Monday, December 4, 2017

The Leaven of Political Football

The following article appeared in the American Thinker on December 3rd

At the pinnacle (1989-92) of Don James’s (1932-2013) football coaching career with the University of Washington Huskies, he was sabotaged by college officials from within, precisely because of political correctness.  Political correctness brought an end to the glory years of the Don James era (1975-92) which included a national championship, an Orange Bowl win over Oklahoma in 1984 that should have given the Huskies another national title, together with numerous Rose Bowl wins and many bowl appearances that racked up an impressive 10-4 postseason record.  Moreover, the political reckoning of Don James is was and is an important barometer relative to what is now sweeping the NFL as the increasing politicization of football is taking a heavy toll.  Thanks to the leaven of political correctness, the national anthem is now an apparent anathema in spite of the fact that American Football is a uniquely American sport.  If one cannot celebrate the national anthem at a distinctly American sport, can there be any real future to the NFL in America?
Don James  1932-2013
What started the ruckus at the UW that led to severe Pac-10 sanctions against the Huskies in the late summer of 1993 actually began in the mid 1980s over politics – from the inside before later being finished off by the outside.  Leftist UW President William Geberding became incensed when Don James introduced President Reagan at a fund raiser and then gave him a signed football to boot – pun intended.  To add insult to injury, President George Bush, Sr. later invited James to dinner at the White House. 

All of this was an affront to Gerberding who sharply reprimanded James for having the gall to mix sports with politics.  Not only was Gerberding incensed by James’s political conservatism, he was envious of his being the essential face of the school, not to mention the highest paid state employee in the state of Washington at the time.  Gerbeding’s political orientation was further insulted precisely because the UW’s athletic department was brimming with tons of cash thanks to the winning ways of Don James. 

To counteract this abomination, Gerbeding first went after Mike Lude.  Lude was Washington’s Athletic Director for many years.  He worked very closely with Don James to build Washington’s football program.  Lude’s previous background as the head coach of Colorado State University (1962-69), and then later as the Athletic Director of Kent State University, also afforded him a very respected and influential position in the NCAA. 

After Gerberding compelled Lude to share the incredible wealth he and James had brought into the UW athletic department with the rest of the school, he then forced Lude out of office in June of 1991.  This proved to be the primary catalyst that would later leave James exposed to the wolves of the NCAA, particularly at the Pac-10 level.  Pac-10 colleges were not happy watching their teams get mauled by the Husky defense.

A very inexperienced Barbara Hedges was then hired to replace Lude.  Hedges had priorities beyond developing the Husky football brand.  This became especially apparent when the Pac-10 finally came down harshly on the UW football program for what James considered to be petty violations that he initially thought would be relatively easy to overcome.  According to James, however, Hedge betrayed him and the entire football team at an emergency Pac-10 meeting in San Francisco by opting for much harsher sanctions rather than lobby for a lighter appeal.  According to other witnesses at the meeting, this decision was ostensibly made for the sake of men’s golf and women’s tennis.  Gerberding did not even attend the meeting. 

The undermining of James became very insidious in that also included Seattle’s very liberal press who were the first to dig up dirt on backup quarterback Billy Jo Hobert (that was later proved not to be illegal) but still managed to put the UW football program under the spotlight that led to other investigations.  Former 49ers coach Bill Walsh, who came to the Stanford Cardinals in 1992, went on to characterize the Huskies as a collection of outlaws and mercenaries that did not belong in the NCAA.  James was livid with Walsh’s insinuations. 

Yet after all of the investigations were completed, the primary allegations that were brought against the UW football program stemmed from the acts of California kids whom James had already dismissed from the team for being unethical.  Such manifest lawyerism, which made a Midwest law firm that specialized in NCAA violations almost one million dollars richer, together with other legalistic ticky-tack violations, which was further compounded by Hedges’s betrayal, led to the highly publicized harsh penalties leveled against the Husky football program.  James finally quit.  True to his word, James warned Hedges that if she does not appeal or lobby for a lighter sentence, he would resign. 

Hypocritically, long after the James Gang was gone, in 2006 Gerberding wrote a letter to Derek Johnson, the author of “Husky Football in the Don James Era.”  In the letter, Gerberding strongly agreed with James that the sanctions against the Huskies were far overblown.  He concluded by admitting the obvious that everyone already knew, “Don James was, of course, a great football coach.  He was also a gentleman and a fine representative of the University of Washington for 18 years.”  Today there is now a statue of James on the UW Campus recently dedicated to him.

At the dedication, future NFL Hall of Famer Warren Moon, who played for the Huskies in the late 70’s, reminisced, “After coach James left our living room and he got in his car, my mother told me: that’s where you’re going to go to school, son.  He wasn’t just a football coach that developed players. He was a football coach who developed young men.”   Here is a huge blind spot that leftist academics refuse to understand about American football – or perhaps they do all too well:  Football a not mindless sport for brutes.  If chess was to be played by real live people, it would be something akin to American football.

Neither is it a coincidence that the last truly dominating defense seen in all of football was the Husky defense of the late Don James era.  The Huskies did not merely defend, but destroyed the opposition. 

This Husky defense held the eventual all-time NFL rushing leader Emmit Smith to 17 yards in a 34-7 rout of the Florida Gators in the 1989 Freedom Bowl.  An even more powerful Husky defense derailed quarterback Todd Marinovich’s quest for the Heisman in 1990 with a 31-0 shellacking of USC.  In 1991, defensive lineman Steve Emtman was such a dominating force on the gridiron that he not only won the Lombardi Trophy, the Outland Trophy, the UPI Lineman of the Year together with the Pac-10 defensive player of the year, but incredibly, he also finished fourth in the Heisman race. 

In the 1992 Rose Bowl, retired Wolverine Coach Bo Schembechler (1929-2006) was shocked by the power of the Husky defense as he commented from the sidelines that no one pushes around a Michigan offensive line like that.   Even the depleted Husky defense of 1994 under Coach Jim Lambright, James’s successor and loyal defensive coordinator for many years, stuffed the Miami Hurricanes that ended their 58 home game winning streak dating all the way back to 1985 – with future NFL defensive Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Warren Sapp looking on with envy.

The toothless defenses seen on the NFL gridiron today are most certainly the outworking of political correctness that began from within, but is now being taken over from the outside as professional football seems far more concerned about politics in general than playing football.  In 1978, politically correct rules leavened the game in a big way to favor offenses over defenses.  Certain NFL owners and coaches were tired of trying to fight their way through the Steel Curtain and other extremely tough defenses in order to earn their way into the Superbowl.  Claiming the game needed more excitement and entertainment to match the NFL’s growing inroads into Hollywood TV, they began to defang defenses by over-regulating them.  While the Raiders, Bears, Giants, and 49ers kept the defensive emphasis afloat during the 1980’s, the 1990’s saw its eventual demise with only an occasional strong defense seen since.  Now, such anti-defensive measures are touted even more for the safety of the game. 
Today, nobody fears defenses.  This is a far cry from John Elway’s 1983 baptism into the NFL when he looked over at the remnants of Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain with a toothless Jack Lambert growling at him.  This is what the NFL used to be all about – competition in the face of intimidation and danger – the kind of drama that has all but disappeared.  Today’s NFL is technocratic, slick, and full of glitz, but increasingly hollow of character and short on drama.  The NFL is now a pass happy basketball kind of game full of short passes and cheap touchdowns together with quarterback and receiver records that mean very little since they cannot be compared to other eras, particularly to the Super Seventies

In the 1970s, NFL fans were routinely presented with divisional playoffs, championship games, and Superbowls that were chock full of great competitive drama as the best teams on both sides of the ball collided against each other.  Because of the fierce competition between the offenses and defenses, even the best quarterbacks of that era seldom had more touchdowns than interceptions in any given year.  Moreover, most NFL teams had an exciting and outstanding running back that today is in short supply.  Today, super fullbacks like Larry Csonka are essentially out of a job since fullbacks are virtually non-existent. 
Members of the Best Team Ever
The Super Seventies were also full of colorful coaches epitomized best by John Madden.  Madden’s rebel Raiders played three of the best games ever been played in NFL history – all of which were Divisional Playoff games.   First, there was the 1972 “Immaculate Reception” game where Franco Harris of the Steelers stole the win from the Raiders in the waning seconds of the game.  Jack Tatum’s bone-crushing hit that almost blew up the football itself, shot off of Fuqua’s chest like a cannon before implausibly popping into the hands of Harris with no one in front of him to stop him from scampering into the end zone.  Second, there was the classic 1974 “Sea of Hands” game against Miami that ended the Dolphins fourth straight drive to the Superbowl.  Third, there was the 1977 “Ghost to the Post” game that derailed the upstart Baltimore Colts – one of the longest NFL games ever played.

Such was the football drama of the Super Seventies that is today long gone as political correctness, legalism, and lawyerism now dominate the game.  All of this is turning into one big concussion for the fans that goes beyond the Kaepernick antics so that fewer people care much about the game anymore.  These days, Hollywood no longer cares even about entertainment – only politics.  This makes the NFL’s relationship to Hollywood even more insidious than before precisely because Tinseltown and Broadway demand political correctness as the first order of business.  Americans, who are already bombarded with the madness of politics 24-7, do not want to be subjected to it again on Sundays at a football game – a recipe for fewer fans and ticket sales to say the very least.

Ed.  I had the good fortune of living in Pittsburgh during the 1970’s. I also lived the dream of having season tickets to the Steeler games and to playoff games. I attended 3 of the 4 Super Bowls won by the Steelers during the 70’s (my wife was 8 months pregnant during Super Bowl XIII and I didn’t have the guts to go.)

In short, I spent the better part of a decade watching the greatest football team ever assembled. I was at the Steeler-Raider playoff game in 1972 for the Immaculate Reception. No doubt half a million fans now claim to have attended, but I really was there! We beat Oakland again in the Championship games of 1974 and 1975. Four Super Bowls won in 6 years. That record has yet to be equalled.

And yes, author Mark Musser is quite right. Defenses were highly respected—even glorified—during the 1970’s. Miami boasted a superb defensive team. As did Oakland and Dallas. The Houston Oilers of the late 1970’s have been all but forgotten, thanks to the path to the Super Bowl running through Pittsburgh. Yet theirs was also a first rate football team with a strong defensive unit.

Of course the finest of all defensive teams belonged to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Football has indeed become a game of pitch and catch, beginning in 1978 with what became known as the Mel Blount rule. What a tragedy. Take a look at the Stats from Super Bowl VIII in January of 1974, Miami vs Minnesota. The Dolphins decimated a damned good Viking team 24-7. Miami rushed for 195 yards, Minnesota for about 65. Dolphin quarterback Bob Griese threw a grand total of 7 passes, completing 6 for just 73 yards. This in spite of the fact that Miami had one of the greatest receivers of all time in former Ohio State Buckeye Paul Warfield! The Vikings Fran Tarkenton threw for 182 yards. Yet Minnesota was destroyed!

Imagine the Super Bowl champion throwing 7 passes today, completing 6 for just 73 yards!!

Yes, football has certainly changed.

And NOT for the better!

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