On Sunday I read an editorial that said Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict should be banned from the NFL after his hard hit on WR Antonio Brown in the first round of the playoffs.
I will agree that Burfict is a dirty player, but banning him based on his actions would mean kicking out everyone else whoever head-hunts in a game, and that would lead to a whole lot of bans.
Like it or not, football is an aggressive, violent sport that draws aggressive, violent young men.
Sure, I want to keep players as safe as possible, but a lifetime ban sounds excessive. A one-year suspension could work just as well. An entire year without Burfict could convince the Bengals to move on without him.
As for Burfict, here is a little history on the four-year player.
As a rookie, Burfict only committed one unnecessary roughness penalty in 2012.
Over the past three seasons, Burfict had 11 unnecessary roughness penalties. He also has two personal fouls, one roughing the passer, one 15-yard face mask, three illegal use of hands and one illegal contact on a punt returner.
All of this despite the fact that he missed six games with a knee injury and another game with a concussion he gave himself by leading with the head. Also, these are just the violations that referees saw at the time.
In 2014, the league fined Burfict for his actions against the Panthers; only one of the three actions drew a flag.
He gave WR Kelvin Benjamin a concussion with a blow to the head. He also wrenched the ankles of Cam Newton and Greg Olsen after the play was over. This was especially enfuriating to the Panthers because it was public knowledge that Cam had been slow to recover from offseason ankle surgery. Players inferred that Burfict was trying to target that same ankle with a career-threatening injury.
Even before his vicious hit on Antonio Brown, Burfict had pulled another dirty stunt against the Steelers.
I didn’t see it myself in real time, but there was a replay that showed Burfict sack the quarterback, then while Big Ben was on the ground, Burfict drew back his knee and slammed it into Ben’s shoulder. That was another play that didn’t get flagged.
Of course there have always been dirty players in the NFL. Defensive tackles used to pick up handfuls of dirt and throw it into the eyes of offensive linemen. The preferred method of tackling a receiver was to clothesline him around the neck.
Perhaps the dirtiest player of recent decades is retired linebacker Bill Romanowski.
One of his own teammates, Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe, nominated the linebacker as the dirtiest player at the bottom of a pile. Rumor has it he snapped Dave Meggett’s finger in a pile and struck players in the eye and groin while shielded from referees.
Panther fans endured years of struggle thanks to one dirty play from Romanowski.
It was a preseason game in 1997 (preseason, mind you) when Romo thrust his helmet up into the jaw of then-QB Kerry Collins.
In 2012, 15 years after the hit, Romanowski bragged about the play on ESPN Radio.
“That was Bill Romanowski football,” he said, “one of the best hits I ever had in my life. He’s bleeding out of his ears, his nose, his mouth, and his helmet was cracked in three places, and his facemask was mangled.”
He was fined $20,000 by the league, but that was no solace to Panther fans.
Collins had just led the Panthers to a 12-4 season and was ready to take on a bigger role in the offense in his third year.
Instead, he missed three games with a broken jaw. During this time he was taking pain pills and was seen drinking in bars around Charlotte.
He came back a different player and struggled mightily.
After just four games in 1998, the team gave up on Collins and cut him. He signed with New Orleans, then when the Saints went to Charlotte for a game, Collins was arrested for drinking and driving.
A few years later, Collins had some decent seasons for the Giants and Titans, but he never lived up the number one overall selection. And some Panther fans still blame Romanowski for that.
Aside from one good season from Steve Beuerlein, the Panthers would struggle to find a replacement at quarterback until Jake Delhomme became the regular in 2003.
The Steelers likely will be without Big Ben and Brown for this weekend, not to mention Le’Veon Bell, who tore his ACL on a tackle by — you guessed it — Burfict. With their three best offensive players hurt by the same guy, the Steelers just don’t have much firepower going into the next game.
And no amount of fines or suspensions will ease the hurt of seeing the team’s Super Bowl chances go down the drain.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692 and on Twitter @SportsDudeJeff.