Football goes soft; questions are hard

Burt Reynolds stars in 1974’s “The Longest Yard.”

Happy Super Sunday Eve.

But some old-school football fans, including me, are not happy about some of the game’s new-fangled rules.

Sure, rising evidence of long-term brain damage suffered by football players demands changes to reduce head-banging hazards.

Then again, the sport’s primal appeal stems in large part from the mind-set captured in this traditional cheer:

“Hit ’em again, hit ’em again, harder, harder.”

How can you make this game safer without sacking that football fundamental?

How can a rapidly closing defensive back know where his moving target’s head will be when they intersect at high speed?

How long until tackling is banned from youth football?

OK, so playing tackle football hurts. That hard-hitting lesson got through to me early as an undersized kid taking my lumps in both pickup and youth-league football.

So I called a self-preserving audible and quit the game — at least on the organized level — at age 11.

Or maybe it quit me since I didn’t make the cut for that mites team.

Now news comes this week that Detroit Lions star wide receiver Calvin Johnson, aka “Megatron,” is ready to retire from playing football at the age of 30.

The former Georgia Tech star is apparently wary about enduring more physical wear and tear. Plus, he’s already made $114 million from the Lions, so he can afford to go without a paycheck for a while.

Still, plenty of NFL guys who’ve already made big bucks are staying in the game. And lots of the rest of us enjoy watching this collision — not just contact — sport.

Some of us also like following the annual analysis overkill before, during and after the NFL draft.

Some of us even get into the colleges’ National Signing Day, which hit unseemly new hype heights Wednesday as coaches groveled for kids’ services and grown-ups prematurely proclaimed 18-year-olds as superstars.

So as Sunday night’s Super Bowl 50 spectacle looms, football remains a strong No. 1 among U.S. athletic attractions.

Meanwhile, lest you imagine that the sissifying of this macho sport is a new wrinkle, keep in mind that more than 3½ decades ago, the NFL came up with “in the grasp.”

That made quarterbacks, once grabbed but not yet on the ground, off limits for hits.

Yet while quarterbacks are an increasingly protected species, they — for instance, Cam Newton — routinely break free from defenders’ grips.

Way back in 1979, ABC’s Howard Cosell asked Pittsburgh’s Jack Lambert about the already-growing efforts to spare quarterbacks from harm. The tough-guy Steelers linebacker, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990, replied:

“Well, it might be a good idea to put dresses on all of them. That might help a little bit.”

(answers to follow)

1) Name the former South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback who played a decisive role in a Super Bowl outcome.

2) Name the role that Burt Reynolds plays in the best football movie of all time, 1974’s “The Longest Yard” (not to be confused with the far inferior 2005 remake starring Adam Sandler).

3) Name the college Reynolds attended on a football scholarship.

4) Name the former Super Bowl quarterback who plays the Walking Boss in the original “The Longest Yard.”

5) Name the real-life two-time Super Bowl champion player who, in the role of a pro player, yells at an assistant coach in the second best football movie of all time — 1979’s “North Dallas Forty” (based on former Dallas Cowboy Peter Gent’s terrific novel): “Every time I call it a game, you call it a business! And every time I call it a business, you call it a game!”

6) Name the USC coach later elected to the S.C. Senate.

7) Why do some Clemson fans, including me, still have trouble warming up to the Panthers? (Hint: Some N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest fans share this residual reluctance to root for the NFC champions).

1) Dan Reeves, USC’s starting quarterback from 1962-64, played halfback for the Dallas Cowboys. Late in Super Bowl V, he let a Craig Morton pass go through his hands and into those of Baltimore linebacker Mike Curtis. That set up the Colts’ winning field goal in a 16-13 heartbreaker. Reeves holds the record for most Super Bowl participation as a player and coach with nine games — two as a player (1-1), three as an assistant coach (1-2) and four as a head coach (0-4) for an overall record of 2-7.

2) Burt Reynolds plays Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, a pro star serving time at a prison farm for shaving points.

3) Reynolds, a star fullback at Palm Beach High School in West Palm Beach, attended Florida State on a football scholarship. He was moved to halfback in college but played sparingly due to injuries.

4) Joe Kapp, the losing quarterback in Super Bowl IV (Chiefs 23, Vikings 7) and later head coach at the University California, plays the Walking Boss.

5) Real-life defensive lineman John Matuszak, aka “The Tooz,” plays North Dallas Bulls offensive lineman O.W. Shaddock. He shouts that memorable line at nagging assistant coach Johnson (Charles Durning) in the locker-room gloom after a bitter loss.

6) Warren Giese was USC’s head football coach from 1956-60, going 28-21-1. He served four terms (1985-2004) as a Republican state senator.

7) Because those NFC champs are the Carolina Panthers.

Now take the Broncos and the points.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.