Football was a big deal in my neighborhood when I was a kid. Baseball was too, of course, but we also loved football.
In those days, you could go to Sears and get a jersey from exactly three teams – the Dallas Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers and the Baltimore Colts (yes, kids, they were in Baltimore then). Now, I couldn't find any of those places on the map, but for some reason I became the biggest Bart Starr fan of all time.
Was I a Packer fan? Did I love green and gold? Did I have a fondness for cheese?
None of the above.
Basically, a bunch of kids were going around talking about how great Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas was. So naturally, that made me a Bart Starr fan. We actually went door to door surveying kids on who was better. Bart Starr eventually won out, if memory serves.
We played football all the time – backyards, front yards, school yards, the street. I am confident in saying that I was devoid of talent, and clearly lacked a killer instinct. I played organized football twice: In fifth grade I played “Grid Kids” football, and was injured when the coach foolishly made me a running back. I grabbed the ball on the 22 Dive Right play and was promptly buried by the other team, jamming a disc in my back.
Two years later I tried again. I played pretty much every position because I just wasn't good at any of them. Thankfully, we had a grand total of one good player. But he was so good that we just gave him the ball every time and he ran for a touchdown. We went undefeated that year, earning a birth in the Avocado Bowl (no, I'm not kidding) over in California.
We got crushed.
Since that time, I have gone through periods in my life when I watch a lot of the National Football League, and times I watched very little. These days I will watch it some, but if I have something to do I don't miss not watching football.
To me, football is a very different game than it used to be. First, I want to say that safety is key, and I understand the changes made by the NFL to protect its players. There have been too many gruesome and life-altering injuries.
But I will admit I do miss the crazy days when players would clothesline each other, then go to the bench and have a smoke. During halftime, they would go into the locker room and have a beer and a cigarette while the coach ranted and raved.
Players were big, sure, but they weren't the total muscle heads you see these days. Today's players are shockingly big, fast and athletic. Then, they had shockingly bad hair and giant sideburns.
Even in the 1980s, you had star players so whacked out on cocaine that they were lucky to find their own sidelines.
The NFL is a big business in 2017. Players, coaches and especially owners are rich. They want to protect their investment. But concussions are giving the league a bad name and fewer kids are playing the game.
I am all for change. But just once, I would love to see Tom Brady get hammered by a defensive player, 1970s style. No penalty would be called, and Brady would just stagger up and not whine about getting hit.
If that happened, I might even get a Brady jersey. Well, probably not.