Ndamukong Suh was born about 40 years too late.
Suh, the Lions’ defensive tackle with a fuse shorter than Verne Troyer, would have been right at home playing in the NFL of the 1960s and ’70s.
Suh would have been just one of many players back then who had the disposition of a bear awoken during hibernation.
The league some 40-plus years ago was filled with defenders who bent the rules like a double-jointed thumb.
None of them got suspended.
Dick Butkus made no bones about his intentions. The Bears‘ middle linebacker didn’t try to sidestep anything. He didn’t try to vex the media with double talk and sugarcoat his motives. Butkus tried to hurt his opponents—physically and mentally. Usually the fear of the former led to the latter.
Butkus was interviewed by NFL Films early in his career and expressed his fascination with the film “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.”
Butkus described a scene from the movie, and as he did, his youthful, cherubic face started to display an almost psychotic-looking smile.
“I kind of liked it when that head come rolling down the stairs,” Butkus told Ed Sabol’s camera. “I like to project those things happening on the football field. And not to me.”
Like I said, there was no question about Butkus’ mindset when he stepped onto the gridiron.
Butkus used to verbally taunt Lions center Ed Flanagan. Then Butkus would spit on Flanagan’s hands as the center grabbed hold of the football prior to the snap.
There have been multiple stories told of Butkus’ antics, like the ones they tell of Bonnie and Clyde, or Ivan the Terrible.
There are tales of biting, scratching, stepping onto torsos, eyes being poked; some of Butkus’ opponents recall him literally growling before the snap.
Butkus was like so many of his brethren—the maniacal defender on the field who was soft-spoken and cerebral off it.
Defensive lineman Deacon Jones, another of Butkus’s contemporaries, has been credited with coining the word “sack” in reference to leveling the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage.
Jones has also been tagged with the label of mad man on the football field. Jones wore the black hat and loved it. Deacon ate up the reputation—and even propagated it—of a dirty player whose intention was to maim.
Conrad Dobler was an eccentric, nasty offensive guard for the St. Louis Cardinals, New Orleans Saints and Buffalo Bills. Dobler, for several seasons, was widely recognized as the dirtiest player in the NFL for most of the 1970s. The things that Dobler did beyond the range of vision of the officials would have him up on charges in all 50 states.
Yet Dobler never got suspended, let alone arrested.
Neither did Butkus, Jones or any of their partners in crime. They didn’t even try the political spin. Suh, had he played in those days, would have been held up as part of the NFL legacy of dirtiness, which is now folklore and winked at.
But Suh plays today and the NFL loves this kid. I believe that the more he transgresses, the more he’s liked by the league.
Don’t be fooled by the veneer of disgust and scorn that the NFL will publicly cast on Suh. Privately, the league can barely contain itself. The NFL, more than any of the four major sports leagues, subscribes to the words of literary giant Oscar Wilde.
“The only thing worse than being talked about,” Wilde once opined, “is NOT being talked about.”
The NFL welcomes all publicity—good, bad and ugly.
The league does a marvelous job of keeping itself in the public consciousness all year round. From the 24/7 NFL Network on TV to the games on Sundays, from January to December the NFL keeps itself on the forefront of its fans’ minds.
It doesn’t matter if the publicity is positive or negative. The NFL loves Ndamukong Suh because, for the first time in decades, the league has a Bad Guy.
Suh’s entry into the NFL is the best-timed debut of any pro player since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird splashed onto the NBA scene in 1979. Before Magic and Bird, the NBA was scrambling for media attention. They were like the NHL has always been.
Prior to Magic and Bird, the NBA used to televise its Finals games on tape delay. No fooling.
The NFL has been desperate for a marquee name on defense for several years. The two guys who most fans think of when it comes to tough defense—Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis—are on the back end of their careers.
The NFL has wanted a shining light on defense for a long time—and it doesn’t matter if that light has a dirty tinge.
The league is filled with high profile heroes on the offensive side of the ball. There is no shortage of quarterbacks, receivers and running backs who catch the fans’ fancy.
But on defense? Not so much.
Suh is a villain in the eyes of his colleagues, who recently voted him as the dirtiest player in the league. He’s a villain in the eyes of the hypocritical media, who will lambaste Suh out of one side of their mouth, and privately ask their colleague, “Isn’t this great?” out of the other.
Suh is even a villain among the fan base—some of them Detroit Lions supporters, newly on board the “Suh is Dirty” train after his shameful behavior in Thursday’s nationally-televised game against the World Champion Green Bay Packers.
But here’s the rub: it doesn’t matter if the aura surrounding Ndamukong Suh is negative in nature. The league only cares that there is an aura.
Suh has people talking. He has people sneering in disdain. He even has folks who had previously defended him calling for suspensions in the wake of his stomping on Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith, which got him booted from the Thanksgiving Day game.
Suh will likely get suspended for his actions, even though Butkus, Jones, Dobler et al never did and they committed worse atrocities, more often, than Suh has so far in his young career.
The NFL will publicly assail Suh for his lack of anger management. Then the league will retreat to its private bunker and be positively giddy with the realization of what they have.
The NFL has a big name on defense who no one can stop talking about. The fact that the reason no one can stop talking about him is because of his violent, almost criminal behavior, is of no concern to the NFL.
The NFL has its new Dick Butkus.
The difference between Butkus and Suh is that Butkus didn’t offer up delusional, lame excuses for his sadistic ways, as Suh did after Thursday’s game.
If you think the NFL is legitimately outraged by Ndamukong Suh’s out-of-control behavior then you’re almost as delusional as Suh is.
The league loves this stuff. They have a Bad Guy on their hands and no one can stop talking about him. And he plays defense.
Ndamukong Suh, in a twisted way, is good for business.
Don’t you think otherwise.