IOWA CITY, Iowa — Phil Parker was one of the Big Ten’s hardest-hitting safeties at Michigan State 30 years ago and earned first-team all-Big Ten honors three straight seasons from 1983-85.
Parker, an Iowa assistant since 1999 and the defensive coordinator the last five seasons, still relishes his experiences as a physical defender. So when he was asked about a targeting penalty, which was later reversed, assessed to Iowa MLB Josey Jewell, Parker released his feelings on football’s rule changes affecting defenders. Here’s what he said:
“You know, it’s really hard, because the game of football has really changed. And it’s going to come pretty soon to flag football, I think, at times. And it’s a shame. It’s kind of going away. And hopefully I won’t be around by that time. Some guys are really trying to protect guys. But some good hits are good hits. And the game is a violent game. We all know it before we get here. As soon as we walk on and get into the field, everybody knows that we’re playing tackle football.
“And as soon as you tell me there’s a defenseless player on the field, how come he doesn’t know that we’re playing the game of football? We’re allowing receivers down field to catch balls, uncontested, getting hit. If you blow on them, touch them, you’re going to get a flag. Anything that you do to anybody. You have to be aware, you have to be alert. You don’t walk down the street in Chicago without understanding that there’s cars going down there, that it’s dangerous on the highway, isn’t it? Have you ever been to Chicago at 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock on a Friday? That’s dangerous, right?
“The same thing with football. Football is a violent game. And until guys understand that you’re going to take a hit, then it might not with all these points and these guys catching all the balls thinking, ‘Hey, you guys can’t hit me. I can catch the ball free.’ A little bit different. Before the guys used to say, ‘Boy, I’m going to back off that, let the receiver do it.’ Now it’s the defensive guys backing off of it.
“It’s a violent game, everybody knows it. They sign up for it. I wish everybody would kind of look over that.
“Believe me, I don’t want to get these guys hurt and injured. But they might have some responsibility that you might get hit, because you are playing football. That’s the concern for me.”
Parker was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1984 Cherry Bowl. He admits he would have been ejected from several games if today’s rules were applied to his era.
“I wouldn’t be able to play the game,” Parker said. “But you take those choices. And I understand about the concussion thing, you know what I mean. I had many concussions, so I understand that. But that was the risk that I took, too, because I loved the game of football. So it’s the same with anybody else on there. You’re taking the risk going out there and that’s what you’re doing, you know it. You know the risk.”
Parker added that former Iowa safety Bob Sanders, perhaps the most fearless and beloved Iowa defender in the Kirk Ferentz era, also would have had issues with today’s rules enforcement.
“He’d be thrown out of a couple of games, I’m sure,” Parker said. “But now the big thing now is the rugby tackle, right? That’s what a lot of people are going to now. It’s really cutting you down. What do you want? Do you want a ruined knee or a concussion? Sometimes I think that’s where it’s going down. And now you can’t hit down too low, because they’re going to say that’s a penalty too, because you can’t hit the quarterbacks low, right? Is that right? I don’t even know anymore.”