The Steelers Chuck Noll and Ball Room Dancing

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Chuck Noll was a football coach’s football coach. A man equally at ease discussing the advantages of bump and run cornerback coverage theory as well as waxing philosophically about the benefits of the trapping system he so passionately believed in. But Chuck was much deeper than just large scale coaching. He was also adept at isolating the “conflict zone” techniques which every player enters on nearly every play.

Coach Noll was the “Yoda” of football coaches.

The conflict zone was the 2-3 foot distance separating two combatants before they engaged in full-go pandemonium. Whether it might be a cornerback such as Mel Blount coming up in run support on a sweep to the outside or a Mike Webster blocking back on a 4-3 defensive tackle to replace the pulling guard on a trap, Chuck always had the hand-to-hand technical side down and deliverable with short compact sayings that still bang around in my noggin to this day.

“Under and up”  described the hitting process unique to any mano-y-mano conflict. Coiling and gaining leverage through bending at the knees and then uncoiling and striking upwards from the low back, hips and knees to deliver power “In a timely fashion” was the great equalizer regardless of the size of the combatants, or the place on the field said conflict was about to occur.

While I was watching the San Francisco versus Philadelphia game Sunday night, in the first quarter, Eagles fullback Owen Schmitt lead on an off-tackle play and was confronted with a highly aggressive and hostile Shawntae Spencer flying up from his cornerback position in run support. Textbook Noll, Schmitt lowered his hips, got under and up, and nearly re-constructed Spencer. As in his lower intestine temporarily became his upper intestine, such was the violence of the hit.

How does a James Harrison routinely overpower offensive tackles 6-8″ taller and over 100lbs heavier? He gets under and up, using all his strength and  power in uncoiling and striking while maximizing his leverage.

Watch Lamar Woodley on his next bull rush. Under and up, unleashing raw power through advantageous body mechanics. When the mojo is right, a rampaging Woodley could run rough shod over a Sumo Yokozuna, or Grand Champion.  (By the way, the technique works just as well in Sumo as it does in football. I once wrestled a man in a professional sumo match years ago. My opponent, from Europe was 6-4, and weighed 408lbs. I got “under and up” and slammed him on his back while weighing a hulking 282lbs, one of the few times i’ve ever felt like a “pencil neck”).

Football is an ever evolving game but the fundamental elements of body mechanics when one enters the the conflict zone remain the same.

As Coach Noll always used to say when discussing the physical play on the field, “Ball room dancing is a contact sport. Football is a violent sport.”