Belichick’s Practice-Field Injury Recounted
A new book, BELICHICK: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time by ESPN senior writer Ian O’Connor, tells the story of a practice-field injury to New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick when he played at Division III Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. The year was 1971. Belichick, a sophomore, 5-feet-10, 185 pounds, was the snapper for Wesleyan’s FG/PAT scout team. Two defensive tackles on the FG/PAT block team were assigned to double-team him, pancake him onto his back, while a linebacker shot the gap and blocked the kick. Here’s an excerpt from the book that recounts the injury:
“It’s a tough play to run live against your own team,” (teammate Tom) Tokarzsaid. “I thought we might’ve done that dummy drill to practice that. Coach decided to do it live, and, yeah, it was unfortunate. We all thought that [it was a mistake]. I don’t know anybody who thinks any different.”
Lenny Femino, a 5-foot-5, 165-pound freshman from Salem, Massachusetts, who could bench-press 325 pounds, was off to the side watching from only ten feet away when he thought to himself, “Holy s—, this is practice, this is just practice … I wouldn’t want to be Bill right now.”
Helmet lowered and eyes facing his holder and kicker, Belichick was made vulnerable by the nature of the task. He snapped the ball and then braced himself to be hit.
“As soon as the snap occurred,” (teammate Art) Conklin said, “they were supposed to wrap their arms around [Belichick’s] legs and [rise up and] get into his shoulder pads and knock him over, and I was supposed to run over him and get directly onto the kicker and block the PAT. It wasn’t just one time — we must’ve done that ten times, twelve times. … It was stupid, and I think it was illegal. We did it over and over and over again. I ran over Bill, like I said, a dozen times. … The next day Bill was in a cast.”
One player said the sound of contact and pain instantly rose above the collisions taking place up and down the line of scrimmage and brought everything to a halt.
“You heard it,” Lenny Femino said, “and you heard Bill. I remember him screaming. The screaming was awful. He was flopping on the ground. It was not good. … You didn’t see the broken leg. I just heard it and you knew he was injured and you knew it was bad and everything stopped.”
Others who were there described Belichick’s injury as a serious knee injury. Tokarz confirmed Conklin’s account that three defensive players, not two, had crashed into Belichick and that one went high and two went low, leaving Bill done for the year.
“Bill was an excellent snapper; he was the right guy to do that,” Tokarz said. “And you’ve got three guys blowing him up in practice trying to block the kick. … The guys who hit him felt terrible. They felt horrible, all three guys.”
“It tore up Bill’s knee. They used him as a guinea pig,” (Belichick’s Wesleyan lacrosse coach Terry) Jackson said. “Tore up his knee and forced him to give up football. He was hot under the collar. He was burning inside. He never forgave those coaches. … He just never spoke to those football coaches again. He explained to me what had happened, and I can’t say I blamed him.”
Belichick was sidelined for the remainder of his sophomore season and declined to play football in his junior year. He returned in his senior season as a backup tight end/defensive end.
Physician Defends Youth Contact Football
Dr. Donald Haas, M.D., a heart specialist and president of the youth league in West Windsor-Plainsboro, NJ, last week mounted a spirited defense of youth contact football in his community newspaper. Dr. Haas wrote:
Some parents questioned why I, as a physician, would support football…. Mostly, I have found the data reported in medical journals regarding youth football reassuring…. As I enter my fourth and final year as president of our league, I would like to share my personal opinions on why I continue to support youth football as a physician, former player, coach and — most importantly — loving father of a youth football player.
Research now demonstrates that limiting contact during practice, combined with teaching safer blocking and tackling techniques, lowers the concussion risk in youth football to slightly less than one per cent of participants per season…. I find a one per cent per season risk of concussion to be acceptably low.
Research has shown that the majority of concussions occur during practice and that they involve person-to-person contact rather than person-to-object. These are important points because coaches have control over the amount of person-to-person contact that occurs in practice.
Teevens’ Take on Future of Football
The Sports & Society Program of the Aspen Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank, last week released a white paper on the future of football. It includes this quote fromDartmouth Head Coach Buddy Teevens:
“The skill set of tackling can be taught on inanimate objects, and that’s my big push. I think there’s way too much contact at every level. I think coaches are the ones who drive it. When I spoke with the American Football Coaches Association, I said that our collective body can fix this right now. We design practices, we approve drills, we say yes or no. If we push contact and aggressiveness (in practice), our players are going to reflect it and they’re going to get hurt. It’s a real simple equation: the more you hit, the more you will get hurt…. It’s on coaches. It’s all on the coaches who will have to innovate and lead in new ways.”
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