|Could the slower, overpadded players of the 1980s make it in today's NFL? Jason Smith doesn't think so.|
The 1980s have been big in my house recently. In some ways they've always been big, as my wife and I were children of that decade, but two recent events have given the decade added significance. The first is the re-re-re-re-debut of Van Halen, coming full circle from David Lee Roth to Sammy Hagar back to DLR then to Gary Cherone and now again with Diamond Dave (Roth and Van Halen are kind of like Billy Martin and the Yankees).
Now most nostalgia trips are terrific. They don't compare to the initial sensation, but as long as we get a hint of it, we're happy for a few fleeting moments. But really, "the good old days" were only good because we were looking ahead at life, with zero responsibility. Not everything was better back then -- and I'm not talking about e-mail, cell phones or Words With Friends. I'm talking about the National Football League. Which brings me to No. 2 on my list of recent Big Eighties Moments in the Smith living room.
NFL.com's Elliot Harrison surprised me with a gift a few days ago. He knows what a big Jets fan I am, and (I hope) felt bad about how my season ended, so he gave me a DVD of New York's 1986 playoff win over the Chiefs. I have no idea where he gets these things, but I knew it would be fun to watch, because the Jets won the game 35-15.
But this is what I DIDN'T expect. The football itself? From top to bottom, there's no way it could pass in today's game. We talk about the 1980s as the salad days of the NFL. John Elway's drive, the '85 Bears, Bill Walsh's 49ers. That's how we remember the decade because we see 30-second highlights of the greatest games with the greatest endings. But this was a random playoff game that I watched more than 25 years after it was played. And there were more than a few times I found myself thinking, "Wow, how could that have actually happened?"
What did I see, you ask?
1. I don't think they taught footwork to quarterbacks back then. QB drops now are so precise -- three, five, seven steps. If you have bad footwork, no one will even draft you. Granted, the signal callers in this game were Pat Ryan and Todd Blackledge, but they dropped back to pass like they were 12 years old and playing in the street. Some drops were four steps, some were 10 and I even counted a 13-step drop. As a result, passes sailed, were short, and widely inaccurate. We talk about how the NFL has evolved into a pass-first league? Maybe it's just that the mechanics are so much better. Remember, Ryan and Blackledge were on playoff teams. Now I want to watch footage of Dan Fouts, who as great as he was, had the worst footwork ever. I just want to find one play on YouTube where Fouts gets the snap and takes 15 fast baby steps straight backward with the front of his jersey facing the defense.
2. If running backs ran the ball now like they did then, the NFL would phase out the position. I watched Freeman McNeil and Boyce Green take the ball on sweeps and not just run parallel to the line of scrimmage, but actually round off in a semi-circle before deciding where to hit the hole. Sometimes they ran through it, sometimes they lost seven yards. I can imagine Ray Lewis foaming at the mouth if he played against teams like this. Defenses are so much better now, I don't know if the Ravens would give up more than 20 yards on the ground in a game. Even on between-the-tackle plays, the running back was so deep and was able to take so much time before making his cuts. There was no sense of urgency on running plays. Just. Let. It. Develop. You talk about everything being faster now? This is the biggest example I can think of.
3. I don't know how defensive players ever got hurt in the '80s, because they had pads on every part of their bodies. When I played in high school, I wore knee and thigh pads, hip pads, rib pads, elbow pads, shoulder pads and sometimes a neck roll. I wore those things because I was four feet tall and wasn't thrilled about getting hit. But to see it in the NFL? No one would even think of wearing all those clunky items now. Maybe that's why running plays were allowed so much time -- because the defensive players were so weighed down by their pads they took forever to get to the ball.
4. How much time is left in the game? Your guess is as good as mine. In the days before the score and clock became mandatory on the screen for every sporting event, you had no idea, and seeing this game brought it home. The announcing team rarely gave the time and you only saw the superimposed scoreboard in the bottom corner of the screen once in a great while. Can you imagine watching the final minutes of Giants-Patriots in XLVI and not knowing how many ticks were left?
5. Boy were these games long. Chiefs-Jets was a 1 p.m. game and I think it ended at midnight. Back in the '80s, NFL games were marathons, routinely clocking in at close to 3 1/2 hours. And while that still happens today, it's usually just one or two games a week; back then it was the whole slate. And even though the Jets were rolling, boy were there a few times I was really bored.