A recent conversation with a fellow fan of the gridiron focused on the upcoming season and which teams both of us thought would excel in the college ranks as well as the pros.
The football talk eventually moved into teams of the past and how the game has changed and evolved. Of course, there are some things about the game that are still the same. The playing field is still 100 yards long.
Touchdowns still count for six points. An extra-point kick is worth a point. Teams in high school, college and the pro ranks can go for a two-point conversion after a touchdown. (That was not always the case in the National Football League as the two-point conversion was not an option until the 1994 season, which happened to be the 75th anniversary of the league.)
It still takes 10 yards to make a first down. A field goal remains three points, regardless of distance. Players still wear helmets, shoulder pads and cleats.
Certainly, many things about football remain the same.
There are differences now than from decades past of course. For one, professional players receive much larger paychecks. It’s hard to fathom now but at one time professional football players worked other jobs in the offseason to support themselves and their families. In 2019 players in the NFL can focus on football 12 months a year.
Head coaches also make a great deal more money than from decades ago. Some coordinators make well more in 2019 (both in college and the pros) than head coaches did in 1990. Even head high school coaches in this state often make a six-figure salary.
The protection worn by players has evolved and is safer, especially the helmets. Concussions have become a big talk in recent years as several professional players of past decades have developed dementia. In some extreme cases, former players have committed suicide.
The saga of Hall of Fame player Mike Webster, who played for the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s was the focus of the movie “Concussion” starring Will Smith. It was Webster’s suicide, after he had become estranged from his family and friends living in his truck, that broke the lid off the concussion issue.
Webster’s brain was examined and showed damage similar to one being in multiple car accidents. Other known players have also tragically had their lives cut short including Ray Easterling of the Atlanta Falcons, Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers, Justin Strzelczyk of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Andre Waters of the Philadelphia Eagles and Dave Duerson of the Chicago Bears.
Legendary quarterback Jim McMahon, who helped lead the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl in 1985, is reportedly in bad health and often times does not recognize his own family members.
The NFL finally admitted there was an issue and set aside a sum for former players dealing with issues. The amount each player received though was small when the health costs are weighed, however.
Many college programs don’t have such rigorous preseason work and full contact work during the week of a game is now kept to a minimum.
Virtually every high school football coach conducts practice completely different from those of past generations. Water breaks are frequent. Many coaches allow players to drink water anytime he needs it during practice, not even having to wait for official breaks.
Most schools have large training staffs, comprised of professionals and students. The temperature is monitored, especially during summer workouts and once full contact practices begin.
During early season games, it is common for officials to call timeouts during contests for extra water breaks, not making one of the teams use a timeout.
The days of practice with no water and salt tablets are thankfully a thing of the past. Players who suffer concussions are made to sit out of games and practices until medically cleared.
Safety plays a big role for football programs. In high school (and even lower levels), coaches teach proper techniques for tackling to help avoid the risks of concussions and possible neck injuries.
Yes, much about the sport of football is the same. However, there are some things that have clearly changed for the better. Those changes concerning safety can only be viewed as a positive and will help keep the sports alive for future generations.
Winder resident Chris Bridges is a former sports editor for the Barrow-News Journal. He welcomes comments about this column at email@example.com.