Rich Hofmann: Reality of 'the show' hits Hobbs hard

Ellis Hobbs lays face-down on the field after a helmet-to-helmet hit on the opening kickoff of the second half brought him down.
Ellis Hobbs lays face-down on the field after a helmet-to-helmet hit on the opening kickoff of the second half brought him down.
Posted: November 22, 2010

'I'LL BE BACK," Ellis Hobbs said.

He was walking out of the Eagles' locker room, flanked by a couple of club employees, wearing a leather jacket and a neck brace. Injured players generally don't do interviews after games, but Hobbs shared those three words with ESPN's Sal Paolantonio early this morning as he moved toward the door.

I'll be back.

Brave. Hopeful.

Football player.

Two hours earlier, Hobbs lay face down, not moving, on the turf at Lincoln Financial Field. However long you watch the game, it is the sight that never fails to leave you with a terrible feeling in your chest.

The back board comes out, and then the stretcher, and the players kneel in prayer, and the medical staff works with accelerated care, and the stadium goes quiet, and every bad thought flies through your head. You never get used to it.

Hobbs eventually raised his arms and waved from the stretcher. X-rays on his neck were negative. He had suffered a serious neck injury last season, and he reportedly has had a half-dozen concussions in his career, and now this. Hobbs will have an MRI today just to make sure there isn't a fracture.

"When I was out there, it didn't look good," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He was trying to fight to get up and we were having to keep him down on the ground just to make sure everything was OK."

Reid said he personally had to convince Hobbs to stay down as the medical people immobilized his head and got him onto the stretcher.

"He was upset," Reid said. "He wanted to get up and go. Sometimes that happens in those situations . . . I told him to stay down there and trust the guys that were working with him. Let's just make sure things are OK. Let's not do anything stupid here."

The hope is that he will be OK, and soon. But the terrible moment seemed to have been swallowed by controversy. Because Hobbs was injured while returning the second-half kickoff on a helmet-to-helmet hit by the Giants' Dave Tollefson, there was much confusion about why a penalty wasn't called on the play - especially because, earlier in the game, the Eagles' Asante Samuel was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit on the Giants' Derek Hagan.

As it turns out, both plays were officiated properly. But the confusion - in the midst of the Eagles' wild 27-17 win over the Giants - points to the sensitivity that everyone who plays in the league and who watches the league currently feels toward these terrible hits and their frightening consequences.

There are only five instances when a player receives a penalty for hitting a guy helmet-to-helmet: When the player is a defenseless receiver, when he is a quarterback who is throwing or just threw a pass, when he is in the process of catching a kick or punt on the fly, when he is already on the ground, and when the player's forward progress already stopped. That's it.

Running backs? No protection.

Receivers running after the catch? No protection.

Kick returners on a return? No protection.

Linemen on every play? No protection.

Again: The play was officiated correctly. So was the second-quarter penalty on Samuel for his helmet-to-helmet contact against Hagan, a defenseless receiver. That hit was a classic example of the kind of hit that needs to be taken out of the game. Slow-motion replays showed the hit for what it was: helmet-to-helmet against a defenseless receiver.

People ask, "What is Samuel supposed to do?"

Well, what he is supposed to do is aim a little lower, hit him with his shoulder and wrap him up. Given that nobody seems to be interested in doing that anymore suggests that the technique needs to start being taught around the NFL, because these rules aren't going away.

You are allowed to hit a defenseless receiver as hard as you want - just not with your helmet, and not to the receiver's helmet. That's it.

And as for everyone who isn't in one of those five specific circumstances, they are on their own. For people returning kicks, the game is as frightening as it ever was.

Hobbs knows this as well as anyone. Last month, when Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson was knocked cold by Atlanta's Dunta Robinson - one of the hits that renewed the league-wide conversation and concern about hits against defenseless receivers - Hobbs was talking about the whole awful scenario when a player is laid out on the field after a hit.

At that time, he had no idea that he would again be living the terrible moment himself.

"It's just part of the game," Hobbs said, in October. "Someone gets hurt, I always say, 'The show continues.' For that 10 to 15 minutes, everything stops and everything is standing still. But once that guy gets up, whether he's wheeled off or carried off or walks off on his own power, I think the show continues.

"There's no hard feelings for anybody. I've been in that position. That's just the nature of the game and that's how it goes."

That really has not changed, not matter the fretting about the rules. For his part, Hobbs does not appear to be fretting. Wearing a neck brace, he seems only to be plotting his return.

Send e-mail to

hofmanr@phillynews.com,

or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

http://go.philly.com/theidlerich.

For recent columns go to

http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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