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Labriola on penalties, 'Scabskins,' DMR

Posted Sep 15, 2017

A theory as to why there are so many penalties at the start of every NFL regular season.

Ready or not, here it comes:

* There were 20 in Baltimore-Cincinnati; 19 in Jacksonville-Texas; 17 in Pittsburgh-Cleveland; 16 in both Detroit-Arizona and Seattle-Green Bay; 15 in Carolina-San Francisco; and a weekend high 21 in Kansas City-New England.

* The subject, of course, is penalties and looking at the numbers all around the league on Kickoff Weekend brings back memories of the time, captured by NFL Films, that Marv Levy’s frustration had him refer to the crew working a Buffalo Bills game as “over-officious jerks.”

* For the uninitiated, Levy was a Phi Beta Kappa who also attended Harvard, and based on information available on vocabulary.com, his choice of an insult/complaint to the zebras that day fits perfectly with what happens across the NFL at the start of every season. And Levy didn’t draw a penalty flag, not even a wayward glare, from any of the officials that day because it’s a virtual certainly none of them truly knew what he was talking about.

* “Officious is a tricky word as it seems like it might mean something like office or official,” according to vocabulary.com. “Instead, it is a word to describe someone who acts more official than they actually are. People who are officious are busybodies. They want to make their opinions known and followed, despite not having any kind of real power.”

* In fact, the power the NFL’s officials regularly display at this time of each season is the power to make games unwatchable. And it’s so unnecessary.

* There is one theory that officials let things slide during the preseason, maybe in an effort to prevent those games from devolving into an endless series of penalties, which is in and of itself an honorable pursuit, but what it also does is lull players into a false sense of security that the way they’re run blocking, or pass defending, is in accordance with NFL rules when in reality the officials are just looking the other way since “it’s only the preseason.”

* As my father told me over and over and over and over when I was young, “Form good habits in all you do, and let those habits work for you.” Players are being allowed to form bad habits during the preseason, and then they have to pay the price once the regular season opens. Fans, too.

* If you haven’t had a chance to watch ESPN’s recent “30 for 30” documentary titled, “The Year of the Scab,” make it a point to see it. The subject is the 1987 NFL season, one that included a players’ strike followed by the owners’ decision to continue playing games with what management referred to as “replacement players” and what the NFLPA referred to as “scabs.”

* The 90-minute documentary concentrates on the Washington Redskins, dubbed the Scabskins, and they make for a compelling story in that they went 3-0 and helped secure homefield advantage for the returning players, who went on to win the Super Bowl by a convincing margin over the Denver Broncos.

* A sampling of the interesting nuggets unearthed in the documentary:

* Washington GM Bobby Beathard found a quarterback serving time in prison – Tony Robinson from the University of Tennessee – and arranged for a work-release situation so that he could play for the Redskins. Robinson served as a backup for the first two games, but he came off the bench following an injury to the starter in the third game – vs. Dallas – and engineered a 13-7 victory. Then when the strike ended and the union players returned, Robinson turned himself in to serve out the rest of his sentence.

* After initially being hated by the fans for crossing the picket line, the “Scabskins” come to be viewed by fans and even some members of the media as every-man underdogs who came together as a group and played for each other and the love of the game.

* The “Scabskins” defeated both the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in Giants Stadium and the Cowboys on a Monday night in Texas Stadium, about which Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs would say, “(They) helped us win the division and have a chance to play at home (in the playoffs) and get to a Super Bowl.”

* But then after the Redskins won the Super Bowl, the replacement players were given a half-share of playoff money but not rings. Beathard said in the documentary that he believed the replacement players deserved rings. “I was a little upset that some of the replacement guys weren’t recognized for what they did, because we would never have gotten where we were that year without those guys.”

* John Cooke, the son of then-owner Jack Kent Cooke, offered this explanation in the documentary that was described as “lame” by The Washington Post: “We certainly did discuss it, but we didn’t have enough money from the league in order to get another squad Super Bowl rings. They’re terribly expensive. Those rings were paid for by the National Football League. Then the clubs have to allocate that out to the people who were working at the Washington Redskins — players and coaches and front office staff.”

* Upon his death, Jack Ken Cooke’s estate was valued at $800 million. Just saying.

* In the run-up to the regular season opener against the Browns in Cleveland, I asked Mike Tomlin about the advantages a good offensive line can provide for a team. “I think it can carry you regardless of circumstance. Being strong in the interior line play, particularly in the offensive line, is one of those tools you can pull out of the toolbox regardless of circumstance. It aids you early in the season. It aids you in hostile environments. It aids you when you have skill guys out. You name it. A strong offensive line is a good thing.”

* A solid performance by the Steelers offensive line in this Sunday’s game would seem to be a necessary thing. The Vikings are very aggressive along the defensive line, and the unit plays a style that Tunch Ilkin would describe as “playing the run on the way to the quarterback.” Running backs have been known to have big games against that style of defense.

* Being that it’s the home opener, and given that Dan Rooney died last April, fans in attendance for Sunday’s game against the Vikings will be treated to some tributes that will typify the man they’re meant to honor. In other words, dignified and understated.

* As that’s happening, or for Steelers fans not able to attend the game at Heinz Field, consider this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that Dan Rooney found personally inspiring: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

* Dan Rooney’s life fulfilled its purpose.

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