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Evan Weiner: NFL Job Audition Includes Making “Suicide Squad” Rather than Special Teams Squad

May 11, 2013

Posted with the express consent of Evan Weiner:
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THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
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BY EVAN WEINER
COMMENTARY
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The NFL job audition includes making the “suicide squad” rather than the special teams squad
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May 11, 2013
Examiner
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LIFE Suicide Squad Cover 1971The National Football League is open for business again. Players are on the field showing coaches that they can indeed play football even though the season is months away. The players showcasing their talents aren’t the normal, everyday players. No – these guys on the field are young guys trying to catch the eye of a coach and make a team and it doesn’t matter if they are first round draft picks or free agents hoping to just get to a training camp in July.
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Not much is said about the long term health of these guys; they are just anxious to play football. Another one-time former football player, George Sauer, Jr. passed away at 69 years of age this week from congestive heart failure and Alzheimer’s disease. There may be some unintentional irony in Sauer’s passing from Alzheimer’s disease as he walked away from the New York Jets and the National Football League after the 1970 season because he found pro football dehumanizing and it “both glorifies and destroys bodies” as he described in a 1983 article in the New York Times.
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Sauer was a wide receiver.
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The young guys trying to impress the coaches in all likelihood never heard of George Sauer. But they probably know Tedy Bruschi who played for the New England Patriots (1996 – 2008) and is now a football commentator on ESPN.
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Bruschi is proud of his football career; he is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and was a member of three New England Patriots Super Bowl championship teams. Despite coming into pro football as a two-time All American as a defensive end with the University of Arizona, Bruschi wasn’t guaranteed a job with New England. He was a third round draft pick and nothing is handed to a third round pick. Part of his job audition in 1996 included playing on special teams, kickoffs, punt and special teams. Today the sanitized National Football League, at least in description, calls that part of the game special teams, but it was known as the suicide squad back in the days when George Sauer played with the New York Jets between 1965 and 1970. Suicide squad is gone from the NFL’s lexicon but if you ask players about special teams, they will tell you it is very dangerous to a player’s health.
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The NFL sells violence, big hits and guys being flattened. Suicide squads provide major excitement and hazards. But for all rookies, making the team may depend on special teams play. The NFL, at least through Commissioner Roger Goodell, has recognized the seriousness of the threat to well-being of the kickoff and apparently there has been some discussion about eliminating the kickoff.
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Bruschi helped solidify his job on New England in 1996 as a young guy with his play on the old suicide squad now just termed special teams. He is of mixed emotions talking about the elimination of the kickoff from football games.
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“Well, there is always an element of danger in football,” said Bruschi. “I think it is always going to be that way. I think what they have done is…they made some great adjustments in terms of the defenseless receiver and using the helmet as a weapon. But I think the kickoff is a natural part of football and it shouldn’t be eliminated.
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“And I played special teams for the majority of my early career and you are taking away opportunities from other players to show their worth. I remember being a veteran player and getting up to watch the kickoff to see which young kid was really going to go down there to make the tackle and run down there and attempt to do something for the team.
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“It’s a part of the game. They backed it up, they put it back forward, moved it up five yards, we are having a lot more touchbacks, so there are adjustments you can make but I don’t think you should eliminate it.”
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There have been some major adjustments but pure physics suggest no matter what adjustments are made, the special teams assignments remain dangerous.
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“You are, you do develop a lot of momentum and you get some high speed velocity collisions back in the day there were wedges waiting there,” said Bruschi. “You just run down there and you blow up the wedge. You put your head in there and just try to crush the guys, the three or four guys that were forming that wall. You can no longer do that. There is no longer a wedge, I think it is two men but they might have eliminated that also. So they have taken away a three-man and a four-man wedge.
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“Keep on making adjustments but don’t take away a part of the game where you still have a kickoff, it is exciting to have kickoff returns for touchdowns. You have second and third stringers out there with extra opportunities to show what they are made of. You got the offside kick; a lot of things are possible from a special teams down that shouldn’t be eliminated.
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Bruschi seems to be in good shape after spending thirteen years in a very physically demand sport playing linebacker. One of Bruschi’s New England’s teammates was Ted Johnson who played between 1995 and 2004. Johnson has had a series of medical problems following his career. In many ways, Johnson’s ailments which include the onset of early Alzheimer’s disease, anger management issues along with a domestic dispute are not uncommon among some former players. Bruschi also played with Junior Seau near the end of Seau’s career with the Patriots.
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Seau killed himself in 2012.
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The Boston-based National Institutes of Health after studying Seau’s brain concluded that Seau suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a type of chronic brain damage that had also been found in other deceased former NFL players.
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Bruschi is thinking about his life done the road but he won’t let that interfere with his life today. But is playing football and risking the second half of life worth the effort?
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“That is a question you have to ask Ted (Johnson),” said Bruschi. “But I can give you my own answer on that. Yes I suffered some blows and I was a good friend of Junior Seau. I follow that and I follow that very closely. And I knew Junior very well and sometimes I wonder in five to ten years how I will be but I can’t live that way and I wouldn’t want to take back any moment of my NFL career because I believe football, not only in the National Football League but especially in college, especially in college those are formative years in a young man’s life. Eighteen through 21 or 22, I spent five years in college and I learned the lessons I learned from (University of Arizona coach) Dick Tomey and a lot of my teammates helped me to who I am today being a man and helped me win championships in the NFL.”
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Bruschi is not suing the NFL in the ongoing concussion law suit and some 4,000 have charged the league with negligence in caring for players following head injuries.
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Bruschi has accepted “the NFL is a dangerous game” and is going on with his life.
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“I look at that always; the pioneers in the earlier decades of the NFL that really fought and then had to strike and make sacrifices back then for players that are benefiting from it now in terms of pension benefits and health insurance benefits. So I really respect all of the players from past generations and whatever can be done for them now and the more help that can be given them, I am all for it,” said Bruschi. “Well, I am also a believer in whatever can be done to help past generations should be done because of what they did for this league now.”
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The young guys struggling to catch the trained eye of a football coach probably aren’t worrying about the physical damage football might cause. They want a shot and if getting onto a team requires them to make a suicide squad rather the special teams, they will do whatever they need to do to make that team. It’s the annual rite of passage for college football players who have spent nearly 10 years from junior high to high school to college for the opportunity to play in the National Football League. They aren’t too concerned about their lives in 2043.
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Evan Weiner can be reached at evanjweiner@gmail.com . His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available at www.bickley.com and Amazon.com and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports are available at www.smashwords.com, iTunes, nook, versent books, kobo, Sony reader and Diesel.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: As a extra note for discussion, what’s wrong with this picture when college football coaches are the highest-paid public employees in most states? Not mathematics or physics or even medical professors and rocket scientists. Football coaches. Just sayin’… (Click on the graphic to enlarge for easier reading.) Source: Deadspin
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Highest paid public employees by state
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3 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Dave Pear
    May 11th, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    Dave Pear

    Tedy Bruschi may not be suing the NFL but if he didn’t have his job with ESPN as an announcer, perhaps he might look at things differently.

    It would be very difficult (more likely impossible) for Bruschi to sue the NFL while employed by ESPN. (And when you work for the NFL or even the Alumni: Just ask George Martin who was against joining the concussion lawsuits as he burned through $5 million of the NFL’s money as Executive Director of the NFL Alumni – and then promptly joined the concussion lawsuits not weeks after being fired by the League.)

    If he did sue, I’m quite sure that the Commissioner of the NFL Roger Goodell would remind him that he decides who announces NFL games and who does not and this would jeopardize his job and he would have to make a decision.

    Just the way the League operates…

    Best,
    Dave Pear
    Pro Bowl 1978
    Super Bowl XV
    Lead Plaintiff suing the NFL over their concealment of repeated blows to the head cause CTE.

  2. Henrietta Watson
    May 11th, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    Sid Watson

    And there was also no fair catch rule way back then!

    Henrietta Watson
    widow Sid Watson (1932 – 2004)
    Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins
    1955 – 1958

  3. Rob Belgeri
    May 13th, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    Rob Belgeri

    Dave,

    Thought you might want to link this breakdown from one of the finest political writers of the age, former sportswriter Charles Pierce:


    Might and Right: Retired NFL Players and the Cost of Health Care

    Rob Belgeri

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