Chuck Cecil was a hitman.
The former Green Bay Packer safety, in the wake of last week's cheap shot display by Redskins' safety Brandon Meriweather, really can't be defined in any other way. With his never-quite-healed nose wound reopening every week, Cecil became the master of sitting back, finding a target, winding up and hitting running backs or receivers at full speed.
And we cheered.
We cheered for a lot of reasons. Mostly, we cheered because the Packers were simply not a good team in the late 1980's and early 1990's. When you were in the middle of another week of getting your ass handed to you, a crushing, punishing hit by Cecil would send a message to the other team. Usually, the message was "Once you get ahead by four or five touchdowns, you probably should sit your starters."
Unfortunately, what Cecil tried to communicate to the other team often meant sacrificing communication on his own defensive squad. For every big hit he landed, there were at least two other plays where Cecil was so focused on trying to make a hit that he left his cornerbacks without over-the-top help or left fellow safeties like Jerry Holmes on an island.
But it was usually Holmes that took the blame for the other team's effective play-action passes that resulted in long pass plays. Packer fans didn't want to root against the "Scud", Cecil's nickname.
As Cecil reached the end of his career, he began wearing an oversized helmet. Perhaps unbeknownst to us, for all of those bone-jarring hits he had been delivering, Chuck had been suffering more than his share of concussions himself. The "Great Gazoo" helmet wasn't for the protection of the guys he was hitting, it was for his own protection.
As we watched Meriweather essentially become the "Scud" for a new generation last week, I find it hard to believe that the Washington faithful would embrace his leading-with-the-helmet hits the same way we did with Cecil. That was a different era, for certain. We still thought it was cool to see a guy leave the game with his eyes crossed.
But, when Aaron Rodgers was forced to miss a start in 2010 due to his second concussion in a season, Packer fans were forced to realize that concussions were more than just "cool beans". The impact of so many former NFL and Packer players suffer lifelong from post-concussion syndrome also made us aware that helmet-to-helmet attacks should no longer be a reason to cheer.
Chuck Cecil was forced to retire in his early thirties due to his own recurring concussions. But it is clear any lessons that could have been drawn from Chuck's story have not landed on Meriweather.
This may have been the first time we've seen Meriweather in a while, but he has a long history of helmet-to-helmet hits.
- $50,000 in 2010 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on the Ravens’ Todd Heap. (It was later reduced to $40,000 on appeal)
- $20,000 in 2011 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on the Panthers’ Steve Smith.
- $25,000 in 2011 (a week after the fine for hitting Smith) for a helmet-to-helmet blow on the Lions’ Nate Burleson.
- $42,000 in 2013 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on the Packers' Eddie Lacy
As the author of this article notes, these are just the fines we know about, and just the hits that were bad enough to draw attention. Clearly, Meriweather takes pride, just as Cecil did in his day, in knocking players out with his helmet.
To me, there's a huge difference between a player like Merriweather and, say, a player like Detroit Lion Nkdamukong Suh. While Suh racks up fines and even suspensions, he's simply a dirty player. He's impulsive and violent, but I don't get the impression he wakes up in the morning on game day and says to himself, "Today, I'm going to stomp on a man's arm as I am leaving a pile-up." He makes dumb decisions based on his emotions and lack of self-discipline.
Not that I'm excusing Suh in the least for his transgressions, but there is a distinct difference between his impulsive play and what, in my humble opinion, is a premeditated plan by Meriweather to lead with your head in an effort to deliver concussion-inducing hits. He didn't say to himself, "Wow, I just concussed a fellow player. I'd better watch it from here on out."
No, he said, "Here comes James Starks! I bet I can do the same to him!"
Both Suh and Meriweather are foolish and dangerous, but Meriweather is just plain stupid to continue to fly in the face of a league-wide movement to call attention and punish players who intentionally try and spear opponents in the head. Meriweather, with his history, shouldn't be fined. He shouldn't be suspended. He should be expelled from the league.
Unfortunately (if not inexplicably) the new CBA doesn't set up those parameters. You would think with the pending lawsuit at the time of signing that agreement it would have been addressed. Regardless, Mike Shanahan, the coach for Washington, should have had the integrity to grab Meriweather after the Lacy hit, sit him down, and let him know that his play isn't acceptable. It's not just going to cost you later. It's going to cost you now.
And it may come down to teams, owners, and fans to come collectively together and send the message that the players and the league were unable to hammer out themselves: if you are a headhunter, there's nothing you bring to the table that will counter what you offer us otherwise.
Ironically, the hit Meriweather tried to put on Starks knocked himself out of the game with his own concussion. Poetic justice, some Packer fans thought to themselves.
But in the end, someone needs to pull Meriweather aside and tell him that he is not only a danger to the career of other players, but a danger to his own career. And every time he winds up to hit someone or takes himself out of the game, he puts undue pressure on the rest of his defensive teammates.
Maybe the person to do that should be Chuck Cecil.
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