|GOLDBERG on FOOTBALL: The message is clear: Keep your head up|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 10 September 2007 11:54|
Replays show Kevin Everett, a special teams player for the Buffalo Bills, appeared to see what he was hitting when he tackled Denver's Domenik Hixon on the opening kickoff of the second half against Denver on Sunday.
Still, it still didn't prevent him from incurring a severe spinal injury.
Sadly, he most likely won't be the last to get hurt making a tackle or being tackled. Football, particularly the NFL, is a violent sport played by huge men moving very fast. When they collide, bad things can happen.
Dick Jauron, Everett's coach, acknowledged as much on Monday.
He even discussed something macho NFL players don't readily acknowledge, the fear that comes with playing a violent game.
``Having been fortunate enough to play the game and having coached it for a number of years, you don't go into it without knowing that something can happen,'' said Jauron, who played safety for Detroit and Cincinnati for eight years. ``It isn't something they (players) haven't thought about at some time during their careers.
It is something the people who make the rules in the NFL have thought about.
Every spring, the competition committee, which makes and tweaks rules, emphasizes that player safety is at the top of the agenda.
Every season, a television commentator - usually a former player - wonders after a late hit penalty or some other unnecessary roughness call if the rules makers haven't gone a little too far in protecting players.
What they're really saying is: ``they're treating quarterbacks and receivers a little too gently.''
Indeed, those are the players the rules protect.
A helmet-to-helmet hit on a quarterback, or on a receiver in the act of making a catch is illegal. Also illegal: hitting a player already on the ground with a helmet or ``spearing,'' as it's commonly called.
Players most commonly fined for on-field hits tend to be safeties, whose job it is to ram into receivers coming over the middle.
Despite the size and speed in the professional game, there tends to be more serious injuries at the lower levels of football, largely because the athletes aren't as skilled and the coaching isn't as good.
Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, like Jauron a former NFL safety, recently helped on a DVD being distributed to high schools across the country that shows the calamitous effects of bad tackling - paralysis and even brain injury.
``These are not issues that don't come up,'' Jauron said Monday. ``They're talked about all the time. When you teach tackling, blocking, you teach techniques to try to avoid these kind of incidents because you know that it is a vulnerable part of the body. We could not, in my opinion, stress it any more than we do, the proper way to tackle.''
These things have happened in the past, the saddest and most notable the collision in a 1978 exhibition game in Oakland between Jack Tatum of the Raiders and Darryl Stingley of the Patriots. Stingley's neck was broken, he was left a quadriplegic, and he died at age 55 last April, in part from the effects of the injury.
Dennis Byrd of the Jets suffered a serious spinal injury in a game after a collision with a teammate in 1991 and was partially paralyzed. He eventually recovered but never played again.
Reggie Brown of the Lions almost died on the field when he was injured during the final game of the 1997 season. He had a spinal injury, and like Byrd, recovered but never played again.
Another Lion, Mike Utley, wasn't as lucky.
He was paralyzed from the waist down during a game in 1991. He has since become an advocate for the disabled and understands the risks of playing football.
``These types of injuries are always going to happen in the NFL,'' Utley said Monday.
``Was it an accident? Yes. It wasn't a cheap shot. It was a great form tackle and that's it. Is it going to happen more? Yes.
``These are big, strong men competing at the highest level. You can do everything to prepare yourself - lifts weights and all that. But is it going to happen again? Yes.''
Sad to say, he's probably right.
AP Sports Writers Pat Graham in Denver and John Wawrow in Buffalo contributed to this report.