The tackle that changed football forever

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If football didn’t die Saturday night, it is in critical condition on life support, clinging to its last breath.
With 33 seconds to go in the first half of the Foster Farms Bowl, pitting the Huskers of Nebraska against the Hollywood darlings of UCLA, football died. When I say football died, I mean what we now love and enjoy is not the game of football anymore. We’ve taken contact out of football.
Nebraska’s Nate Gerry was ejected for what is known as targeting, defined by the NCAA as a player initiating contact with a defenseless player with the crown of his helmet, or the head or neck area with his helmet, forearm, fist, elbow or shoulder.
Gerry led with his left shoulder, squared up and made a big hit -- a football hit that had minimal to zero helmet-to-helmet contact. I have so many issues with this that I don’t know where to start and I don’t even think there’s enough newspaper to fit it all.
*Technique -- I played football in high school. I’ve been through the rigors of practicing fundamental, form tackling. Keep your head up, square up to the opponent, wrap up and drive. Everything that I just listed was the exact checklist that Gerry followed on the tackle in question.
 Gerry did have his head high as he firmly wrapped his arms around the UCLA receiver, but did not make serious contact with the receiver’s head or neck. If someone disagrees with me that this was the most fundamentally sound tackle I’ve seen on any level all season, then please don’t hesitate to contact me and tell me as such.
*Accountability -- Coaches make mistakes and decisions that don’t pan out multiple times in every game. They are right there at the end of the game to answer for those calls.
Players make mistakes during the game, may it be a fumble, missed assignment or blown coverage. They, a lot of the time, are at the podium after the game to talk about it. Officials often make crucial mistakes that can impact the outcome of a game one way or another, drastically altering the landscape of sports. Do they answer to the media? They charge through the tunnel after the game as fast as they can with their tail between their legs and are tight-lipped. When are referees going to start being held accountable for actions and decisions that can affect the outcome of the game? The time is now. Officials should have to own up to their decisions just like players and coaches. Wouldn’t you like to know what their view was on these crucial and game-changing plays? I’ve certainly got a few questions for them.
I understand why the flag was thrown on the field. It was one of those hits that was fast, packed a punch and looked bad at first glance. But, that’s why we have instant replay. We use instant replay in football to get things right, to try and displace human error as much as possible from the game. What’s the point if when replay is used, we still get the wrong call?
There was only one man in charge of Gerry’s future -- Jack McElwee of the ACC.  A single man watched the tape and decided if it was targeting. Shouldn’t we change that? Why can’t there be a duo or a trio of replay officials to make these calls? How can everyone watching at home and all those in attendance agree that the call was bad and deserved to be reversed, but the one guy who’s opinion actually matters says otherwise?
*Reaction -- I’m not sure a single football play has ever made me as hot under the collar as this one. I begged and pleaded with the television as if the replay official could hear me. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, my apologies for what you had to endure if you were just scrolling through. I took to Twitter to vent out my frustrations, as did much of the country watching the game. I never found one tweet or have heard anyone say online, television or radio that the ejection was warranted – because it wasn’t. In a season where the Huskers finished under .500, or any season for that matter, I’m not sure I’ve ever been that mad about Nebraska being tied at half. It surely had absolutely nothing to do with the score.
 “I don’t see targeting out of that at all. I see a guy making a big tackle,” Greg Sharpe said on the call during the review of targeting. “It’s just a good football play.”
“First of all, I couldn’t believe it was a penalty, and second of all, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t overturned,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said.
Even UCLA coach Jim Mora agreed Gerry’s hit was clean, and was “shocked” he was ejected. There was a time that ESPN cameras showed Mora and Gerry talking during the review. I can only imagine what the conversation entailed.
My Twitter feed exploded with reaction.
“Clean hit. GREAT hit. Even Mora liked the hit!! #UCLAvsNeb,” Kirk Herbstreit – ESPN Analyst.
“They ejected a player for making one of the most fundamentally sound tackles I’ve seen all season,” Joel Klatt – Fox Sports Analyst.
“I’m not saying the ACC refs are jumpy, but I got ejected for targeting chicken fingers at halftime,” Tom Shatel – Omaha World Herald Columnist.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT HIM TO DO?!?!?!?!?!? HE WRAPPED UP!!! #Huskers/ That’s disgusting. Absolutely terrible. We can’t play defense in football anymore. #Huskers,” Two tweets from my timeline.
I’ve watched the play enough that I’ve dissected it from every angle. As the ESPN camera puts the focus on Riley after the referee upheld the decision, you can see the linesman in the background shaking his head in disbelief. EVEN THE OFFICIALS DON’T AGREE.
Also, on one last point of reaction. Everyone saw how Riley reacted to the news, and even got hot under the collar later in the game with some other unnecessary roughness from UCLA. He can, as we can now tell, get fired up when he needs to. But, just imagine how this would have boiled over if Bo Pelini was in charge and he had to take this news. I feel like he would’ve been tossed out of Santa Clara.
*Football’s future -- Now I’m not barbaric. I’m all for protecting players and all that jazz. But seriously, with the continuation of calls like this one, football will soon cease to exist. I came to the conclusion while watching Gerry exit stage left Saturday night that while football has died, it has transformed into a new idea. Ten years from now, football will be reduced to what is now known as 7-on-7.
Think about it. A majority of fans tune in to watch high flying offenses chuck the ball up and down the field as many times as possible. That’s what 7-on-7 is – a modified version of football widely used to help offenses grasp the playbook and work on timing. Defense may win championships, but offenses now drive ratings and bring in the dough.
Sometimes, when trying to make changes, there is often an overcorrection. That’s precisely what’s happened with football – we’ve tried too hard to change it to make it safe. You can’t take all of the danger out of football. It’s not possible.
Football is on life support. Before long, it’ll be too late.
RICHARD RHODEN can be reached at sports@hamilton.net

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