When Hall-0f-Famer Joe Schmidt was a star linebacker for the Detroit Lions, the NFL tilted more to the run than the pass, 300-yard passing games were rare and quarterbacks were treated like pinatas by onrushing tacklers.
But that was the 1950s and '60s, and, in the 50-60 years that passed, the NFL has become a quarterback's league, with a litany of rules that protect passers who routinely throw for 300 yards and handcuff defenders no longer allowed to operate as Schmidt once did.
Like it or not, that's the way it is ... and Joe Schmidt doesn't like it.
"My opinion, which people may not like, but I think football is deteriorating," he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "You're not permitted to touch the quarterback. He's making $25 million. If I was making $25 million, they could hang me up and just hit me any time they wanted."
He's right about not touching the quarterback. But the NFL has done what it must, and that's not only try to protect players from head injuries but protect the most vulnerable and the most important. And quarterbacks are first in line there.
"Football, I think, was devised to physically outdo the other guy. I don't necessarily think that's the case now."
Concussions forced Hall-of-Famers Steve Young and Troy Aikman from the game, and head injuries are front and center in the on-going debate of football and its cause-and-effect with CTE. But it's not only the protection of the quarterback that has Schmidt upset. It's the rest of a game that has evolved/devolved (take your pick) from the one he played.
"The guys on the offensive and defensive line are 300 pounds," said Schmidt, who, after retiring as a player, coached the Lions for six seasons (1967-72). "All they do is push and shove each other. There are poor tacklers all over the place. Some kids can't tackle, the secondary especially. I guess I shouldn't say this, but I do it all the time: I think the game is deteriorating in my view. Of course, I go way back, and there aren't too many people around as old I am watching and playing football at that particular time.
"Football, I think, was devised to physically outdo the other guy. I don't necessarily think that's the case now. Of course, that's precisely why the league intervened with rules protecting players: So they could remember what the game was like when they're Schmidt's age (he's 85). And give Schmidt this: He understands. He may not like the direction pro football is headed, but he's still passionate about it.
"Everything's changed in life," he said, "so we go accordingly. It's still a great game, and it's still a great spectator sport."