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Steelers-Dolphins pregame stretch...

October 23, 2010 - Ray Eckenrode

A history of violence

The NFL’s showboating crusade against violent hits over the past week just might be the biggest charade in sports history, akin to Hugh Hefner fining Playboy Bunnies for excessive nudity.

The league is on the slipperiest of slopes here. First, because it has glamorized and marketed violence for so long (and, of course, was caught doing it again this week, selling a photo of the very hit that it was publicly vilifying). And secondly, because its newfound concern for players’ health is hypocritical BS, illustrated by the fact it is currently fighting the workers comp claims of more than 130 former players.

While the NFL might reside in a mansion on the hill right now, it’s the biggest glass house ever built. Football is a great game but the NFL and football are not synonymous. The NFL has become an economic juggernaut using this formula:

Football + Violence2 + Gambling x Alcohol = $$$$$$$

But the biggest part of that equation that has made the NFL the most popular sport in America is simple bloodlust, a little bit of the old ultraviolence.

And James Harrison, who’s been vilified this week as a thug and a criminal, is, in fact, just a well-paid gladiator, who puts on literal and chemically enhanced armor each weekend and plays the role of hero or villain, depending on which colosseum he’s performing in. And lest you think we’re pontificating, we are fully aware that Harrison does it for one reason and one reason only: because you and I are willing to pay to watch him.

Hit parade

We’ve heard Harrison, Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney proclaim all week that they believe the hit the Steelers linebacker was fined for, on Mohamed Massaquoi, was legal, but they’ve provided very little supporting detail. We believe the hit was borderline based on two factors. First, the Browns receiver was very close to exiting the “defenseless receiver” stage at the time of the hit. He was no longer looking at the ball, which he had already dropped, and took a full step while looking at Harrison, even instinctively ducking his head, which made the hit worse. Second, Harrison’s head, shoulder and forearms all hit Massaquoi simultaneously, which is technically illegal, but not nearly as egregious as leading with the helmet. We’d guess that had this hit been the only one that occurred anywhere in the league Sunday it would have gone unfined.

The pick

We chuckled when we read in the Miami Herald how Dolphins coach Tony Sparano planned to employ the "strategy" of having the Steelers wear their black jerseys Sunday in the predicted 86-degree weather in south Florida. There was no mention of how that "strategy" worked against the Steelers this year in two other games where the temperature topped 90 degrees, both dominating Pittsburgh victories. Also, we think the league did the Steelers an unintended favor by making James Harrison, and by extension, the team, the poster boy for illegal hits in the NFL. That should kick in the "us against the world" mindset that can prove so valuable as a motivational tool. That said, the Dolphins defense is good and if there's an easily visible scenario for a Miami win it involves an el foldo act by the Steelers offensive line. Absent the NFL theatrics of the past week, we'd have been scared to death of that outcome, but now ... Steelers (-3) 31-21.

Prediction record

Last week: Cleveland +13.5 INCORRECT

Season vs. spread: 2-3, .400

Season straight up: 3-2, .600

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