Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's Time for Sweeping Changes

It’s time to use your imagination.

Let’s first rewind to Thanksgiving. You’re sitting, watching the Packers at Lions game; it’s first and ten at the Lions 40 with just over 12 minutes left in the third. Rodgers drops back to pass on a drive that could put them up by two scores. But instead of completing a pass to Greg Jennings for 19 yards, Suh beats his offensive lineman and crushes Rodgers. Rodgers holds his head, is taken to the sideline, shows signs of a concussion, and sits the rest of the game.

Three weeks later, Rodgers still doesn’t have any insight into when he can return. The season strolls on. The Packers lose two or three games down the stretch. They make a playoff appearance, but cannot overcome his loss. Rodgers, inexplicably, cannot make it back from his concussion, and no one knows why he can’t shake his symptoms, or when he’ll be able to return.

Fast forward a year from now. Rodgers didn’t play in mini-camps or the pre-season. He was only cleared for contact in August. But we’re in the first week of October before he sees his first action. Out he comes to rousing cheers! One of the best young quarterbacks in the league is back! He has a coming out party his first game, completing 80% of his passes, throwing for 450 yards and five touchdowns.

Three weeks, 1,200 yards and 11 TD passes later, Rodgers limps off the field toward the end of the game after taking a big shot. The Packers are already up by four scores in the fourth quarter, so they sit him just in case. And then on Monday, it’s revealed he has more concussion-like symptoms. He’s no longer cleared to play, out indefinitely.

After having sat his first three seasons, Rodgers isn’t exactly a spring chicken. But it’s safe to say that people still think of him as a fairly young QB. Compare him to Brady, Manning and Brees – all in their 30s – and he still seems to be from that “next” generation. Roethlisberger is only a year older than he is, but has nearly 60% more attempts than Rodgers because he was the primary starter his first three years, and suffers several bone-jarring hits himself. When fans think of Rodgers, I believe they tend to think of him as having a shelf-life five to seven years, maybe more, beyond what these other four guys have.

But think about this scenario. He’s been a Superbowl MVP. He’s got the active and all time highest career QB rating. He’s streaking toward an auto-entry into the Hall of Fame and making people question whether we could be seeing the guy destined to be called the Greatest of All Time.

And just one year from now, Rodgers’ career suddenly looks to be in jeopardy from concussions.

How would this change the game? What would it do to fans’ mind-sets? We witness the oncoming of one of the greatest players we may ever get to see play; and without warning, his career is swept out from under him. The game would survive, of course. But how would that impact the way you think about the game? How would it impact your emotions, losing such a great player?

How big a story would it be?

The ramifications of it would likely be huge. We’ve seen single players alter the course of the game before. David the Deacon Jones got the head-slap outlawed in 1977 after perfecting the technique and becoming one of the greatest pass rushers of all time. Tom Brady took a season-ending shot to his knee, causing the implementation of a rule where defenders on the ground cannot hit a quarterback below the waist. It only makes sense to think that the threatening of one of the greatest player in America’s most popular sport would be cause for big changes. And it makes just as much sense to think that the story would be the headline story in the sports world, not just for a day or two, but for weeks. It’s a story that would rock the sports world, and likely result in a major change of direction.

This is the story of Sidney Crosby, and the potential tragedy the NHL now faces. The only difference is, Crosby is a far younger star than Rodgers is, and he’s more meaningful to his sport than Rodgers is to his.

Like him or hate him, Sidney Crosby’s greatness cannot be denied. Though he’s five-and-a-half years into his career, he’s only 24 years old. But in those six seasons, he’s won the league’s scoring title, been the league’s MVP, won the Stanley Cup and scored the game winning goal in the Olympic gold medal game. At this time last year, Crosby was the league’s scoring leader again and on a pace for an easy MVP award on a major Stanley Cup challenger.

In the Winter Classic on Jan 1, ’11, Dave Steckel and Victor Hedman hit Crosby in the head. He suffered concussion-like symptoms, and found himself out of the game for nearly a year. He returned to action Nov 21st, scoring four points and immediately sparking discussion of whether he could worm his way into contention for the scoring title by the end of the season. Less than a month later, he’s back on the bench, out indefinitely with more concussion-like symptoms.

It’s a truly tragic story for hockey fans. We face the prospect of losing what appears to be one of the greatest players of all time in his sport. Crosby seemed to be capable of challenging The Great One himself. Now, instead of wondering how many MVPs and Stanley Cups he’ll win in his career, we’re left to question whether he should retire now. And we’re left to wonder whether the game should undergo massive, sweeping changes, in the hopes that we can ensure that if Crosby can overcome this, we don’t lose him forever, and that if we do, we ensure we minimize the risk of the same thing happening to the next great player to come along, or any of the current greats we have playing the game.

This story should be bigger than it is.

It’s here where I need to note that it’s a shame that hockey isn’t even half as big or as popular in this country as football is. The story of Aaron Rodgers would dominate sports headlines for a long time. The story of Sidney Crosby is a bi-line, falling behind the ESPN recap of the 2-11 Rams losing to the 6-7 Seahawks as well as two other non-NFL related stories that night.

The true shame of this reality is that if the story were as big as it should be – if it were of the magnitude of an Aaron Rodgers-like injury – the attention it would bring to the problem of violence in these sports would likely bring about important, necessary changes. I’m hopeful that the NHL will finally begin to take a serious look at how violent the sport is, and how risky it is for all their players, including their potential all-time greats, and that it will lead to significant changes for the better. But I’m even more hopeful that we can reach that point in both of these sports prior to losing anyone beyond those that have already been lost.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure that I agree that a fluke injury to a star player would cause major change or attention for more than a week.

    ESPN doesn't have a hockey contract, so they don't cover it much if at all some nights, that's why they talked about their football game they televised instead.

    Don Maloney randomly ended HoF, Stanley Cup MVP, and 2-time World Champion [and goalie who beat the CCCP Team at the peak of their power] Bernie Parent's career in the late 1970s. Goalies don't wear goggles today. Do you think they should?

    Bad stuff is always going to happen in sports where large men collide with each other at high rates of speed.


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