The NFL is doing all it can to make the game of football safer.
Better helmets and pads.
Mandatory water breaks during practice.
Heat stroke evaluations.
Penalties and suspensions for targeting tackles to the helmet or defenseless players.
No blocking below the waist or in the back. No tripping. No holding. No head slaps. No nothing.
Well, in Italy, they’re taking a different route.
The game is called “Calcio Storico.” Here are the basics.
There is a tournament held once a year consisting of four teams with 27 members per team, all on the field at once. The format is single elimination — two semifinals and the winners play for the championship.
The field is smaller than that of a football field. The surface is sand and dirt, not a blade of grass to be found anywhere.
Players wear no helmets or pads. Many don’t wear shirts.
The game is basically a cross between mixed martial arts, rugby and football. And it is full contact.
A player can be running down the field and either get punched, tripped or kicked during that run.
The game lasts 50 minutes with no time outs, no injury stoppages and no substitutes. If a player has to leave the game, he is not replaced. If he is injured and bleeding, he sits there until he feels better or leaves the game.
There are only a few rules.
• No striking an opponent from behind (punching or kicking). Rugby-style tackling is still permitted.
• No striking an opponent who is already on the ground. But you may pin him to the ground by laying on him.
• No ganging up. If an opponent is already scrapping with an opponent, you may not touch him unless he is carrying the ball.
And that’s it.
Oh, and here’s the best part...nobody gets a paycheck.
Teams in Calcio Storico are named after a church that represents a historic neighborhood in the city of Florence. Priests bless the flags of each team before the annual tournament.
Players compete from a sense of pride of their community, a sense of history and a test of will.
On video, the game looks medieval, maybe out of a gladiator movie — bodies laying on the dirt and sand exhausted, bleeding and sweaty, all while the game goes on.
Horse-collars are for sissies in this game. Just get the guy down by any means necessary.
In American football, the field is 120 yards by 53 1/3 yards with 22 total players. Calcio Storico’s field is 88 yards by 44 yards and 54 total players. Like fighting in a phone booth.
And fight they do. One-on-one fisticuffs ensue, and it is not only encouraged, but is a main strategy of the game. If you knock out an opponent, there are no substitutions, and it becomes a numbers game.
To score, a player must put the ball over a chest-high wall and into a net that is three feet above the wall. That’s worth one point. If the ball goes over the net, the opponent gets half a point.
The reward for winning?
Nothing but pride.
One only has to also look at rugby or Australian Rules Football to see that American football is not the toughest sport in the world. Though the NFL players are the biggest and fastest, imagine a football game without the helmets and shoulder pads.
Or worse yet, no six figure game check.