Hardly something new, football fights are getting old in hurry

Bill Tanton

September 28, 1993|By Bill Tanton

The University of Miami didn't invent college football brawling. It only seems that way.

In their 35-29 win at Colorado last weekend, the Hurricanes engaged in their fifth major fight in the past five years. A brawl a year. And they wonder why they have a bad boy image.

What's disturbing is that bench-clearing brawls broke out all over the country last week. One involved the University of Maryland. Two players from each team were ejected after a fight in Virginia Tech's 55-28 win over the Terps in Blacksburg, Va.

North Carolina and North Carolina State brawled at Raleigh, and even -- gasp! -- prestigious Duke and Virginia's Cavaliers emptied their benches in a fight. Four players were ejected.

Football fights are as old as the game itself. The nature of the sport is such that not every player is always able to restrain himself from stepping over the line when the contact gets intense. Some don't take football fights very seriously.

"How are you going to hurt anybody wearing all that stuff?" I was asked by University of Baltimore president H. Mebane Turner, who played football at Virginia in the '50s.

That used to be the credo. Nobody gets hurt with all that equipment. Ex-Baltimore Colt Bobby Boyd, who was as tough as they come, once told me: "You never take your helmet off in a fight. A guy can break his hand hitting your face mask."

Today's players have gone beyond that. The Carolina and N.C. State brawlers removed their helmets and swung them at each other.

In a typical football altercation, one guy thinks he has been hit too hard or too late. He swings at the opponent. The opponent lunges at him. They're separated by their teammates. The whole thing takes 15 seconds. Half the time the officials don't even penalize anybody.

The Maryland-Virginia Tech brawl held up that game for seven minutes.

None of this is new. I remember a conversation with my late

father in 1974. The Baltimore City Police had just gone on strike. I told him I had never heard of a police department going on strike.

"I have," he said, and he told a story that shocked me for its vividness and recall. My father was at a point in his life where he couldn't remember what he had had for dinner the night before, yet the incident he described in detail had occurred in 1920.

"I was playing football for Woburn [Mass.] High," he said, "and we went up to play Nashua [N.H.]. A Nashua kid hit me from behind after the whistle and one of our guys took off and hit a

Nashua player from behind. Not only did both benches empty. Both stands did.

"Woburn fans and Nashua fans were fighting all over the field. I can still see a big, tall Woburn man named Doc, who followed us wherever we played. He was holding on to his hat with his left hand while he punched Nashua fans with his right hand.

"And the Nashua police were on strike. The fighting went on forever. There wasn't a cop in town to stop it."

No, I'm not shocked that football players brawled last weekend. But it bothers me. A lot.

As for Maryland, winless and with the worst defense in the country, the Terps don't need one more source of embarrassment.

There are other reasons why brawling needs to be stopped. Players get hurt and teams suffer. Pitcher Mike Mussina never was the same after the Oriole-Seattle brawl here in June.

If that hadn't happened, if Mussina had been healthy all year, the Orioles, who were eliminated from the pennant race Sunday, might be in the race to the end and the series coming up this weekend with Toronto would be huge instead of meaningless.

What's causing all this violence? "A couple things have happened," says Loyola College psychology professor Dr. Mickey Fenzel, who played and coached high school sports here.

"On an individual level, I think there are bigger egos than there used to be. In pro sports the huge salaries probably have something to do with it. Our society is more ego-oriented. There's more defiance even in elementary and middle schools than there used to be.

"On a team level there's a readiness to right wrongs by violence. We live in an era of trash talk. Verbal intimidation. Tensions mount. Fights break out. People see it all on TV.

"People today are more arrogant and narcissistic. They don't feel that they have to take responsibility for things."

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