on one of his long rants. After five minutes or so, Dandy Don had apparently had enough responding: "Maybe the bathroom lines were too long on his side of the stadium, Howard." It was great theater and the fans loved it for the four years it ran before changes started happening with the cast.
That was then and now is now. The days of Cosell calling a black player a “little monkey” are long gone. Today, the question is whether the league is in big trouble with lawsuits occurring over injuries, bounties being offered by coaches to players to incur REALLY dangerous injuries, and changes in the game that would soften it and perhaps lose fans who have always enjoyed the hard hitting.
(left to right) Don Meredith, Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford
Already, kickoffs have been pushed to the 35 yard line to reduce returns. Now, there is a possibility that kickoffs may be eliminated. Does that mean that punts will also be eliminated? Are the players too big and too fast? Are they just softer than in the “old days?” Are their gripes legitimate?
There will be a settlement of some kind but I don’t know how the fans will react. Meanwhile, I think I will sit back, close my eyes, sip a beer, and remember the good old days of Meredith and Cosell bickering in their mustard colored ABC blazers while Terry Bradshaw threw long bombs to Lynn Swann.