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Control the Game

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In Jerry Kramer’s book, Instant Replay, he makes several references to Vince Lombardi’s exhortations to play with “reckless abandon.” I’m not sure I agree.

I believe that football is a game of control. Control the line of scrimmage. Control the ball. Control the clock. Control the man you are blocking.

How can you control any of these facets of the game if you cannot control yourself?

Two examples of when a player must stay in control of himself:

1) On kick coverage: If the player sprinting down the field goes all out and cannot make a quick turn or adjustment in direction, the ball carrier can easily slip by untouched.

2) A safety blitzes and goes untouched into the backfield at full speed while the runner sprints right by him, untouched because the safety was moving too fast and out of control.

If players didn’t maintain control, there would be late hits on every play, neutral zone violations on every play, holding on every play, face mask fouls, and roughing on most downs.

Where do kids learn self-control? Hopefully, they get some training in self-discipline at home. In many cases, kids get additional lessons in self-discipline in the class room.
Where do athletes get self-control skills? Hopefully, they benefit from their coaches and teammates.

Where do coaches get self-control? Maybe they developed good habits from their childhood, student experience, and their own athletic endeavors. (Judging from the number of times I see coaches slam a headset or clipboard onto the ground, I wonder how much self-control coaches really have.)

We already hear a lot of discussion about the “excessive celebration” rule in NCAA football. There is adequate room on the sidelines for unlimited celebration so the game is not delayed. Part of the job of being a coach is to control the sideline. Do your job!

Many of our culture’s more popular sports are contact sports in which aggressive behavior is expected and rewarded. My wife doesn’t like sports in general, but she does like hockey. She says, “Any sport that involves men hitting each other with sticks can’t be all bad!” Have we progressed much from the gladiators or the lions and the Christians?

Paul Simon once said, “Zebras are reactionaries.” I’m not a reactionary – I take control! As a referee I believe that with preventive officiating and maintaining control of the game, there will be fewer penalties.

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  • Irene Wagner

    Maybe playing with “reckless abandon” means putting safety last. A ball player can control his temper, control the man he’s blocking, control the ball–but if he can’t control his fear of hurting himself, he’s never going to be able to plow into other people the way he needs to. (I’m a huge fan of helmets and pads.)

  • I like the old adage, “Overcome fear with action.”
    Like you, I’m a fan of protective equipment, especially head gear.
    Here’s an ironic tidbit for you: A year or so ago, a rule was implemented requiring that the chin strap be attached at four locations on the helmet. Since the implementation of that rule, I’ve seen MORE helmets coming off and hitting the ground than ever before! I think this rule needs to be re-visited!
    Thanks for your comment.

  • Fran Pearson

    What a delightful article. I get confused about different calls, but Mr. Etier is a genius and explained this very well. Great job.

  • Irene Wagner

    I forgot to thank you for the article (the basis of a lively conversation between my football-savvy husband and son with their non-football-savvy-football wife and mom.) And thanks for officiating at the games of high school students. It’s definitely safety first for you guys with responsibilities on the sidelines — so the boys can play with MORE or LESS reckless abandon. The threat of penalties probably prevents more injuries than even helmets do. 🙂

  • Thank you, Irene. I would have loved to heard that conversation! LOL