Tender Beef

at 11:35 PM

Super Bowl Sunday is coming, so I just have to say it. I've got a beef with football.

The beef is not with football's violence. Rugby is equally violent, and strikes me as good clean fun. No, my real beef is about, well, excessive beefiness. Over the past three decades football has become the American version of sumo wrestling.

Consider the offensive line of the 1967 Green Bay Packers, winners of Super Bowl I. Eventual Hall of Fame tackle Forrest Gregg and his compatriots played in the big game at an average weight of 246 pounds. That's 246 pounds of 100 percent tough, worked out manly man.

Now fast-forward to Super Bowl XVI -- that would be 16 to those of you who forget your Roman numerals. At an average of 261 pounds, the offensive linemen who protected Joe Montana in the 49ers' first Super Bowl victory were beefier, but not really that much beefier, than the men who protected Bart Starr in Super Bowl I.

Now fast-forward yet again. The offensive linemen protecting Alex Smith on this year's 49ers weigh, on average, 322 pounds.

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Even though I'm a pretty big guy myself, you won't find me standing chest-to-chest with Mike Iupati or Joe Staley to lecture them on losing weight. These guys are grown-ups, making a grown-up decision to get really, really big in return for a big salary.

However, the same cannot be said for the 16 and 17 year-old boys who made all metro first team at offensive line positions where I live in Sacramento. These kids played at an average weight of 265 pounds. That's nearly 20 pounds heavier, on average, than the grown men who played for the Packers during Super Bowl I.

So here's a modest proposal. Let the professional linemen be American sumo wrestlers. But make high school and college kids play like traditional wrestlers; that is to say, within weight limits, say 225 pounds for high school and 250 for college.

It's grossly irresponsible for a sport, and a society, to ask young men to specialize in getting huge. Make the young football players play skinny, so over the long-term they can stay skinny.

With a Perspective, this is Matt Mitchell.

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Matt Mitchell is a middle school math teacher and writer based in Sacramento.

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