The Leaven of Political Football

At the pinnacle of Don James’s (1932-2013) football coaching career with the University of Washington (UW) Huskies that brought to the college game the 1985 Chicago Bear style of defense that lasted for some 3-4 years circa 1989-92, he was sabotaged by UW college officials from within because of political correctness.  Not only were UW college officials incensed by James’s political conservatism, but also envious of him being the essential face of the school, not to mention the highest paid state employee in the state of Washington at the time.  The undermining of Don James became very insidious that went so far so as to include not only Seattle’s very liberal press, but was also embraced by other Pac-10 representatives as well.  They were not happy watching their teams get devastated by a Husky defense that did not merely defend, but destroyed them.

Don James finally quit in the midst of what he considered to be a politicized witch hunt, which left the UW Football program reeling for many years.  While political correctness won, UW football lost.  More than a few have criticized James for abandoning his players, but today there is now a statue of him on the UW Campus that was just recently dedicated to him.   Future NFL Hall of Famer Warren Moon, who played for the Huskies in the late 70’s reminisced, “After coach James left our living room and he got in his car, my mother told me: that’s where you’re going to go to school, son.  He wasn’t just a football coach that developed players. He was a football coach who developed young men.”   Here is a huge blind spot that leftist academics do not understand about football.  Neither is football a mindless sport for brutes.  If chess was to be played by real live people, it would be akin to something like American football.

The glory years of the Don James era lasted from 1975-92 that included a national championship, an Orange Bowl win over Oklahoma in 1984 that should have given the Huskies another national title that year too, numerous Rose Bowl wins, and a virtually guaranteed trip to some bowl game each and every year – the lion’s share of which the Huskies won.   The Washington Huskies bowl record under Don James was 10-4. 

The 1989-92 Huskies under Don James is an important barometer to what is now sweeping the NFL these days as the increasing politicization of football is taking its toll nationwide.  Thanks to political correctness, the national anthem is now an apparently an anathema.  Moreover, the growing politicization of the NFL is not simply coming from the players, but also stemming from the owners themselves who have become drunk from the Leftist Hollywood-Broadway media cool-aid.  Yet, American Football IS an uniquely American sport.  If one cannot play football and sing the national anthem at the same time, can there really be any more future for the NFL in America? 

Neither is it a coincidence that the last truly dominating defense seen in all of football was the Washington Husky defense beginning in the latter half of the 1989 season which continued until 1992, give or take a few games or seasons afterwards.  The eventual all-time NFL rushing leader Emmit Smith of the Dallas Cowboys faced the Husky defense in the Freedom Bowl in 1989 and gained a grand total of 17 total yards as the Florida Gators were routed 34-7.  The next year, an even more powerful Husky defense derailed quarterback Todd Marinovich’s quest for the Heisman in 1990 with a 31-0 shellacking in which the quarterback said after the game, “All I saw was purple.”  Marinovich’s career was never the same after that game.

Steve Emtman, who anchored perhaps the best defensive line ever seen in college football history 1990-91, was such a dominating force on the gridiron that he not only won the Lombardi Trophy, the Outland Trophy, the UPI Lineman of the Year together with the Pac-10 defensive player of the year, but incredibly, he also finished fourth in the Heisman race.  Thanks to Don James who saw the potential in Emtman that many others overlooked, defense had become sexy again.  Had he not gone onto the NFL his senior year, Emtman might very well have won the Heisman in 1992 together with another national championship that would have been all but guaranteed with his presence.  No team could control him.  He was double and triple teamed leaving huge holes plugged by Husky linebackers to crush and crunch their opponents at will.  In the Rose Bowl game in 1992, retired Wolverine Coach Bo Schembechler (1929-2006) was shocked by the power of the Husky defense as he commented from the sidelines that no one pushes around a Michigan offensive line like that. 

Indeed, for at least two years, if not three, when the Huskies played defense, opposing offenses often went backwards.  Neither was it just the lopsided scores of the games that spoke of the dominance of the Huskies of that time, but the destructive way led by their defense that made the big losses much more painful.  Former 49ers coach Bill Walsh, who came to the Stanford Cardinals in 1992, characterized the Huskies as a collection of outlaws and mercenaries that did not belong in the NCAA – perhaps one of the best compliments that Don James ever received.  James, however, was livid with Walsh’s insinuations.   

Walsh’s statements, of course, just became another political arm of the same political correctness that was feverishly working behind the scenes to undermine the “Dawgfather” as he was called.  While the Huskies were always in the thick of the Rose Bowl race from 1977-1989, 1990-92 was different.  The Huskies graduated from being a very good team year in and year out, to be a dominating team.   James had found the key to the pinnacle of college football, and that key was the Husky defense.  While the “James Gang” could not be beaten on the gridiron by the Pac-10, politics, of course, was another matter entirely.   

The Huskies did serve Bill Walsh’s Cardinals a 41-7 whipping that year, but this proved to be one of the last victories that James had.  Up until that time, the Huskies were cruising to another possible shot at the national title sitting at 8-0.  However, the Huskies finished 9-3 and shared the Pac-10 championship with the Cardinals as they fell prey to the political turmoil that diverted the team’s energies.  At the end of the 1992 season, the Huskies lost an unprecedented three games out of four, including a barnburner loss to Michigan in the Rose Bowl. 

However, even the depleted Husky defense of 1994 under Coach Jim Lambright, Don James’s successor and loyal defensive coordinator for many years, stuffed the Miami Hurricanes that ended their 58 home game winning streak dating all the way back to 1985 – with future NFL defensive standouts Ray Lewis and Warren Sapp looking on with incredulity.

While on occasion there was has been an exceptional year of defense in the NFL like the Seattle Seahawks of 2013, most of football today has become a pass happy dinky dunk basketball kind of sport full of short passes and cheap touchdowns together with quarterback and receiver records that mean very little since they cannot be compared to other eras, particularly to the Super Seventies, before politically correct rules entered the game in 1978 in a big way to favor offenses over defenses – the kind of football that coaches like Bill Walsh flourished under as he cashed in on the new rules to help the 49ers win three Superbowls in the 1980’s.  While the Raiders, Bears, and Giants kept the defensive emphasis afloat during the 1980’s, the 1990’s saw its eventual demise.

Defenses today are virtually toothless.  Nobody fears them anymore.  This is a far cry from John Elway’s baptism of fire in 1983 when in his first game as a pro, he looked over at the remnants of the 1970’s Steel Curtain with a toothless Jack Lambert growling at him.  This is what the NFL used to be all about – competition in the face of intimidation and danger – the kind of drama that dominated the sport in the Super Seventies, but is no longer there, thanks to many years of political correctness.  Today’s NFL is technocratic, slick, and full of glitz, but increasingly hollow of character and drama as it has increasingly given more deference to its paymasters in Tinseltown and Broadway who now favor even politics over entertainment.

If one were to compare the opening credits of the NFL Today on CBS from the 1970’s to today’s Fox opening credits, the differences are striking indeed.   The NFL Today in the late 1970’s promoted a very human game where players shout out their plays in the midst of some good old fashioned smashmouth football with fans clamoring in the background.  The credits begin with a hut showcasing Fran Tarkenton’s perfect spiral thrown up into the air before coming down into an intense drama of defense dominating hard hits where touchdowns were earned the hard way – defense dominating hard hits that still reverberate today in the postmodern halls of liability and lawyerism that now govern the NFL.  Instead of watching the controlled violence of the game that created the great drama that once was the heart of American Football, today, viewers are treated to Fox’s NFL pregame technocratic spectacle of robots hitting each other that has nothing to do with the game itself except to divert attention from the fact that players are made of flesh and bone in spite of their great training and fitness today.   This is not a sign of progress, but represents the seeds of the game’s own destruction. 

In the 1970’s, NFL fans were routinely given divisional playoff, championship games, and Superbowls like the Seahawk-49er championship game of 2013.  Watching such games was anything but dull, but was actually a real treat full of great competitive drama with the best teams on both sides of the ball colliding against each other that included super running backs, the likes of which have not been seen since.  Contrary to popular opinion, the critical NFL rule changes of 1978 have created a much blander game that is far less entertaining to watch precisely because of its lack of competitive drama that defenses used to provide. Because of the fierce competition between the offenses and defenses in the 1970’s, even the best quarterbacks of that era seldom had more touchdown than interceptions in any given year. 

Even the coaches today are very bland compared to what they were in the Super Seventies.  The political correctness of Hollywood and Broadway has tamed the coaches and the players into virtual automatons that say as little as possible in order to avoid the great dangers of a media blitz – unless, of course they disrespect the national anthem.  Yet the Super Seventies was the area in which John Madden was not the great NFL commentator that he later became, but an extremely colorful coach on the field with his rebel Raiders that played perhaps two of the best games that have ever been played in NFL history with the classic “Sea of Hands” game against the 1974 Dolphins that ended their third straight drive to the Superbowl, or even the 1977 “Ghost to the Post” game that derailed the Baltimore Colts in the 1977 Divisional Playoffs that was one of the longest NFL games ever played on record.  These were in addition to the implausible “Immaculate Reception” Divisional Playoff game in 1972 when Franco Harris of the Steelers made an incredible catch that turned into a last second touchdown to steal the win from the Raiders.  Jack Tatum’s bone crushing hit that almost blew up the football itself, shot off of Fuqua’s chest like a cannon before miraculously popping into the hands of Harris with no one in front of him to stop him. 

Such was the football drama of the Super Seventies that are today long gone as political correctness, legalism, and lawyerism, continue to leaven the game.  Too many players and league owners are more worried about politics than playing football.  While many parents often complain about the politics and favoritism in high school sports, such politicking only gets worse these days the higher up one goes.

Americans are already strangled by the omnipresent madness of postmodern politics already, and to see it all rehashed again on Sunday at a football game is a recipe for falling tickets sales and smaller crowds at the very best.  Yet the flag controversy is just one of many politically correct moves that have increasingly hurt the game over the years so that Americans are caring less and less about football. 

In short, the owners of the NFL probably have a much bigger problem on their hands than just the national anthem and concussions.  The Left ruins everything it touches, and it has dug deep into the heart of NFL football over the years with no small thanks to Hollywood advertising dollars that demands political correctness as the first order of business.  Such leaven is particularly showcased at halftime on Superbowl Sunday – the worst 30 minutes of the football season each and every year. 

In its postmodern secularity, legalistic instincts, and artistic imagination, the Left thinks it can have glory and safety at the same time.  Yet anyone who climbs Mt. Everest does not come back a whole person.  Some body part was lost along the way.  Glory in football is no different.  Just ask Raiders’ offensive lineman Jim Otto from the Super Seventies who wrote “The Pain of Glory.”  Playing for the NFL for 15 years crippled him for life, but he would not trade it for anything.  Jack Youngblood would be another person to ask who wrote an intriguing autobiography entitled, “Because it was Sunday.” 

Since NFL football is indeed played on Sunday, perhaps some league owners, players, and lawyers need to seriously reconsider their plans for American football fans.  It is written in the Gospels, “He who saves his life will lose it.”  Remember, Jesus’s biggest enemies were the legalists and lawyers of the day who were trying to save their own positions of power and prestige at the expense of the common man by trying to litigate a safe haven for themselves in the belly of the beastly Roman Empire.  How did their plans fare?  Perhaps it is time to reconsider Tim Tebow, Touchdown Jesus, and John 3:16 on extra points and field goals? (Hosea 2:11).

Copyright December 2017 by R. Mark Musser on The American Thinker.

Permission is herewith given to copy and distribute by electronic or physical means as long as it is not sold – the copyright notice is included and credits are given to the author. The article above is a longer version of the original.