Hall of Famer Mike Ditka has a great idea for getting the helmet-to-helmet hits out of the game of football.
Take away the facemasks.
“I said a long time ago if you want to change the game take the mask off the helmet,” Ditka told a gathering of reporters on Wednesday in Pittsburgh.  “It will change the game a lot.  If you want to change the game and get it back to where people aren’t striking with the head and using the head as a weapon, take the mask off the helmet.

“A lot of pretty boys aren’t going to stick their face in there.  If you’re going to take hitting out of football, you might as well just call it soccer.  That’s what I believe.  A lot of people will be disappointed I said that, but football is what it is.  [Vince] Lombardi said it a long time ago.  Football is not a contact game.  Dancing is a contact game.  Football is a collision sport.” 

Actually, we think Lombardi said, “Scratching your crotch on national television is a contact game.”

The balance between big hits and long-term player health has become a major topic of discussion recently, with the league imposing fines in an apparent effort to reverse the culture of the kill shot.

“[Y]ou can’t legislate hitting out of football,” Ditka said.  “It’s impossible.  The hit that Hines [Ward] made [against Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers] was a complete legitimate hit.  People will say, ‘Well, you don’t do that.’  But it’s football.  It’s always been football.  We did that in the ’60s, the ’50s, the ’40s.  It’s a blindside hit, but it’s a hit.”

On this point, Ditka sounds like he agrees with Troy Polamalu’s belief that the real motivation isn’t promoting player health but saving money.

“The first thing you’re taught as a defensive player is to put your head on a swivel,” Ditka said.  “Don’t get caught in that position.  If this would have happened 40 years ago, nobody cares.  You’re making thousands of dollars.  Now you’re making millions.  So you’re losing players who are making that much money.  You can’t afford that as organizations.  That’s why they’re going to crack down.

“Football is a tough game.  You hate to see anyone get hurt whether it was 50 years ago or now.  I know what the commissioner is trying to do, but I don’t know if taking legal hits out of the game is going to make it any different.”


  1. i agree with almost everything ditka said but i don’t get the removing facemask wouldn’t that only affect the person GETTING hit not the one DELIVERING it? i dunno maybe i just don’t get it.

  2. Great idea. If theres no facemask….theres nothing to grab onto and pull a player down by. Worth looking into

  3. Yes, cause nobody will run up to a ball carrier and just punch him in the face at full speed, knocking him out and almost killing him.

  4. “On this point, Ditka sounds like he agrees with Troy Polamalu’s belief that the real motivation isn’t promoting player health but saving money.”
    Ditka said that he agreed with Polamalu on last week’s Sunday NFL Countdown show.

  5. “If you’re going to take hitting out of football, you might as well just call it soccer.”
    Football and soccer has absolutely (almost) nothing in common.
    BTW hitting occurs in soccer quite alot. Just watch the Premier League.
    Also, pulling out a chunk of hair from an opponents armpit is a classic when covering him during corner/free-kick situations. 🙂

  6. yes! get back to a real game, not the crap we watch now.
    Johnny U wore a single bar. when a bears linebacker blitz him in ’66, his nose was broken and the guy apparently kept punching him in the face at the bottom of the pile.
    Unitas stayed in the game, shoved dirt in his nose to stop the bleeding and called the same play, nailing the guy in the face with a pass, knocking him out of the game.
    Palamalu was right, it is a “panzy” game. manning, rivers, etc.. They’d be out of the league within a year.
    Let’s see some blood on the QB jerseys for a change. It would bring back real football.

  7. I think his point is that blockers/tacklers would be less likely to lead with their head if they knew it risked them busting up their nose. The facemask gives them a perception that they aren’t risking themselves by jumping at the ball carrier like a rocket.

  8. Steelers-Shaun – Removing the facemask would hurt both the one getting hit and the one delivering the hit. Look at how big and formidable the facemasks are on the linemen and linebackers.

  9. I’d love to see no facemasks! Then they could fine players $50,000 for the first helmet to the face hit! Under “Good”ell he’s gonna turn this league into a pussy league.

  10. He’s right in that it would cause players to go back to proper form tackling, but I don’t know if it is any safer

  11. Steelers:
    Ne because you’re going to think twice before launching yourself at someone knowing you can break you face doing it. Its a good idea, I just don’t think it will ever happen.

  12. I’m confused. Wouldn’t taking away facemasks actually increase the risk of serious injury? Helmet to helmet becomes a possible helmet to your freakin’ face? I’m no physics expert so someone explain to me why Ditka has a point (if he even has one?).

  13. Just get rid of all the protective equipment and play like we do in rugby, the hits are possibly harder and there’s not that many serious injuries.
    And the ones who do get hurt just play on regardless.

  14. How dumb would the game look with facemask-less helmets? They should just go back to the leather helmets and pads, at least for a throwback game…

  15. You also have to change the nature of the helmet. Staying with a hard shell plastic helmet and no face mask won’t be enough. Players will drop their head more and this will lead to more neck injuries and concussions. The hard shell helmet needs to be replaced with a soft shell helmet. This will prevent the helmet from being used as a weapon and force tackles to be made with shoulders, not by players diving in head first.

  16. @Steelers-Shaun
    He advocates this to get rid of people leading with their head. If you lead with your head and your helmet has no facemask, you are bound to break your nose, lose your teeth etc.

  17. Shaun,
    What he’s saying if there is no mask, you don’t have that sense of protection that you currently have that your head won’t get hurt, or you won’t mess up your nose or “pretty face”. Take that out and players think twice about throwing their head into someone.
    I think it’s a valid point.

  18. Why dont they just use softer helmets like in hockey? You don’t hear much about those guys getting head injuries, its usually thier necks (from hitting boards).

  19. Hockey players don’t need a full mask, and the ones that wear an eye shield are consdiered unmanly. Rugby and aussie rule guys don’t either although many rugby players are now wearing light, soft head protection. It’s an interesting idea but the league, teams and helmet/equipment manufacturers would never let it happen. The liability would be huge because it’s “conventional wisdom” that helmets prevent injuries, not cause them. It would definitley cut down on the launch hits and probably improve tackling as you would have to wrap someone to bring them down. Interesting thought but it will never happen.

  20. It’s hard to compare hits for 50-60 years ago to today. Players are significantly bigger, faster and stronger, but human bodies can’t take more punishment. We’ve created solutions to recover better, but not handle the impact in the first place.
    I, like most, enjoy the big hits, but when one, or both, of the guys don’t get back up, it isn’t as enjoyable. I think it’s ridiculous to just say it won’t work by fining players without trying first. There’s a difference between tackling/blocking and lighting someone up. I’d like to think a balance could be found while minimizing injuries.

  21. Theres a reason these guys are not being paid $50.00 an hour for their workweek. It’s a dangerous job. They all know it, at 50 years old it may hurt to walk. Take it or leave it…

  22. I hate to say it, but part of me really doesn’t feel bad for these guys making millions of dollars who enter the NFL, knowing the consequences of playing in the NFL. I understand that many of these players are making less than a million a season, but give me a break – they are making TONS of money. They are ALL making way more money than anyone I know. And do these players not realize that they will tear ligaments and break bones and have concussions that they will never recover from? Is this news to them?

  23. Finally! A voice of reason amongst all the crap about “cheap” and “dirty” hits re: Hines Ward. Ditka nailed it. Hines didn’t do anything different than you see on kickoff or punt returns any weekend of the season.
    I’m sure he was just exaggerating regarding facemasks to make his point about hitting. There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell they would ever take them off and he knows it.

  24. Iron Mike Ditka is making a statement that the modern football helmets and pads isolate contact to such an extent that there are very few costs to the player delivering a hit.
    Modern defensive players are taught sound tackling techniques that take your protective gear into consideration. Tacklers are taught to bury facemasks (with both head and neck up) in the ball carriers chest in a mano-a-mano straight-up tackle. In the case of a slight angle tackle you are taught to stay low and put your helmet on the ball to force fumbles. You are also taught to aim your head across the runner, forming a ‘v’ between your helmet and shoulder pads when you pursue a runner to a boundry.
    After playing football up to and including college this message was consistent and effective. In the case of a punishing blow, where your head was in a less than ideal spot (i.e., like Polamalu’s hit on Benson), there was typically very little consequence for both runner and tackle due to the strength of the helmet and facemask. However the tackling techniques in rugby are bit more a give and take between runner and tackler because you have little no protective gear. This tackling style is more of a two-step process that includes the “fit” (how and where your body makes contact with an opponent) and then how you bring the runner down from that point. Therfore, big hitters in football, don’t tend to last in rugby without correction.
    Having experience in both I can say one isn’t necessarily better than the other, however a “kill-shot” or head-hunter style hit is less likely in rugby due to the cost to the tackler. This is what Mike Ditka is getting at by taking away the face mask and I consider his somewhat counter-intuitive point absolutely valid.

  25. Pea Tear Griffin says:
    He advocates this to get rid of people leading with their head. If you lead with your head and your helmet has no facemask, you are bound to break your nose, lose your teeth etc. ”
    But, if players lead with the top of their helmet then the absence of facemask is irrelavant. They’re not going to worry about breaking their own noses, teeth etc. And if you think top-of-the-helmet hits are bad now, imagine them with the recipient having no face mask.

  26. Soft helmets and no face bars. That might do more to reduce serious injury than anything, plus we wouldn’t have facemask penalties.

  27. Players union would never agree to this. Facemasks, among many, many, many other things, protect players eyes. Sure, there’s going to be no more facemask penalties, but by the same merit, should we make players wear fingerless mittens to reduce the number of holds? I, for one, like what they did by doing away with 5 yard facemask penalties, but getting rid of facemasks, Ditka is a moron.

  28. I’m suprised that people think this is a valid point. When you “lead with your head”, you’re NOT leading with your facemask, you are lowering your head and leading with the front hairline of your helment. ASSUMING, that most of the helmet stay intact under the Ditka proposition, this won’t do anything to reduce the amount of fines. It will increase the number of eyes being poked, punches being thrown, and so on.

  29. the only reason football is turning in to a pussys game is because no one can hit the freakin QB without getting crapped on. If they wanna play football they can get hit. can i get an AMEN?

  30. first, to the guy who thinks no face mask will result in defensive players punching rbs in the face; wtf? theres no protection over a players abdomen, i dont see too many gut punches by lbs as the rb is going over the middle.
    second; you cant compare football to hockey in terms of helmets. hockey hits are much different than football hits. football hits, involve a player needing to wrap a guy up (head is on or near the other player), or block a guy a-la ward( where the blocked player doesnt have time to react). hockey contact involves shoulders to body/shoulder/head, or hip to hip/abdomen or unfortunately knees.
    the key in this is little chance of helmet to head/helmet.

  31. ryanmc that is what i was thinking and why i didn’t get it. i see both sides THEORYS including the part someone said of there being more neck injury due to lowering head more. Never gonna happen anyway so NEXT!

  32. there were plenty of big strong and fast players before the post-modern age.
    there are plenty of she-hos playing the game now. some of them get their nails painted, the diva quotient is high.
    make the facemasks break away under a preset overload force. then if yer hit on someone is too hard, you are now leading with your face, hinesy.

  33. I don’t think it’s horrible notion, but I think he may have chose some odd words in calling some player “pretty boys.” Hines Ward, Terrell Suggs, Eric Green, etc. aren’t what most people would call “pretty.” That said, I love Hines Ward, and wish he played for the Eagles, and as long as he’s not getting penalized during the game, he’s gonna keep lighting up linebackers – even if it were to cost him a couple G’s a week.

  34. @shuxion:
    As well you should give yourself a 5, you made me damn near choke
    on my tuna sandwich. Please keep up the good work

  35. THANK YOU!!! FINALLY a voice of reason! Football is a contact… wait… COLLISION Sport.
    Ditka is the man.

  36. Wow, in a day when severe concussions are the norm, remove the facemask? Huh?
    I agree with many of the above posters that maybe a total redesign, maybe something softer, is a good idea. But a hard shell helmet with no facemask is just asking for someone to die.

  37. This guy is a hall of fame nimrod….injuries would jump 100%, instead of helmet to helmet or helmet to facemask it would be helmet to jaw, mouth, nose, eyes. Hall of fame DITK

  38. When people start questioning the manhood of people who think that hits are getting too hard…take a few hits yourself and see if you agree.
    Regarding helmet-to-helmet hits – what I’ve never understood is, why is the outermost part of the helmet so hard? Sure there needs to be a hard polycarbonate shell, but why isn’t it required to have a softer layer outside that? I mean, even boxers have to wear gloves. Maybe if the helmets didn’t have value as a weapon, we wouldn’t have so many idiots using them as weapons. And we wouldn’t have Hall of Fame QBs have their careers ended by concussions. And we wouldn’t have linemen paralyzed, perhaps.
    I like seeing a nice hit, but I’m not into blind-side cheap-shots, and I’m not into seeing guys carted off the field. Perhaps this is an issue that divides people who like the sport of football from Neanderthals who just like violence however they get it. If that’s what you’re into, go watch MMA.

  39. Florio – Now that you’re a media “star”, get off your butt and contact Riddell. They have staff guys who study design changes to helmets and the impact that said changes would have on safety. Ask the obvious question, “Will this help or just make things worse?”.

  40. “ryanmc says:
    October 23rd, 2008 at 12:25 pm
    Pea Tear Griffin says:
    He advocates this to get rid of people leading with their head. If you lead with your head and your helmet has no facemask, you are bound to break your nose, lose your teeth etc. ”
    But, if players lead with the top of their helmet then the absence of facemask is irrelavant. They’re not going to worry about breaking their own noses, teeth etc. And if you think top-of-the-helmet hits are bad now, imagine them with the recipient having no face mask.”
    Isn’t what you’re talking about called spearing? And isn’t that illegal? I don’t exactly see your point.

  41. yeah… that wouldn’t be bad at all.
    defensive players would start trying to protect themselves by ducking their heads more and leading w/ their helmets. think about a WR coming across the middle w/ a safety lining up and hittin the guy full in the face w/ the crown of his helmet… yeah not bad at all.
    and some people thought boldin got creamed.

  42. Crown to Face deaths would be up 100-2000% Just simply inforce the current rule. Lead with the helmet and you will be fined.

  43. Ditka is right, as always.
    And so very thoughtful.
    Of course, there should be no face masks.
    But there also should be no helmets.
    Or protective cups.
    If it is going to be a man’s game, let’s do it right.
    No penalties.
    The law of the jungle.
    Gladiator games.
    Let them kill each other.
    Losing team becomes dinner.
    At long last, the term “sudden death” will have real world significance.

  44. In case you didn’t think of this, defender can still make a “helmet to face” hit by using the forehead part of helmet as if he is a ram whacking offense player. That would definitely hurt badly. Another reason we need a facemask is because when you are in the goalline and going for that short yard/inch, the facemask guard your face from being hit by a shoe (unintentionally) or something like that.
    I don’t know the best solution to the answer, but perhaps all pro football players should be required to go through the proper method of tackling training just HS and college players do. We can still have big hit but the one Eric Smith did on Boldin is really dirty. Why didn’t Eric just turn his head to the side and wrap his arms around Boldin instead of direct hit of helmet to helmet?

  45. Why don’t they just eliminate helmets? Apparently that’s how Ditka played, based on this stupid comment.
    BTW Aura, soccer doesn’t have nearly as many hits as guys pretending to be hit. And please leave out the armpit hair lines from now on – I have to eat dinner in an hour or two. Thanks.

  46. Ditka learned at the feet of George Halas who was a firm believer in “Knock their ass out” football.

  47. Ditka has a point that protective equipment allows defensive players to become high speed air to air missiles.Removing the facemask and changing the helmet from hard plastic to something more giving would alter defensive player tactics.They have come up with a new helmet called the Gladiator with a urethane foam outer covering and carbon fibre frame.
    Here is the link for the helmet description:http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2407/2245931855_2af03e9bfd_b.jpg
    Page 2 on Espn has some interesting history of the helmet
    1. The switch from leather to plastic was controversial. The plastic helmet was patented by Riddell in 1939, but materials shortages caused by World War II delayed its introduction until 1944, when the Army football team took the field in the new synthetic design. You’d think it would be obvious that a plastic helmet would be superior to a leather model, but coaches and medical authorities began complaining almost immediately that the hard, unforgiving surface posed a danger to other players. Newspaper articles show that the plastic helmet was often blamed for injuries, and doctors quickly called for the plastic design to be outlawed because it turned a player into a dangerous missile. This led the NFL to ban plastic helmets in 1948, but the prohibition was reversed the following year. More than a decade later, in 1961, the Los Angeles Times published several articles indicating that the plastic/leather debate was still very much alive.
    These concerns led Spalding to unveil a new helmet design, featuring a padded outer crown, in 1962. Other manufacturers quickly followed with their own versions, and the padded designs were used by several collegiate programs, including Oklahoma and Ohio State (additional info here), and also in the pro ranks by Chiefs great Willie Lanier (more photos and info here). Subsequent safety testing revealed that the exterior padding was causing neck injuries due to the increased helmet-to-helmet and helmet-to-ground friction, so the unadorned plastic shell eventually emerged as the consensus choice.
    2. Facemasks weren’t exactly a slam dunk, either. Improvised facemasks date back to the 1920s, but masks didn’t come into widespread use until Browns quarterback Otto Graham was elbowed in the jaw during a 1953 game against the 49ers (or, as one Ohio newspaper put it, he “went through the sausage grinder out on the coast”) and later returned to the game wearing a clear plastic “U” engineered by coach Paul Brown. Helmet manufacturers soon started making facemasks out of Lucite or plexiglass, and Brown manadated them for his team the following season. By October 1954, the clear plastic mask was being described in this article as “one of the fastest-moving items of football equipment in the catalogues of the nation’s leading sporting goods houses.” But the clear bars eventually proved too brittle and were outlawed around 1957, so most players used metal “birdcage”-stye facemasks, similar to the ones still used today.
    Wearing some kind of facemask — plastic, metal, whatever — might seem like a no-brainer, but coaches and doctors saw problems: The protruding mask, they said, was essentially a lever or handle that subjected a player’s neck to tremendous torque whenever the mask was impacted during a hit or grabbed by an opposing player. And an upward hit on the mask’s underside could force the helmet’s back edge into the player’s spinal column (a problem that eventually led to the development of the neck bumper). As late as 1961, NCAA coaches were actually calling for the facemask to be banned, on the basis that it caused more injuries than it prevented.

  48. The history of the helmet has some interesting turns where there was resistance of the switch from leather to plastic helmets.Plastic helmets came in during the 1940’s and doctors wanted them banned as they caused too many injuries as players become a high speed missile.NFl banned plastic helmets in 1948 but reallowed them a year later.They tried putting padding on the outside but there were neck injuries from the drag of helmet to helmet and helmet to ground friction.The facemask was created in 1953 by Paul Brown after Otto Graham was elbowed in the face by an opponent.The facemask caught on in all league but in 1961 college coaches wanted to have the dangerous facemask banned as it lead to more injuries than it saved.
    They have come up with a new helmet called the Gladiator.It is easy to search on the web and it has an urethane foam outer shell and a carbon fibre frame.It has no metal parts and is similiar to the helmet worn by Mark Kelso of the Bills who is said to have suffered from no further concussion wearing the foam Procap over his helmet.It supposedly can reduce concussions among players.

  49. Proper tackling technique involves putting your face into the hit. That doesn’t strain the neck. The problem is when people duck their heads – hitting with the top of the head. That can injure both the hitter (the neck compresses leading to cervical injury) and the guy getting hit.
    They should simple teach people to hit properly – with the facemask – and not do something totally boneheaded like getting rid of the facemask.

  50. freedomispopular says:
    “Isn’t what you’re talking about called spearing? And isn’t that illegal? I don’t exactly see your point.”
    Yes, it’s spearing. Yes, it’s illegal. It still happens, though. That’s my point.

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