Dave Klein was the Giants' beat
writer for The Star-Ledger from 1961 to 1995.
He is the author of 26 books
and he is one of only three sportswriters to have covered all the Super Bowls.
Dave has allowed TEAM GIANTS to reprint some of his articles.
THE WAYS IN WHICH CHANGES HAVE INFLUENCED PRO FOOTBALL
GO BACK THOUSANDS OF
By Dave Klein
while ago, someone asked how pro football has changed over the countless seasons
I have been a professional observer.
It was an unanswerable question. There have been too many changes - physically,
emotionally, intellectually - to even arrive at a few.
For instance Sam Huff played middle linebacker for the Giants and at his full
growth, he was 6-0 and 210. Today, it is questionable whether he could even play
cornerback or safety, but he is in the Hall of Fame.
It must be at least 100 years ago when, on the spring practice field as a freshman
at the University of Oklahoma, I heard an assistant coach berate a linebacker
with these words: "Son, when you make a tackle and the guy gets up, it wasn't
a good tackle."
That guy would
be fired today.
There was a time, not
that long ago, when drinking water on the practice field was a sign of weakness.
The guys used to fake the need to talk to the trainers and sneak a little paper
cup of water on the sideline. Then, on Aug. 1, 2001, a Pro Bowl offensive tackle
named Korey Stringer, who played for the Minnesota Vikings, died during a training
camp practice session in extreme heat because of dehydration.
From then on, there has been a complete turn-around; water breaks are now mandatory.
The price of a ticket to the first Super Bowl (the NFL-AFL World Championship
Game, as it was called) was $10. Right, ten bucks. Last February, before scalping
and brokers began doing business, the price for a ticket was upwards of $3,500.
But some things have never changed. Sizes and speed, prices and television, income
and revenue have obviously escalated out of all possible expectations, but the
way in which coaches formulate plans and attack each game hasn't changed in …
well … in more than 2,500 years.
Well, by way of explanation, there
is this: In the sixth century B.C., a general from China named Sun Tzu composed
a textbook called "The Art of War." It is, by most expert opinions,
one of the classic literary efforts in world history, but he did it to instruct
his followers how to conduct, if you will, "a thinking man's war."
One of the college professors I truly admired, a man named Angoff, proposed that
we read it, and I remain stunned on how closely the words and thoughts and instructions
match those of today's (and yesterday's) pro football minds.
For instance, Tzu wrote:
people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms
their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying
their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot
Like a surprise pass
rush from the linebackers, for example? Like a zone press pass coverage formation
on first down? Like a flea-flicker pass play? Like Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback
Nick Foles catching the winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl 52 as a decoy receiver?
Yeah, like that.
And how many iconic
defensive coaches have built their reputations on this observation by Sun Tzu?
- "All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we can attack, we must
seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near,
we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him
believe we are near."
thousands of instances in which exactly such subterfuge has been employed in "modern
pro football?" And how many successful defensive coaches still keep a worn,
frayed copy of Tzu's manuscript?
- It's less than three weeks now until the NFL draft takes place. The first round,
that high-viewer ratings monster, will be conducted Thursday night, April 25,
in Nashville, Tenn. And at least in this guy's opinion, it can't come soon enough.
Will the Giants draft a quarterback in the first round? Will they trade up or
down? Will they take a quarterback in the second round Will they go for a defensive
end a linebacker, a cornerback, a safety?
Will Josh Rosen be acquired in trade with the Arizona Cardinals and become the
heir apparent to Eli Manning? What will general manager Dave Gettleman do to infuriate
half the Giant fans and send the other half into paroxysm of joy? It's been too
long with too many questions and it needs an ending.
One man's opinion? Gettleman's first pick will be one of his cherished "hog
mollies," probably a defensive lineman His second pick in the first round
will be an offensive hog molly. He'll spend his second-round pick to acquire Rosen.
OK, I understand no one agrees with this, but as the late George Young was fond
of pointing out: "The draft is not an exact science."
Let's close with that.
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