Grade Inflation

October 20, 2009

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Steve Sailer leaps straight from the fact that most of the top NFL quarterback statistics have been compiled by players of the last generation and this one to the conclusion that today’s quarterbacks are better than those of days gone by.  In doing so, he has bought the hype.

When I was in the eighth grade, in 1976-77, my football coaches showed us a training film on offensive fundamentals.  Made by Vince Lombardi and his Green Bay Packers in the 1960s, this black-and-white spectacular featured several Hall of Fame offensive linemen demonstrating the techniques I needed to use.

So, if memory serves, there were Fuzzy Thurston and Jerry Kramer pass blocking with their elbows bent so that their hands would not leave the general vicinity of their chests.  For them to have pass blocked otherwise would likely have earned them a 15-yard penalty for holding.

Today, however, the penalty for offensive holding is not 15, but 10 yards.  Besides that, on every snap, every offensive lineman in the NFL blocks in a way that would have been holding for Lombardi’s men.

When I was a boy, my heroes, like Carl Eller of the Minnesota Vikings, treated quarterbacks very roughly.  They drove them into the ground or stood them up so someone else could take a shot.  In the late 1970s, however, the NFL changed its rules so that quarterbacks were, as the Steelers’ Jack Lambert spat, effectively put in tutus.  Mustn’t hurt the little darlings by hitting them the way you’d hit any other player who had the ball.

Oh, yes, and when Johnny Unitas scanned the field for wideout Raymond Barry, he was apt to see him being shoved around the field by a DB playing bump-and-run.  Now, a DB mustn’t touch a WR more than five yards down the field.  That wouldn’t be nice.

So, yes, the QBs today rack up lots of statistics.  Can anyone say “grade inflation?”  Nevermore will there be Super Bowls like # VII (14-7 final, with basically no offense the whole day) or #IX (2-0 at halftime, despite the presence of multiple Hall of Fame performers on both offenses, including both quarterbacks).  To my mind, making it easy for any team to score did not improve the game—and Drew Bledsoe was no Terry Bradshaw, despite his gaudier numbers.

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