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Sideline football fights? Not that big of a deal

Sideline football fights? Not that big of a deal

At some point in the Ravens' 37-13 win over the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Derrick Mason and Joe Flacco supposedly got into a heated altercation on the sidelines. Mike Preston did a nice job getting the details, and I suspect we'll hear a lot about it in the next few days. It's already dominating local sports talk radio and message board posts.

For the most part, I think these incidents tend to be overblown. There is no on/off switch in football when it comes to your emotions, and so when frustration boils over, players occasionally fight. During my brief and uneventful college football career, I got into fights much worse than the one Mason and Flacco supposedly engaged in, and I was witness to countless others. I saw teammates throw punches like the one Richard Seymour nailed Ben Roethlisberger with, and heard exchanges that would make a dockworker blush.

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You'd be surprised how frequently it happens. I've been drilled in the facemask with an open-handed punch by guys I'd offer one of my kidneys to if they needed it. I was furious at the time, but I laugh about it now. It's hard to explain, but it's part of the game. Sometimes it's even a good thing.

I don't know for sure, but I suspect John Harbaugh, because he's been around the game his entire life, would privately agree with all this. He might not be able to say so publicly, so when he's asked about it today at his Monday press conference, I suspect he'll be diplomatic and stoic as usual.

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Even if he's angry with Mason for creating a circus on the sideline, he isn't going to say it. He knows he needs Mason the rest of the year, emotions and all. Football coaches today have to be CEOs in front of the media, carefully choosing their words to lessen the chances their statements be chopped up and played out of context in our soundbite culture. That's one of the reasons I think it's a lot harder to be a coach today than it was in Vince Lombardi's era, or even Bill Walsh's era. Every squabble, big or small, needs to be addressed and put into context. Nervous fans need to be reassured all is well.

That's not a lament that longs for us to return to the time of Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry, it's just reality. Players fought and sniped at one another in those days as well. There just weren't outlets like blogs, message boards and radio shows for fans and the media to wonder: "What does it all mean? Is Mason a major distraction? Is Flacco not respected by his teammates?" Sometimes players really do hate each others' guts, and it affects the way they do their jobs. Most of the time though? It really doesn't.

If Mason and Flacco did get into a shouting match, and if Cam Cameron was in the middle of some of it, I bet it's not the first time. And it probably wont' be the last. It might actually be a good sign that the Ravens understand their offense is going to have to get much better the rest of the season if they want avoid getting bounced from the playoffs.

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