Football today is only half the fun

Phil Jackman

October 18, 1990|By Phil Jackman

That stuff they're peddling to the kids these days, that's not football.

Oh, it looks like football with people running around, throwing the ball, tackling, blocking, holding, clipping, kicking -- a smorgasbord of physical action. But watch a couple of high school teams go at it for a while and you sense the kids are going hungry. The plate is half full.

The team in white jerseys is stopped by the team in red jerseys and punts the ball. Onto the field troops whole new teams in red and white jerseys. It looks like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange at 2:30.

What we've done during the last 30 years -- we meaning the people who teach and regulate the game -- is spawn a generation of half players.

A coach isn't coaching the kids, he's coaching his assistant coaches, trusting they're passing the word onto the kids.

A dad drags his beefy kid aged 8 to the rec center where he is handed a ball, told to bend over and hand it up through his legs. A dozen years later he's still witnessing the world backward and upside down in College Park, Ann Arbor or South Bend. Some perspective.

Another kid is aggressive, hard to get along with, hogs all the shovels and pails in the sandbox. He goes on defense. OK, son, when the ball is snapped, take two steps and throw a fit.

Football players? Hardly. Neither really understands what the other is doing.

Imagine if we took a platooning approach to the rest of a kid's preparation for life. Suddenly, it would no longer be necessary to learn the entire multiplication table to 12. One lad memorizes the even numbers, his buddy the odds. Voila, instant S&L crisis.

One of the main arguments offered by proponents of half-football is more kids get a chance to play. That being the case, let's double the number of players in a basketball game and go to separate fielding and hitting lineups in baseball.

OK, Boris Becker, you go out there when it's our turn to serve the tennis ball and we'll have Jimmy Connors handle the return of serve.

Back in medieval times, the '50s, it was great playing football. Even practice. Sometimes you blocked and other times you tackled. Running the ball was a hoot, going out for a pass was a charge and blocking a punt was as good as it gets. Those guys did it all.

Handed a helmet and shoulder pads these days and told the sum total of one's responsibility is to force on one play and contain on the next, I for one might even consider soccer as an alternative.

A few area coaches make arguments both pro and con on the question of kids playing the whole game of football elsewhere on this page. And, if I had any eligibility left, I'd head immediately to Randallstown and coach John Buchheister.

He cuts through all the underbrush by declaring, "I want to put the best 11 players on the field, offensively and defensively. If it's the same guys, then it's the same guys."

Something Dunbar coach Pete Pompey says is worth repeating: "You have to give the kids who are good enough the chance to see which they're better at [offense or defense]."

On the other side, Augie Waibel of Poly stands firm as a platoonist, stating, "We've had no two-way players -- ever -- except Greg Schaum in 1971."

It seems inconceivable that the perennially-potent Engineers never produced a kid who might be able to hold his own playing both ways. But, if true, it just might be because the kids never got a chance to play and learn the whole game while being brought along.

Platoon football became popular on the collegiate level about 40 years ago when players came tumbling out of high school in great number and getting more of them involved was the way to go as the game took on this phony aura of complexity. It got extremely expensive shelling out for all those scholarships, however, and limited substitution rules were instituted.

That's where the situation should rest right now, limited substitution. Kids aren't handed positions to fill out an offense or a defense, they earn their way onto the field by improving all their skills.

Times are rough at many schools and a lot of schoolboys aren't buying the "you gotta be a football hero to get along with beautiful girl" myth. Tough enough finding willing and capable volunteers to field a competitive squad these days, why insist on adding to the problem with numbers?

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