NFL has used virus precautions … sort of

The United States government has outlined identified basic, relatively easy-to-follow guidelines to minimize the chances of contracting the coronavirus. We need only look to the past history of the NFL for examples (and possible origin) of these behaviors.

Social distancing

Attendance at NFL games plateaued/in the mid 1970s as entities like Denver’s Orange Crush and Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain defenses scuttled high-scoring offenses. The league’s rules committee took matters into their own hands by introducing a variation of social distancing aimed at one Steeler cornerback who was taking full advantage of existing bump-and-run rules to maul pass catchers at the line of scrimmage, essentially eliminating them as viable options in an opponent’s aerial attack.

The implementation of what is now referred to the “Mel Blount Rule” in 1977 enabled fleet-footed receivers a free release into the secondary and to roam unencumbered. Both scoring and TV ratings exploded while unknown innovators like Don Coryell and Bill Walsh were quickly assigned genius/savant status.

Decades later, team owners stressed the critical need for additional measures designed to protect their most valuable commodity — the highly compensated signal-caller. The elimination of below-the-waist contact, proliferation of feet-first slides, liberalized holding and an overall increase in the number of roughing the passer penalties have all served to distance the pass rush specialist from the quarterback.

One final, albeit farfetched, example of this phenomena is the league choosing to socially distance placekickers from end-zone fans by moving the scrimmage line back 12 yards for extra points.

Stay at home

Frequently deployed by most pro gridiron defensive line coaches, this phrase is used to reinforce the principle of contain with the outside linebacker or defensive end bearing this responsibility at the line of scrimmage.

Coaches barked “ya gotta stay at home” at their perimeter’s defenders during film study or practice in the days leading up to games against opponents who are particularly fond of using reverses and naked bootlegs.

Wash your hands

This was common practice among referees both during and after Oakland Raider games in the ’70s and early ’80s.

Silver and black stalwarts Fred Biletnikoff and Lester Hayes would generously lather themselves in a sticky gel known as StickUm to help maintain possession of any pigskin hurled in their general direction, prompting officials to routinely switch out footballs if either player touched them in order to avoid touching the tacky adhesive residue.

Don’t touch your face

I lack a specific NFL example here so I will conclude this rant by using a personal one.

At a young age I was diagnosed with extreme nearsightedness, which has forced me to wear contact lenses for the better part of the past 43 years.

Successful lens insertion without touching one’s face is a difficult undertaking so in order to maintain compliance with the CDC, I now don the same rigid, opaque-shaded hockey mask worn by Jason in those Friday the 13th movies prior to inserting or removing my contact lenses (I prefer the old school style mask since I find the fancy artwork on the modern ones NHL goalies wear a bit distracting).

The only drawback is the outside possibility Donald Pleasance shows up on my doorstep one day and threatens me with his revolver.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay home.

Contz was a starting offensive tackle on Penn State’s first national championship team in 1982 and played six seasons in the NFL. He published a book in 2017, “When the Lions Roared: Joe Paterno and One of College Football’s Greatest Teams.” He resides in Pittsburgh and winters in Arizona.


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