PHOENIX — The NFL received rampant criticism Wednesday after it passed a new rule prohibiting running backs from striking defenders with the crown of the helmet, but perhaps the greatest to ever play the position doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.
Browns hall of famer Jim Brown believes running backs shouldn’t be using their heads anyway. He seems to be in the minority.
“I’ll be very honest with you, I didn’t use my head,” Brown said this week at the owners meeting. “I used my forearm and the palm of my hand and my shoulders and my shoulder pads. I wasn’t putting my head into too much of anything. I don’t think that’s a good idea. At least it doesn’t sound like a good idea to me if I’m not guaranteed that my head is going to be strong enough to hurt somebody else and not hurt myself.”
Owners approved the rule 31-1, with the Cincinnati Bengals submitting the only vote against it. So if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box, he would receive a 15-yard penalty.
The league’s competition committee used video of Browns running back Trent Richardson lowering his head and smashing it into Philadelphia Eagles safety Kurt Coleman to illustrate an example of a violation under the new rule. Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, said Richardson would have been penalized and fined had the new rule been in place this past season.
Emmitt Smith, another hall of fame running back, ripped the rule last week during a radio interview with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.
“If I’m a running back and I’m running into a linebacker, you’re telling me I have to keep my head up so he can take my chin off?” Smith said. “You’ve absolutely lost your mind.
“I disagree with the rule altogether. It doesn’t make any sense for that position. It sounds like it’s been made up by people who have never played the game of football.”
When told about Smith’s rant, Brown chuckled and said, “Well, Emmitt probably used his (head).”
Brown, of course, didn’t back down.
“Nobody I ever broke bread with, and I see players all the time because we have a great respect for each other, talked about using their head running the football,” said Brown, whom owner Jimmy Haslam will soon place in an official role with the Browns. “I’ve seen Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson and Marcus Allen and Franco Harris and we’ve all been together ... and no one talks about using your head.”
Browns cornerback Joe Haden is among those who disagree.
“Running backs just got the short end of the stick!!” Haden tweeted.
The owners approved five other rule changes.
• They eliminated the tuck rule. So when a passer loses the ball while bringing it down into his body rather than throwing it, a fumble will be called.
• A play that would have been automatically reviewed — like a touchdown or turnover — will still be reviewable even if a coach challenges it. Under the old rule, the use of replay would be negated if a coach challenged when he wasn’t permitted. Now the punishment for a forbidden challenge is a timeout or a 15-yard penalty if the guilty team has no timeouts.
• For field goals and extra points, teams will no longer be allowed to line up more than six players on either side of the snapper, who is now deemed a defenseless player. Defenders are no longer allowed to push their teammates through gaps.
• Peel-back blocks are now prohibited anywhere on the field.
• Tight ends and H-backs are now allowed to wear jersey Nos. 40-49.
Two of three proposed bylaws also passed. Teams will be permitted to keep players on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list through Week 11 instead of Week 9, and if a team claims a player off waivers, it will be required to keep him for just one day instead of two. A proposal for final roster cuts to be made on a Friday night as opposed to a Saturday was tabled until May.
None of the changes, though, generated as much reaction as the new crown-of-the-helmet rule.
“The league is genuinely trying to address safety issues,” Brown said. “That’s true. The commissioner is dead serious about that. And how to do that and the rules that they make will always be controversial, and there will always be more than one point of view.”