Souhan: Hard-headed NFL players resist change

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 22, 2012 - 6:50 PM

Knowing more than ever about how football ravages bodies doesn't make players any less ruthless, according to Leslie Frazier, Antoine Winfield and Harrison Smith.

hide

Minnesota Vikings Chris Cook (20) and Harrison Smith (22).

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Today's NFL players know more about the effects of violent hits than their predecessors did. They know that hits to the head can destroy or damage the brain. They know that former NFL players struggle with everything from dementia to sore backs.

Today's NFL players belong to a brotherhood of elite athletes, and a union that pleads for the league to care more about their well-being.

No matter. Today's NFL players spend Sundays trying to fold their brethren like origami.

They level each other with vicious blind-side hits. They aim at each other's heads, and use their own helmets as weapons. They show even less regard for their opponents than they do for themselves.

They risk their health for their teammates and families, to pay their bills and sate their bloodlust. This week, I asked three generations of hard-hitting NFL defensive backs whether they ever felt empathy for their opponents, either in the split-second before collision or in the moments after leaving a player writhing on the turf.

In a word, each said, "No.''

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier starred for the famous 1985 Bears defense before a knee injury ended his career. Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield, who weighs about 185 pounds, is one of the best tacklers in recent league history. Harrison Smith, the team's first-round draft pick out of Notre Dame, is starting at safety as a rookie.

All three come across as smart, classy and unapologetically ruthless.

"I think you have to try to hit a guy as hard as you can every chance you get,'' Frazier said. "You've just got to do it within the rules. I don't think you'll ever see a coach or a player say, 'Oh, you hit him too hard, what are you doing?' You just don't want a foul, so you don't want to hit a guy in the head.

"You don't want to see a guy get injured. But you're never thinking, 'I don't want to hit him too hard.'"

Frazier has watched the league and society take a different view of violent hits. He has not witnessed a changed mentality in locker rooms.

"There really weren't any rules like that when I played,'' he said. "You recall back then, all about big hits, that were sold. They were a big attraction. I remember having camps with kids and showing videotapes of some of those hits. Now those tapes aren't produced anymore. They're disdained. They're shunned. It's a different time.''

He sounded nostalgic.

Winfield spent Tuesday burying his younger brother in Akron, Ohio. Wednesday, he said that reminder of life's fragility won't keep him from leveling opponents. Quite the opposite.

"No one's guaranteed tomorrow, as I learned very quickly,'' he said. "I live day to day, live life to the fullest, and if I'm messed up down the line, so be it.

"I've been taught to play this game one way, full speed, go as hard as you can. I can't ease up. I'm 185 pounds going against 230-pound running backs and 6-4, 200-pound wide receivers, so I can't go in half-stepping. I have to put all 185 on them.''

Smith attended Notre Dame and grew up watching a different game than did Frazier and Winfield. He has seen flags thrown for taps to a quarterback's head. He has been taught that hitting a defenseless receiver is a penalty. He has adapted because of the rules, not stray thoughts about mercy.

"I agree with Coach Frazier; it's not that you're going out with the intent of injuring someone, but it's a violent game,'' Smith said. "It seems like they're trying to tweak that, but at the end of the day, it's a violent game, and if you're out there, you have to play that violent game.

"If someone gets hurt or if you get hurt, well, you signed up knowing that could happen.''

Ask an NFL defensive player about sympathy, or empathy, and you get funny looks.

"I'm a different guy,'' Smith said. "I don't think about it. I don't think about the future much. I'm out there playing as hard as I can. I don't worry about that stuff.

"Like I said, it's what we all signed up for.''

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Mets - LP: J. Familia 6 FINAL
Miami - WP: A. Ramos 9
Philadelphia - WP: C. Hamels 7 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: J. Teheran 0
Boston - LP: B. Badenhop 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: G. Balfour 4
Minnesota - WP: P. Hughes 6 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 4
Pittsburgh - LP: G. Cole 4 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: S. Maness 5
Milwaukee - LP: J. Nelson 2 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Turner 4
Detroit - WP: D. Price 12 FINAL
Cleveland - LP: C. Kluber 1
Seattle - LP: C. Young 1 FINAL
Oakland - WP: J. Hammel 6
San Francisco - WP: J. Affeldt 4 FINAL
Colorado - LP: C. Friedrich 2
Arizona - LP: T. Cahill 1 FINAL
San Diego - WP: T. Ross 3
San Francisco - LP: S. Romo 9 FINAL
Colorado - WP: L. Hawkins 10
Washington - WP: G. Gonzalez 6 FINAL
Los Angeles - LP: R. Hernandez 4
Texas - LP: C. Lewis 3 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: Y. Ventura 4
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
Buffalo 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
New Orleans 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Minnesota 9/7/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Cleveland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Jacksonville 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Oakland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
Cincinnati 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Washington 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Tennessee 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
New England 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Tampa Bay
San Francisco 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Indianapolis 9/7/14 7:30 PM
Denver
Utah State 7 FINAL
Tennessee 38
SMU 0 FINAL
(10) Baylor 45
Miami-Florida 13 FINAL
Louisville 31
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(7) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(2) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(15) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Indiana 84 FINAL
Chicago 86
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis Noon
Sep 14 - vs. New England Noon
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How many fantasy football teams do you draft?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close