Vontaze Burfict has been suspended for the first three games of the 2016 NFL season. That should be great news to fans who have labeled him a menace to society. He’s just not the kind of player that should be roaming around on the field. He’s delivering punishing blows that look so painful. But isn’t that the foundation of the sport?
The Bengals need the passion of Burfict’s madness. He’s the perfect soldier for a game that uses insane metaphors like war and battle. Being in the military means you’ll eventually be called to fight against an enemy. Burfict is the one warrior you want on your side when the opposing forces are closing in.
Burfict could really hurt someone and subject them to concussion protocol. By golly, that Vontaze Burfict could even knock the wind out of someone. Isn’t that what football is about? Burfict is a talented and smart WILL linebacker with need of better guidance. He’s crazy like a fox.
That’s what makes people tune in to highlight shows to watch loops of their favorite plays. Fans don’t tune in to watch the coaches and the skinny guys who offer Gatorade to sweaty combatants. Fans tune in to see the chess match of 11-on-11 action. They want drama, power, and strength. It’s about testosterone-fueled anger that outshines that of the competition. They want to see fiery players like Burfict.
The graceful movement of the offense and bone-crushing hits of the defense have made the NFL America’s No. 1 love affair. According to Sports Business Daily, the NFL clocked in as the most preferred form of entertainment. The Harris Poll — used to generate the findings — shows 50 percent more people gravitate towards football than baseball.
Vontaze Burfict is a throwback to the days of hard-hitting football. He conjures images of Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert, and Mike Ditka. They were all players who had short fuses. That’s when players would take a hit, get evaluated on the sideline, and get back to war.
The NFL and the Steelers have embraced Burfict as the demon seed. He supposedly represents everything that is wrong with football. Burfict has become the whipping boy for a sport that is trying to increase the safety of its players.
Burfict had many great hits during the Wild Card game. His sack of Ben Roethlisberger was the turning point for a downtrodden Bengals team. His teammates agree. His fiery passion gave them the spark to fight back. Linebacker Vincent Rey admitted the need for that emotion. He shared his honesty, via the Cincinnati Bengals site.
“He willed us back into that game. He willed the team. We all see it. He was willing us to that win.”
The players don’t think of him as a crazed headhunter waiting for the perfect opportunity. Burfict is the catalyst for a defense that has been lights-out since his return.
“I love playing with him. I love being on the field with him. I’ve said it before. He raises my play. He raises our level as a team. It wasn’t the most brutal hit of the game,” Rey explained. “It wasn’t a helmet-to-helmet hit. It’s tough. The refs have a tough job. Things are so quick. But we have a tough job, too. You’re a step or two away from a guy and you have to determine how to hit him, how he’s catching the ball. Is he catching the ball? Is it going to be a first down? Such a bang-bang play.”
Defensive tackle Domata Peko also gave his blessings to Burfict. He understands the aggressive nature that his teammate uses. If Brown catches that ball, the Steelers have an easy field goal. It’s Burfict’s job to stop that from happening. Once a defender is going for the tackle, it’s hard to suddenly stop and change speed or direction.
Burfict has become the ref’s favorite target. If number 55 is around the melee, it must have been started by him. The Bengals gave a chance to a troubled young man from Arizona and found a smart, aggressive diamond in the rough. His interception of Landry Jones would have been part of Bengals lore. It could’ve been the kind of story that changes every five years and gets better with age.
But because of constant rules changes and varying calls by officials, Burfict’s play will be forgotten. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther says he understands the NFL stance on head and neck sensitivity. But he backs Burfict’s play on Antonio Brown.
“I don’t know what the rules are anymore,” Guenther said. “I teach the guys the target area, but the minute they see bang-bang, it’s a flag… I’m with Bill Belichick. Review everything.”
Review it all. When the passion of Vontaze Burfict is in the vicinity, take an extra close look.
[Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]