NFL Close to Stiff-Arming Jim Brown, Others Out of Record Books
When NFL decision-makers do the inevitable along the way to the outrageous by expanding from 16 to 18 games during the regular season, they also must do something else.
They must shred the record book.
Get rid of the thing.
Drop-kick it from here to a black hole.
"You know, I never thought about what you're saying, but you really bring up a good point, sir," said Jim Brown -- yes, THAT Jim Brown -- on the other end of the phone from his home in Cleveland.
Given that Brown is the NFL's greatest running back, and given that even more of his legendary records are just a few "yes" votes from vanishing due to this craziness fueled by (what else when it comes to sports?) greed, he is the definitive person to discuss this issue.
Actually, this is an old issue, because the NFL's record book is nearly worthless right now.
That's because they won't leave the rule book alone.
You've had the squeezing of the hash marks closer to the center of the field in 1972. You've had the moving of the goalposts from the goal line to the end line two years after that. You've had the endless rules to favor offensive linemen along with offenses in general. You've had the penalization of defenders just for breathing on quarterbacks.
You've also had the change from sudden death in overtime during the playoffs to whatever cockamamie thing they just approved.
Now, after 50 years of those NFL decision-makers increasing the number of games during their regular season from 12 to 14 in 1960 and then to the current 16 in 1977, they're campaigning for another expansion by two games before the 2012 season.
"Ultimately, I don't think the NFL cares about records in a pure way, because you look at when they went from 12 to 14 games in a season, that was major, but they never addressed that properly with an official position as to what it meant [for records]," said Brown, who famously retired at 29 after leading the league in rushing in 1965.
From there, Brown sprinted to Hollywood, leaving behind nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns that made the bruising tailback the game's all-time leading rusher with 12,312. He also had the NFL record for most rushing yards during a single season and for most rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and all-purpose yards during a career.
Then along came Walter Payton, Barry Sanders -- and most notably, Emmitt Smith, the latest all-time leading rusher at 18,355 yards.
Courtesy of those rule changes, that trio joined others in zipping past Brown in the record books.
Whatever that means.
"I'll put it to you this way: Once they went from 12 to 14 games (after Brown's fourth NFL season), I never thought of rushing for 1,000 yards in a season as being anything special, but they kept talking about 1,000-yard rushers, 1,000-yards rushers," Brown said. "I could never understand that kind of talk, because that was based on somebody doing that in a 12-game season, so logically that didn't make sense."
Well, it's about to get worse for logical thinkers, because none of this will matter after the coming of 18-game seasons: the numerous 4,000-, 5,000- and even 6,000-yard passers, any kind of sack record, the slew of those who will shatter Dick "Night Train" Lane's 58-year-old mark for most interceptions (14) in a season.
The record-book horrors will be limitless.
"That absolutely will be the case, and somebody in the league should think about these things, just to keep things legitimate and to show the wisdom to give our writers and our broadcasters and our fans a base for talking intelligently about records -- if they're really going to be records, you know," Brown said, chuckling.
Brown can keep chuckling forever, because the joke is on those who don't realize he'll still shine brighter than them all.
For instance: Brown is the only running back ever to average 100 yards per game throughout his career. And while Smith finished with an average of 4.2 yards per carry, Brown averaged 5.2.
"This is not because I was the one who did it, but I would think [average per carry] is the purest way to look at this situation for running backs," Brown said. "That's what I always knew. I knew if my average was high, it was just a simple equation that if you carried so many times per game, then what would you get? A big number at the end."
Speaking of the end, a longer season will spell the end of a career for several players -- sooner than later.
More games, more wear and tear on your body, more chances to get blasted from the field to the sidelines and then into retirement.
"Actually, this is an even bigger point than the one about the records, because in the preseason, you're involved with experimentation as a player, but in the regular season, that's two more games in which you are hitting as hard as you can hit," Brown said, referring to the wishes of commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners to turn the final two of the four exhibition games for each team into regular-season games.
Added Brown, "I think the players are caught in sort of a conflicted love sort of situation. If I were in the game today, I would join them in liking the idea of two less exhibition games, but I wouldn't want to play 18 games in the regular season.
"What people don't realize is that, it sounds like just two more games, but it's right at the most important time of the year. So really you're not going to be able to cruise, and that's at a time when your body needs rest. You're kind of geared to play a certain amount of games. Now you've got to gear up again to get ready for two more, and that's a mental strain.
"I don't want to get into a fight with the commissioner, but it's a very interesting scenario that hasn't been thought out."
In other words, compared to the bottom line, most of the owners and many of the players couldn't care less they've spent the last few years supposedly concerned about the epidemic of concussions in the game.
They both claim they still care about injuries, of course. In fact, NFL decision-makers even boasted their studies show the switching of exhibition games to regular-season games won't increase injuries.
Yeah, and in the Bizarro World, those same NFL decision-makers would have sworn on a stack of Jim Brown trading cards that an explosion of a rig in the middle of a gulf wouldn't leak much oil.
Brown laughed, saying, "You're right in your logic. But I will say that, in life, there are changes that we have to adjust to. So I imagine these changes to the regular season may help in some kind of way."