Football players walk a fine line when playing their sport. On one hand, there is nothing better than a crushing hit which levels your opponent. Big hits cause quarterbacks to get rid of the ball too fast and scares receivers running through the middle. Injuries to players can cause game plans to be changed and can ultimately affect the final outcome of the game. On the other hand, players don’t ever want to see someone get injured. They realize that they are one big hit away from being injured themselves. In a perfect world, players would crush each other physically, but as soon as the final whistle sounded the players would magically heal and be healthy again to go home to their wives and kids and BMW’s.
Walking this line between physical domination vs. physical harm on game day also requires care throughout the week. Players are cheered when they say they want to “be physical” or “dominate them physically” – all pseudonyms for hitting their opponent as hard as possible as often as possible. Players want reputations, and players want to be feared. However, players openly talking about hurting or injuring their opponents are labeled dirty and fined by the NFL
Ndamukong Suh is walking this line right now. He has stated that he wants to be feared. He has been made it pretty clear that he doesn’t like quarterbacks. He has talked about in on radio, in newspapers, and on the Internet. He probably mentions it to the priest while he is taking confession. As a Lions fan, I love it. I love the passion and the desire to hit the quarterback. I love that he hates them. I mean – who really likes quarterbacks? They are rich, over-hyped and get all the babes. But like it or not, NFL quarterbacks are the reason the game is so exciting. Quarterbacks are the reason teams advance to the playoffs and sell tickets. So the NFL frowns on quarterbacks getting tossed around like rag dolls by big mean defensive linemen, and has enacted rules to protect the quarterback as much as possible. The NFL has drawn lines around their quartbacks, limiting defensive players. Some of the lines drawn are ludicrous – like not hitting a quarterback below the knees. Some require referee discretion – like hitting the QB’s helmet as you are attempting to knock the ball away.
However, there are lines that should not be crossed. In the Lions first pre-season game this season, Suh again body slammed a quarterback to the ground after a pass, with Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton the unlucky recipient. This follows an incident last year where Suh tried to decapitate Jake Delhomme in a preseason game, clearly after the whistle has blown. Suh claims he was finishing the play. I don’t have an issue with that. I even don’t have an issue that Suh threw Dalton to the ground while Dalton’s helmet was knocked off – that is the referee’s job to stop the play in that situation, not Suh’s.
My issue is that it appeared to happen after the ball was thrown (clearly) and after the play was dead. And appearances are what Suh is fighting now. It appears that he has a history of doing this. It appears as if the threat of fines doesn’t scare him (and honestly, why would it). To some, it now appears to some that Suh is a dirty player. To some, it appears he wants a reputation like this.
The real question now is how does it appear to the suits at the NFL? The issue with establishing a reputation is that, given another instance of this sort, the NFL might decide to do more then fine Suh. The NFL could consider suspending him. It sure would be a shame to finally have a dominant defensive lineman in this town, only to have him sit out a game due to a suspension.
Suh must learn to straddle the fine line between his aggression and the rules of the sport. Otherwise the “fine” line might turn into the “suspended line”.