Tuesday, November 19, 2013

the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt three)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

One of Webster’s greatest assets was his head. He used it as a battering ram, smashing it into his opponent as he exploded off the line. To stop Webster, nose tackles and linebackers tried to neutralize his head. Harry Carson, the great New York Giants linebacker, came into the NFL when Webster was in his prime. He found that his best strategy often was to bludgeon Webster as he fired off the line. “When I would explode into Mike, it was power against power,” Carson said. “I would hit him hard in the face. That’s what we were taught: to hit a guy right in the face so hard that they’re dazed and stunned.” Sullivan, who stayed friends with Webster for years, began to notice that a thick layer of scar tissue had formed on his forehead at the exact spot where he thrust his helmet into opposing linemen. Sullivan was jealous. It was a sign Webster was executing his block—play after play. “I was kind of disappointed that my forehead wasn’t, um, disfigured,” Sullivan said.

It wasn’t just the games that had hardened Webster’s head. Many Steelers considered the games a break from their normal reality. “We were a collision football team,” said Kolb. Years later, through collective bargaining, NFL players were able to cut down on contact during practice significantly, but not then. During training camp, the Steelers pounded one another for six weeks often twice a day. During the season, Wednesdays and Thursday were full-on contact. Friday brought goal-line drills—the teamwide equivalent of the Nutcracker. With the ball on the 2-yard line, the first-team offense cracked heads with the first-team defense over and over. It was one of Noll’s favorite drills.

Gerry “Moon” Mullins, who played alongside Webster for six years, thought that the players had been programmed to ignore the pain caused by the continuous violence. “They’d drag you back to the huddle: ‘Shake it off, man. We need your ass out here,’” he said. “Nobody knew any different. That’s just sort of the way you were, sort of like the GIs when they bring in young kids and they program them: ‘Rush that pillbox, that machine gun’s blazing out there!’ Nobody in their right mind would do that.”

Pam Webster said her husband often came home with searing headaches that he attributed to his job. When the headaches occurred, Webster would retreat to the bedroom and lie alone in the dark for hours.

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