Charles Mann never saw Albert Bentley coming that day in the Hoosier Dome, but he felt the contact. Almost one year later, Mann still carries scars -- mental and physical -- from the surprise collision.
The Washington Redskins' 6-foot-6, 272-pound defensive end was chop-blocked by Bentley, a 5-11, 217-pound running back for the Indianapolis Colts, in a game last Dec. 22. That is, while Mann was trying to shed a block by an Indianapolis lineman, Bentley took him down with a shot to the right knee.
The knee was hyper-extended, and although Mann was able to finish the season, he needed surgery in the off-season to repair damage.
He was fortunate, though. Certainly more fortunate than Detroit nose tackle Jerry Ball, whose season ended last Sunday when he suffered a sprained knee on a chop block by New York Jets fullback Brad Baxter.
Knee injuries are an occupational hazard in football, and a common occurrence in the trenches, where offensive and defensive linemen clash. The chop block, a controversial blocking technique, suddenly is in the news because of Ball's injury. But defensive linemen have hated it for decades. Now they want it outlawed.
It is, in effect, a double-team block where one offensive player strikes the defender high and another player strikes low. It is legal on running plays, illegal on passing plays.
"There's a fine line between legal and illegal," said Mann, a veteran of nine NFL seasons and three Pro Bowls. "We're all out there trying to earn a living. No one is ever out there to hurt anyone."
Defensive tackle Eric Williams, Mann's teammate on the Redskins, isn't so sure about that. It is the possible intent to injure that makes this a murky rule. And Williams, who played six seasons in Detroit, says he has seen the dark side of intent.
"This game is violent enough," Williams said. "I know some coaches on different teams that actually teach, 'Let's hurt somebody.'
"I know, over the course of my career, I've heard coaches say, 'Hey, they're going to get paid all year, put 'em out.' I think it's crazy."
Williams refused to identify which coaches or teams gave those instructions, but he did say the Redskins were not the guilty party.
For the most part, though, injuries are accidental. Like the one Redskins defensive end Markus Koch suffered last Oct. 6 in Chicago. He was pass rushing and was engaged with an offensive lineman when Bears running back Neal Anderson released out of the backfield. Koch suffered a torn knee ligament when Anderson inadvertently fell into his left leg. It was not a chop block, but had the same effect.
Koch was supposed to miss six weeks. Ten weeks later, though, his knee fills with blood when he runs and he is not close to returning. In fact, Koch said he now considers the injury career-threatening.
He absolved Anderson of blame, saying "It wasn't intentional. In theline, there are always people falling."
Nevertheless, Koch said the chop block should be eliminated. "It should be illegal to take another man's knees when he's engaged with somebody else," he said.
League spokesman Greg Aiello said this week that Baxter's chop block on Ball was legal because it was a running play. Ball was engaged with Jets center Jim Sweeney when Baxter came in low with his helmet. The Jets later said that Sweeney was not supposed to be blocking Ball on that play. They also said it was a play they had gotten from the Redskins.
Aiello said the NFL's competition committee condones the chop block because "it felt if you eliminate the ability to cut block on a double-team, you would effectively eliminate the running game. You'd hurt the running game if you didn't have any double-team blocking."
LaVern "Torgy" Torgeson, defensive line coach for the Redskins, scoffed at that logic. He said the chop block should be outlawed along with another interior line maneuver that is legal.
"They allow you to clip [defensive players] from tackle to tackle in lineplay," Torgeson said. "That shouldn't be legal, either. That is the most dangerous play in football."
What Torgeson is describing is a rule that allows players to block a defender from behind.
Jumpy Geathers, a defensive tackle for the Redskins who has had two major knee operations in the past four years, said defensive players have been made vulnerable by the advent of rules that continue to favor the offense.
"They protect the quarterback but won't protect linemen," Geathers said. "They should bring back the head slap if they're going to allow that [the chop block]."
Geathers said the San Francisco 49ers are one of the teams that teach the chop block. "When I was in New Orleans, the 49ers did it for a living," he said. "They teach it."
"Some teams are worse than others," Mann said. "The 49ers RTC have been one that teaches it. In those games, you've got to watch yourself."
Even though Mann was a victim of the chop block, he said he won't push for a rules change, and doesn't expect one.
"I don't like it at any time, run or pass," Mann said. "They need to look at it, but I'm not going to crusade for it."