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Let 'em Play

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Let 'em play. That seems to be what Steeler Nation wants, after all. Just let 'em play.

Stop calling personal fouls for perceived late hits (it's taking away from the players' aggression), don't worry so much about helmet-to-helmet contact (because it's going to happen anyway), let players lead with their heads (because fans want to see their team's players separate the opposition from the ball), and above all – stop picking on our Steelers! Let them play.

It is football, after all. The players knew the risks involved when they chose to play the game, goes the argument. It's a privilege to play in the NFL, not a right, and by penalizing these players for their aggression the NFL is ruining their game. So let them play.

And after the Steelers were flagged for 14 penalties for a franchise-record 163 yards in a 35-3 win over the Raiders, Steeler Nation—along with those who set up the green screen in Hollywood for Neil Armstrong's 1969 moon walk—had enough. The proof was in, they claimed. The NFL was clearly targeting the Steelers and clearly trying to alter the entire fundamental basics of the game of football.

Let 'em play.

Just like they did in the 1950s and 60s, when coaches taught roll-blocking as a strategic means of running the football. The advent of artificial turf soon meant career-ending knee injuries—at every level of the game, from youth to high school, college and the pro's—became so prevalent that blocking techniques had to be re-visited to keep players on the football field. The chop-block, when one offensive player engages a defender above the waist while a second offensive player cuts the defender below the waist, was outlawed. It still occurred, and still does, but the rule change—while impacting how every offensive lineman was able to play—has saved countless players from ruining their knees.

Bring back the chop-block, though. It's football. Let' em play.

In 1977, the NFL enacted the “Deacon Jones Rule,” which outlawed head slaps. Jones, a Rams defensive end, popularized the technique of, quite simply, knocking the blocker off-balance by knocking him in the helmet as hard as possible with the bottom of the hand. At the time, the head-slap was simply too effective a technique at allowing defensive lineman to effectively rush the passer. In recent years, however, it has become obvious that the head-slap caused significant head-trauma to players from that era.

After his death in 2002, Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease. It has been speculated that Webster's ailments were due to wear and tear sustained over his playing career; he played the bulk of his college and pro career during a time when the head slap was legal and utilized all the time. Back when they let 'em play.

In 1978, the NFL enacted the “Mel Blount Rule” which outlawed bump and run coverage after five yards.

In the span of two seasons, the league changed the way every single pass rusher and defensive back played the game. The two most effective methods of defending the forward pass were rendered illegal. While the two rule changes allowed for more offense, in addition to keeping players safer, but the way defenses played was changed dramatically – forever.

Yet the sun still rose, the Steelers still won Super Bowls and the NFL, in fact, began to explode in popularity.

The league will adjust this time, too. While there will likely be bumps along the way, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell—essentially hand-picked by Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, by the way—is steering the league down the right path.

Then again, maybe torn ACLs and traumatic head injuries are what the fans want. Maybe I'm soft.

Let 'em play.

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