Let me start this letter by saying I was born in 1983, and for those who struggle with basic mathematics, that means I am 36 years old. I wasn’t alive for the glory days of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s, but my father certainly was.
While I am home visiting my family in my hometown of Wheeling, WV, I was sitting outside with my dad as he grilled and we were talking about the massive changes in the NFL from the glory days of the 70s to the game today.
We talked about how the speed of the game today is remarkable, but when I asked him what was the biggest difference in the game then and the game today it was a simple answer:
My father talked about Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders who would literally try to decapitate players when they caught the ball going over the middle of the field. While I’ve seen Tatum’s hit on Lynn Swann many times, I did a quick search on Twitter and found this gem of a hit from Super Bowl XI against the Vikings.
Just as a reminder as you click play, this hit was NOT penalized.
This Jack Tatum hit wasn't a penalty in Super Bowl XI. pic.twitter.com/uN9PLaG8gC— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) February 3, 2016
He went on to talk about Mel Blount and the Steel Curtain defense which was known for punishing their opponents. Literally opposing their will on the other team to claim victory. Again, a quick search showed a vicious hit by Glen Edwards which led to a Blount interception.
Again, this hit was not flagged.
Fran was 11/27 with three INT’s, including this one by Mel Blount.— Tomlin Reactions (@TomlinReactions) July 25, 2018
Set up by the huge hit on John Gilliam by Glen Edwards.
Do you think this would be a flag today? #Steelers pic.twitter.com/cZA0LfydJd
The game then and the game now are completely different. Night and day differences in the categories like physicality of the early years and the speed of today’s game. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t players today who would have fit the mold of those hard-hitting times in the NFL’s infancy.
Remember this hit?
Keith Rivers, meet Hines Ward. pic.twitter.com/twAlMIdimJ— Steelers Empire (@SteeIersEmpire) June 27, 2018
Or how about this one?
JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER JUST DESTROYED VONTAZE BURFICT #HereWeGo #Steelers #Bengals50 pic.twitter.com/YmVmiAA4zb— Tailgate Sports (@_TailgateSports) December 5, 2017
Yeah, the Steelers have had some modern players who would have fit into any era. The list goes beyond Hines Ward and JuJu Smith-Schuster, but these players are considered outliers, not the norm in today’s game.
At the conclusion of my talk with my dad, I was left wondering which game was better? Most would say today’s game is a safer form of a very dangerous game, and watching some older highlights looks like the players are running in quicksand. However, the game of yesteryear seems like a much more pure form of the the gladiator-like game which drew so many of us to not just play the game of football, but to become fanatics over the sport.
Some pine for the older form of football, but as for me it was just fun to hear stories, watch some highlights, and marvel at how much the game of football has changed over the past 40 years...