Saturday, April 21, 2007

George Webster 1945-2007

Either George Webster or Lawrence Taylor was the best defensive college football player I ever saw. I go back and forth on the issue. Webster, not Bubba Smith, was the MVP of the Michigan State defense on the 1965-1966 Spartans that went 19-1-1 and made Notre Dame play for a tie.

Webster was a first round pick in the combined AFL-NFL draft of 1967, selected by the Houston Oilers. When the league merged with the NFL for keeps in 1969, Webster was named to the All-time AFL team after three seasons of play.

Then the injuries began. Webster played six more effective but hardly earth-shattering seasons, and retired. Then the complications from the injuries began. Webster's last brush with fame came when he pursued a disability claim against the NFL to the Supreme Court in 1989. In keeping with its mission to keep America safe for white men with money, the Court ruled for the league.

Webster died yesterday. Both his legs had already been amputated. He had minimal use of and feeling in his hands. He'd been pretty much crippled the last 25 years of his life, which ended well before his time.

Few things sports fans or commentators say or write anger me, because the statements are made in the grip of deep emotion. They're not supposed to be rational.

They shouldn't be cruel, either. When fans or media heap scorn on football players who hold out, demand trades, or try to manipulate the draft to their own advantage, I do get angry. That
s llke those talk show war cheerleaders who wouldn't dream of enlisting. For players, pro ball is three-card monte. The trick is walking away while the con artist is still letting you win. Anything players do to further their interests is morally justified by the risks they run. No exceptions.

The 2007 draft is next weekend. The laws of probability state one of the first round picks will take up George Webster's slot in a 2047 obituary section.


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