"The most dangerous play in professional sports"
Written By Anthony Wright

If you asked a baseball player what aspect of their sport they hated the most, they
would probably say the purpose pitch at their head. A hockey player would most likely
state getting blindsided from behind while trying to retrieve the puck. Those answers
are probabilities, but you can’t say for certain if all hockey and baseball players feel
that way. I am sure Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Todd Bertuzzi would not
complain about purpose pitches or blindside hits.

However, in football, there is a tactic so universally despised, even the players that are
told by their coaches to use it do not approve of it. The play is called the cut block. It
consists of blocking a player below the waist. Although it is legal, the tactic is despised
because it can result in serious injury. Even worse is the chop block, which is an illegal
play that consists of a player hitting another player from behind or below the waist while
the player receiving the hit is being blocked from high at the same time.

During a game between the University of Virginia and Boston College (BC) on Oct. 8, a
cut block was thrown that was so vicious Sports Illustrated.com labeled it the “dirtiest
play in football history.” The controversial play was initiated by 6’8”, 296 lb. Virginia left
tackle Brad Butler, who placed a hard cut block on the leg of BC defensive end Mathias
Kiwanuka, when the play had clearly passed Butler.

After the hit, BC defensive lineman Al Washington was ejected from the game for
retaliating, and Kiwanuka was ejected later in the game for trying to exact revenge.  
The hit drew the ire of players, fans and coaches throughout the nation, and numerous
members of the media called on Butler to receive some sort of suspension, especially
since Kiwanuka was already hurting from a sore ankle before the play.

The University of Virginia responded to the threats by suspending Bell for one game.
However, it wasn’t because he hit Kiwanuka below the knees when he wasn’t looking, it
was because he did it after it appeared the play had been blown dead. Virginia coach
Al Groh apologized to Kiwanuka after the game, but also stated, “Cut blocks, if done
within the context of the move, are legal.” However, when executed from behind, the
play becomes a clip, which is not legal.

Cut blocks are a serious issue in the NFL also. Bill Walsh is a legend in San Francisco
for leading the 49ers to three Super Bowl titles, but he and the 49er players were
despised around the league for their tendency to throw cut and chop blocks.

However, no team uses both blocks more than the Denver Broncos. They use the tactic
so much, if a running back cannot be successful in their system, they don’t belong in
the NFL. The statistics speak for themselves. Since Mike Shanahan took over the
Broncos’ head coaching duties in 1995, five Denver running backs have rushed for
over 1000 yards, while leaving behind a trail of cut and chop block victims. Last
season, former Cincinnati Bengals and current Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle
Tony Williams suffered a broken and dislocated ankle due to a chop block from Denver
right tackle George Foster. Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Paul Spicer suffered a
broken leg due to a block from Broncos’ left tackle Matt Lepsis. In 2002, San Diego
Chargers defensive tackle Jamal Williams suffered a dislocated ankle after former
Denver guard Steve Herndon landed on the back of it. All of the injured players were
lost for the remainder of their seasons.

When asked about his team’s questionable blocking tactics by reporters, Shanahan
responded by showing a tape of other NFL teams utilizing cut and chop blocks.  
Obviously, the issue of cut blocks is something the NFL should pay serious attention to,
but unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. Of course, if a high profile player
was seriously injured due to a cut or chop block during the Super Bowl, it is a good bet
that the league would do something about it pretty quickly.

Email Tony Wright