Oh, losing to someone wearing this helmet would be so, so bad. Imagine being a linebacker for the opposing team—not a good opposing team for Minnesota, mind you, because you’re probably not losing to them. Michigan, you’re out. Illinois, Northwestern, maybe Middle Tennessee: this is for you.
So y’all have gone three quarters with Minnesota, blocking dutifully, picking up running backs coming out of the backfield while praying they don’t throw a wheel route over your head, and trying to work through all those asshole crossing routes while doing your whole tackle-the-ball-carrier thing.
It’s exhausting. Think about why it’s so exhausting for a second. The linebacker is the MMA fighter of the defense. We don’t mean that in the sense that they have bad Russian prison tats because they think they’ll make them punch harder, or that they’re fond of doing burpees until they puke, or that they’re out there in their underwear waiting to do their job covered in blood. Not that there aren’t linebackers out there who wouldn’t play in cleats, a pair of shoulder pads, and a pair of man-panties. There are. They are all named Vontaze Burfict.
They are the MMA guys of football because there are so many things to do on any given play, so many things to hit, and so many ways they could get knocked out or submitted at any given second.
The viewer/fan might see a dot sort of bouncing around the middle of the field and pile-jumping, but it’s all so much more exhausting than that, because the linebacker is caught in so many binds before the snap ever happens. He’s caught between run and pass. He might have to block a pulling guard or a tackle or a center or a tight end. He might have to block a combination, if he’s deeply fucked on a play, catches the worst roll of the schematic dice, and gets caught up in a double team. Then he gets buried under 600 pounds of sweaty, angry man, and that’s a very, very, very bad time.
He can do a lot, too—the kinetic potential of a linebacker in space is just as damaging in its potential risk to the offense as it is for an offense. But it’s uniquely hard in its role as a player in space who also has to reckon with the thumpy, violent line of scrimmage, who might be called on to play pass coverage or tussle with an ogre on a run play, and who might have to discern between the two in a split second—usually with the offense deliberately trying to pick on him specifically, and disguise what they’re doing until the ball is five yards over his head.
So you’re a bone-tired linebacker, spent from being yanked around by motions and play-fakes and multiple formations, sore from being thwacked by players who outweigh you by 50 pounds at least running right at you, covered in helmet-bruises and probably praying your ankle doesn’t roll every other play, and waiting with dread for that wheel route you can’t cover. It’s been two and a half, maybe three hours of this shit. You stink. Someone on the offensive line peed themselves, probably intentionally. He’s very fond of you, in particular.
Then it happens. Something catches, and you stutter for a second. It could be one lean to the left too much, or maybe a wide receiver on a sweep fake caught you. Maybe you were thinking about breakfast, I dunno. Usually before the game you have a lot of ham, but the ham was looking kind of slimy this morning, and I dunno, the bacon will do—but it’s not what you usually eat, is it? Pregame? And you’re kind of superstitious, and thinking about this when a guard flies up in your face and through the hole, and you get an arm on the back but he’s gone. He’s so gone, and racing towards the safeties, who all have bad angles thanks to some winking play-fake they fell for pre-snap.
That’s the moment you watch all hope evaporate, and know you’ve not just lost, but that the next ten minutes will be pure misery as the game gets further and further out of hand.
And the whole time, this is the smiling face of your tormentor.
At least Alabama gives you the courtesy of just losing to a color and a number. This? This is horror, a beating served with an adorable smile on its face. This is potentially taking a beating from a cartoon rodent that only wants to serve you hot dish, and then crack the casserole over your head. Don’t lose to Minnesota when they’re wearing these helmets, is what we’re saying. The psychological damage alone could take years of therapy to undo.