Football - a violent pursuit, like it or not

So it's Oct. 8, and Fayetteville-Manlius is squaring off with Corcoran in a football showdown for first place in the Class AA-2 division.

The Hornets win, 21-13, but what is remembered most about the night is not a long run, or key turnover, or timely block. It's the sight of Brent Strickland, F-M's brilliant defensive end, breaking loose and slamming Corcoran quarterback Shakem Buckmon to the turf in the fourth quarter. Dazed, Buckmon leaves the field, and does not return the rest of the night.

What happened there, on a small scale, occurs in hundreds of high school games every Friday night, and repeats itself Saturdays on dozens of college fields and Sundays around the NFL. Everywhere, it's understood that football is, at its core, a violent and hard-hitting spectacle, and that the hits are part of the reason we love it so much.

Then came Oct. 17, a mere nine days after Strickland had his big F-M moment. All over the NFL, from Pittsburgh to Atlanta to Foxboro, defenders lay into receivers in a frightening way, and the frequency draws intense criticism. Calls are made for fines and suspensions.

Ever the savvy PR types, the NFL reacts with serious fines on James Harrison and others, plus memos and pronouncements that, from here on out, such hits could lead to the perpetrators sitting out a game. Scared straight, everyone behaves the next week.

Message sent, right? Well, yeah - but only if you discount the entire history of football and its primal appeal to the American sports fan.

More than a century ago, football was, indeed, too violent. College games dripped with real and proverbial blood as abominations such as the "flying wedge" led to deaths on the field, and the outcry forced Theodore Roosevelt to step in and call for some rules. TR's prodding led to the formation of the NCAA. Insert your own bureaucratic joke here.

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