- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2000

Steve Young, his bell rung once too often, decided to hang 'em up. Troy Aikman suffered a concussion the ninth of his career barely 15 minutes into the season. Steve McNair spent two days in the hospital this week with a chest injury that made it hard for him to breathe.

Yup, it has been a swell year for quarterbacks so far. And an all too typical one, unfortunately. You can understand why Dan Snyder shelled out millions for Jeff George, even though he might never get on the field. Starting quarterbacks don't always make it to the finish line in the NFL these days.

The Redskins' Sam Shade nearly added another name to the casualty list in Sunday's game at Detroit. Late in the first half, he came in unblocked on a safety blitz and popped Charlie Batch under the chin with his helmet. It was a while before Batch collected himself.

In fact, if the Lions had gotten the ball to start the second half, he said, "I probably would have had to sit out. Through halftime, about 15, 20 minutes, I couldn't see real good." Eventually, though, the blurry vision in his right eye went away.

The next day, Shade said he expected to get fined by the NFL for his overzealousness if, indeed, that's what it was. He wasn't so sure. What he was certain of was that "some teams put pressure on the league" to punish players for such hits "like with Mark [Carrier]." Just a week earlier, the NFL had suspended Carrier for his helmet-to-helmet crunching of Carolina tight end Wesley Walls after Panthers coach George Seifert had griped about it.

"I know the [TV] commentators made a big deal of [the hit on Batch]," Shade said. "They replayed it and replayed it and kept talking about it. If they had treated it like just another play, you probably wouldn't have heard any more about it."

"But was it just another play?" I asked him.

"Yeah," he said. "I've made that play lots of times… . I don't think it was anything like the play [Oakland's] Regan Upshaw made last week [against San Diego's Ryan Leaf, resulting in a $7,500 fine]. He left his feet. It was like he said, 'Hey, I'm taking you out.' That's not the type of play I was trying to make. I didn't lower my head and lunge at him."

No, he didn't thankfully. The last thing the NFL needs is another out-of-commission quarterback. But the league doesn't have much tolerance for rough play nowadays; it's handing out fines like free passes to the Redskins' training camp.

Still, I wonder if it's going to have the desired effect especially after listening to Shade hold forth on the subject. Being a defensive player with a defensive player's mentality he just doesn't see what all the fuss is about. I agree with him completely that hits on quarterbacks often fall into "a gray area." You don't want to tackle them too high, "but you can also get fined for hitting a quarterback low, around the knees." So what's a pass-rusher to do?

But Shade is on shakier ground when he says, "If I was on another team and I hit Brad Johnson, who's 6-5, it wouldn't even be an issue because there wouldn't have been contact [between helmet and chin]. Batch is kinda short [for a quarterback] 6-2. That's something I can't control."

When I hear something like that, I begin to doubt whether the problem of quarterback bashing will ever go away. "Batch is kinda short?" That's like saying, "Yeah, I clotheslined Randy Moss, but if he had been 5-7 like Jermaine Lewis instead of 6-4, my arm would have whizzed over his head."

I don't know what the answer is. I really don't. I don't know if there is an answer. The NFL takes money away from offenders, suspends them and nothing ever seems to change. Quarterbacks keep going down, one after another. How much longer do you figure it will be before Drew Bledsoe enters the Concussion Phase of his career? Kerry Collins is just now playing well again after having his jaw broken by Bill Romanowski in '97. This is good for the game?

Shade says, "I understand the league's concern about protecting quarterbacks," but does he really? Players aren't usually big-picture guys. They tend to be small-picture guys as in me. It's the nature of the profession; almost everybody's a short-timer except for the occasional freak like Darrell Green.

Sam has had his hand slapped by the league before, by the way. Two years ago, when he was with the Bengals, he was docked $7,500 for a hit that was "similar to Mark's," he says "[against the] tight end down the seam. Hopefully, the league forgot about it." Not likely. As Carrier could tell him.

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