In the NFL, today's two-game suspension was yesterday's Miller Lite commercial. Today's immature, dirty, cheap-shotter was yesterday's hero and legend.
Ndamukong Suh stomps on players, hits quarterbacks illegally, taunts them, rips off their helmets and throws them out of bounds. He has been pilloried for it. If he'd have been doing this 20 years ago, he would be the highlight of an NFL Films production by now.
Suh is doing the things the game's legends did, what made us love the NFL in the first place, what built the NFL into what it is. Yes, that includes the play when he stomped on Green Bay's Even Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving Day.
"When I was watching that play, the announcer said Suh was going to have to leave the game for that," said Dan Hampton, Hall of Fame defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears. "I started yelling at the TV: 'Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? With the stuff they used to do to me? I don't remember anyone being kicked out.'"
When someone did something like that to you back in the 1980s, what did you do?
"Punch him in the Adam's apple," Hampton said. "Then you punch him again in the Adam's apple on the next play. And again. Until he starts coughing up blood. Has Suh gone over the edge a little? Yeah. Someone has to pull him back. But players crossed the line in my day, too, and you just had to make them cross it back."
Sure, but those were the Neanderthal days of the NFL, right? Today, commissioner Roger Goodell has a new and enlightened league, worried about longterm safety and players' brains.
"Trying to protect players' brains?" Hall of Fame defensive lineman Randy White of the Cowboys said, laughing sarcastically. "Come on."
You've seen ex-players' brains turn to mush, theoretically from a career of concussions. Goodell is trying to reduce contact to the head.
"What about when they're playing in the line of scrimmage, and offensive and defensive linemen are butting heads the whole game?" White said. "What, they're only trying to protect brains in the open field, but bashing the head against the guy in front of them (on the line) doesn't matter? We only make a big deal out of it when they see it?"
Are you saying that the NFL is only trying to make it look as if it's worried about players' brains?
"Draw your own conclusions. But if they stop it (in the line), then it won't be football anymore. If they want to eliminate injuries, they should play two-hand touch."
This is not to endorse cheap shots or gratuitous shots to the head. But the outcry over Suh, and Pittsburgh's James Harrison, has gone a little overboard. It's true that Suh, who returns Sunday from his two-week suspension over the stomping incident, has gotten penalties at all the wrong times and lost control when the Detroit Lions could least afford it.
At the same time, he's not exactly a monster for losing control at the end of the play-by-play fight that goes on in the lines. And there's a little hypocrisy here: Former players are the foundation of the NFL, and Goodell is standing on that foundation, a wealthy man because of it, taking a moral stand against it.
"I don't ever remember getting up and stomping on anybody," White said. "I remember wanting to do that. I got kicked out of the game one time in the preseason against the Bears. Their offensive tackle, Keith Van Horne... on two plays in a row, he tried to clip the back of my legs. Finally, I jumped up, grabbed his helmet and tried to twist his head off. His helmet popped off and I was holding it."
At that point, Bears' guard Mark Bortz shoved White in the chest.
"My natural reaction," White said, "was to hit the guy in the head with the helmet I was holding."
"I got kicked out of the game for that. I never was a big advocate of cheat shots. I didn't want to intentionally hurt someone. But as long as it was within the rules and the framework of the game, I'd try to rip their head off."
Remember, that was a preseason game.
God, it's fun hearing stories like that. Ex-players always have them. They take you into the trenches, give you a certain feel for the guts of the game.
"I'll tell you this," Hampton said, "In '82, I was defensive player of the year. That was cool and all that, but you know what? It was a recipe for disaster. Every game after that, I was getting chopped and held. That's what Suh is getting now.
"I remember a game against the Vikings, I was taking the center's shot to my jaw, then I was supposed to split (the line), and I can't remember that little running back's name, but he was trying to take my knee off on every play.
"(Defensive coordinator) Buddy Ryan yelled at me 'Dammit, stay inside,' blah, blah, blah. I started rebelling. 'Screw you. I'm not going to take this chainsaw every day.'"
Hampton is still beloved in Chicago. Danimal, as he's called, has been celebrated for the fight. All these years later, he's still on TV and radio in Chicago, still doing commercials for Ronald McDonald House. White was known as The Manster, as in half-man, half-monster.
Both are sympathetic to Suh, saying only that he has gone a little overboard, that stomping a player will always lead to penalties.
Today's game is just different, both ex-stars said. Hampton points out that today, TV cameras are pointed at everything players do.
And it occurs to you that Hampton thinks Suh should change not so much because he's doing bad things, but instead because he can't help but to be caught.
Shortly after Hampton retired, he said, he was with Bill Parcells at a symposium. Someone asked Parcells what teams need most, and Parcells said that first they need a quarterback. And next?
Parcells pointed at Hampton. They need a guy like him, someone who can dominate and intimidate.
"Some of these guys today are big fatties who can only play the run," Hampton said. "Some are speed merchants who are liabilities against the run. Ndamukong Suh is what everyone wants.
"And the Lions want to get the tough-guy image back. How do you that? It's by hitting people in the mouth over and over again, whistle to whistle."
It's an evolution, Hampton said. He remembered his first day at the University of Arkansas, when his defensive coordinator was Jimmy Johnson. They started out with head-slap drills. Players lined up and slapped each other, with Johnson yelling to hit harder, harder, harder.
Maybe that's not necessary anymore. But White said he would rather have played in his day than today, when you have to "calculate hits."
He said that Suh is not a dirty player, but someone who's "tough, hardnosed, mean, intimidating. That's what Dick Butkus was. That's the way I was taught to play. That's the way Suh plays."
This isn't simple. Many of the players from the past are still suffering from that style, and today's hits to the head are coming from bigger and faster players. Goodell had to do something, and he acted quickly, as longterm effects of concussions started to come to light.
At the same time, Danimal and The Manster are sports heroes for what they did.
"The over-arching point is, they are trying to make this a kinder, gentler game," Hampton said. "You know why? Because 20 years from now, the league doesn't want to be sued by every player who has been tackled and now can't remember his phone number."
Can you remember yours?
"I've got a smartphone," he said. "I don't have to."