The Greatest Generation of Pro Football players being forgotten?

This past week (June 6th) was the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, code named Operation Overlord.  It was the largest seaborne invasion in history, and ultimately led to the restoration of the French Republic and the end of World War II.  Twelve different countries participated in the landing against Nazi Germany.  The battle along the beaches of Normandy cost 29,000 American lives and countless others wounded.  It was a great price to pay by The Greatest Generation and yet one they seemed willingly to embark upon to ensure the freedom of Western Europe.

Going and perhaps being forgotten?

TGC D Day CeremoniesMany of the remaining survivors of this historic event descended upon France to commemorate the tremendous sacrifice of their fallen comrades and to remember their own service and sacrifice for the greater good of the free world.  These men, most in their late eighties and nineties (children of the Great Depression), are now leaving us at a rate of some 500 per day.  There will soon be a time where World War II will be a mere footnote in history, similar to World War I.  Mostly because of those that lived and fought during that uncertain and tumultuous period will have ALL left us, and history just doesn’t seem that relevant to today’s fast paced culture.

TGC D Day Ceremonies 2It eventually happens to every major period marked by a supreme commitment and resulting cost.  Those of us that are left behind are given the task to either continue the recognition or file it away in the dusty books of history, interpreted by the many viewpoints that choose to swing the stories of the past in the direction that best suits their own agenda.

And so those aged veterans, whose days are numbered by the sands of time, choose not to forget their historic accomplishment that began on June 6, 1944, but rather rallied together along the beaches of Northern France.  As Americans, we owe more than we can ever repay to The Greatest Generation for what they gave to enable us to live as we do today.

The equivalent in Pro Football

This past week I was tweeting with a couple followers about the collecting of old pro football cards and how young so many of the former NFL greats looked at the time.  One fan spoke about Chris Carter and Michael Irvin, while my thoughts lingered back even further to Gale Sayers, Johnny Unitas, and Ray Nitschke.  These players held the mantle of the likes of Andre Johnson, Peyton Manning, and Adrian Peterson in today’s game.  A different time, a different generation.  Perhaps The Greatest Generation of pro football players.

TGC NFL 1960Pro Football was much different back then; played differently, reported differently, followed differently.  The compensation wasn’t near what it is today.  The media outlets and conduits of information, not even close.  CBA, Salary Cap, and Fantasy Football . . . huh?  Wide open passing attacks resembling more like flag football have replaced the notion of a strong running attack and stout defense.  Lawyers in the League Office now make the majority of the decisions that shape the face of the game, becoming more and more of a Park Avenue business proposition than the best interests of Pro Football.

A last chance at recognition?

Jack Butler, John ButlerYou can’t help but wonder if the current class-action lawsuits against the NFL for concussions and illegal prescription drug use aren’t one last attempt by pro football’s own veterans to get the recognition they feel they deserve for the sacrifice many felt they gave in the name of the National Football League?  I suppose one might argue that the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony is a placid equivalent of The Greatest Generation’s D-Day ceremonies, a chance to remember and reflect upon the achievements of a bygone era in pro football.  But even the most recent names enshrined in Canton are beginning to bypass the generation of Greatest Players from my own memories.  These men will begin to pass on just like Normandy’s invaders, accelerated by the trauma their bodies and minds have taken as a result of how they played the game.

The questions beg to be asked;

  • Will these pro football icons be forgotten once they’re all gone?
  • Should we be paying closer attention to their own stories in the building of Pro Football as we know it today? 
  • Should their current plight even concern us, or should it be filed away in a dusty box of old pro football cards?

Those that choose to acknowledge the history of Pro Football and understand its effects on today’s game will only know the answers to those questions.

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