At Michael McCaskey’s final NFL owners meeting as chairman of the Bears, NFL owners voted to move up kickoffs and neuter one of the Bears’ greatest weapons.
If you ever wondered how little clout the Bears have league-wide, no matter that grandpa founded the thing, then here you go:
The Bears, with arguably the greatest return man in NFL history, were unable to stop the NFL from moving kickoffs up to the 35-yard line. The NFL --- Nimrods For Life --- legislated against a skill and great entertainment in what appears to be a long-term move to claim the game is safer in finagling an 18-game season.
More immediately, the league moved to create more touchbacks at the expense of minimizing the value of that special-teams unit --- a special-teams unit the Bears dominate. Use to, anyway.
Even before the rule was passed, Bears coach Lovie Smith was incredulous and edgy about the idea. After it became official, Smith sounded apoplectic and said the rule change is "tearing up the fiber of the game a little bit."
Amazing how Smith has been far more emotional --- dare I say, surprisingly human --- in reacting to such things as questioning Jay Cutler’s toughness and changing kickoff rules. Wish he’d acted out when Mike Martz insisted on the cadaver formerly known as Todd Collins as the No. 2 quarterback.
Smith’s reaction is understandable because his best seasons have come when the kick return units have produced big returns and turned field position regularly. He’s lucky he agreed to a contract extension before the rule change cost him that advantage in what might’ve been a true walk year.
One of the players most affected by the rule change is Danieal Manning, perhaps to the point that the Bears might not bring back the free agent. Manning returned the most kickoffs for the Bears, but if that skill becomes minimized, Manning’s greater value would be as a defensive back, which is not to his benefit. The Bears have never known where to play him, so they have tried him just about everywhere, and Manning has not proven good enough or smart enough to claim a spot for more than a month, or so it seems.
But say this for Manning: He’s smart enough to realize the silliness of trying to make a violent play a little safer.
"Football is violent," Manning said. "It's a contact sport. There's nothing you can do about it. I hope nothing tragically happens to me, but that's what football is.''
And another thing: Not only does the new kickoff rule reduce one of the Bears’ great advantages, but it also might further burden one of the Bears’ big weaknesses, namely the offensive line.
If the new rule leads to more touchbacks --- maybe 15 percent more by NFL calculations --- then the Bears would face more longer fields. The Bears had three TD drives of 80 yards or longer last season. They gave up more than that in December alone.
And while the Bears were taking this hit in a vote of owners, McCaskey was telling a story of how his grandfather founded the NFL. That would be the same George Halas, according to legend, who never wanted Michael to run the team, which he did until mom finally sent him to his room without dessert for announcing Dave McGinniss as the new coach when McGinniss had agreed to no such thing.
Other owners and their representatives crowed about McCaskey’s speech, which is what you do when you want to keep the sucker at the poker table --- praise his play. But if McCaskey wasn’t so worried about his speech, then maybe he would’ve shown some clout to round up enough votes to block the new kickoff rule.
But no. The Bears were unable to prevent the NFL from minimizing the league’s most dangerous return game. The Steelers, meanwhile, with one of the hardest-hitting defense, made sure that proposals regarding hits on defenseless players didn’t pass. Some teams have clout, apparently. Some teams have Fredo McCaskey.
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