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Cliff Livingston’s death and brain injuries

According to the New York Times, former Giants linebacker Cliff Livingston’s death was the result of complications of Lewy Body Dementia.  His death raises concern about the correlation of memory disorders and former NFL players.

A study commissioned by the National Football League reports that Alzheimer’s disease or similar memory-related diseases appear to have been diagnosed in the league’s former players vastly more often than in the national population — including a rate of 19 times the normal rate for men ages 30 through 49.

Back in October 2009, members of the U.S. Judiciary committee accused the NFL of neglect in its handling of head injuries.   

“The N.F.L. sort of has this blanket denial or minimizing of the fact that there may be this link,” Representative Linda T. Sánchez, Democrat of California, said to Mr. Goodell during the daylong hearing. “And it sort of reminds me of the tobacco companies pre-’90s when they kept saying, ‘Oh, there’s no link between smoking and damage to your health.’ ”  To take Ms. Sanchez’s quote one step further, the NFL allowed its players to compete on concrete artificial surface.   For years, makers of artificial turf have argued  there is no link between injuries such as concussions and their synthetic slop.  Whether it is the violence of the sport and the type of surface, after the embarrasing October 2009 hearing, the NFL was forced to look into head injuries more seriously.  Nonetheless, the league renamed the committee, added two new co-chairs, and most importantly, discarded the bad apples who used to be in charge of the committee.

Since concussions have been in the spotlight, the NFL has taken positive steps to better address this issue.  In April, the Washington Redskins are inviting 500 local high school coaches to a concussion forum.  Redskins GM Bruce Allen,  ”We’re going to teach them what we have learned. We are going to expose them to all the information we have, because it does trickle down,” he goes on,  ”I’m hoping their message goes back to the parents at their schools and makes them aware what we’re facing in the NFL, and (conveys) the emphasis that we’re putting on this.”

For more reading on concussions:

From the New York Times, this is an excellent timeline on the NFL’s concussion panel.  

From cbssports.comYoung player helps turn trauma into action on concussions.

Finally, Andy Barall,  NFL historian on the New York Times’ Fifth Down blog, remembers Cliff Livingston.  

For the upcoming 1958 championship game against the Giants, the Colts scouting report on Cliff Livingston read as follows: “#89 Livingston LB 6’3″ 215 Plays on either side- has good speed- gets back well on passes- really comes across if he is strong side plugger and play is run at him.”

Livingston lined up mostly at strong side linebacker that day, head-up on tight end Jim Mutscheller, but it was as the end man on the line of scrimmage in the Giants goal-line defense where he made one of the biggest plays, in one of the most famous games, in N.F.L. history.

Baltimore led at halftime, 14-3. After an exchange of punts to start the third quarter, the Colts began a drive on their 41. Unitas didn’t waste any time. He hit Mutscheller on a deep seam route on first down for 32 yards to the Giants 27. On third and nine from the 26 Unitas hit Raymond Berry on a curl for the first down on the 15. On the next play Lenny Moore lined up at flanker and caught a slant in front of cornerback Linden Crow for 12. First and goal from the three. If the Colts score a touchdown here, the game would probably be over. Certainly, at 21-3 there would’ve been no sudden death and no “greatest game ever played.”

On first and goal Unitas gave it to fullback Alan Ameche on a weakside slant. With no room at the intended hole, Ameche bounced it outside and was tackled at the one by Sam Huff and Emlen Tunnell. Unitas then tried the quarterback sneak but the Giants stayed low and stopped him just short of the goal line. On third down Ameche tried the slant again, this time inside behind Jim Parker, a powerhouse drive blocker. Parker, however, was stood-up in the hole by Rosey Brown and Ameche was stopped again (Brown, a hall of fame offensive tackle, played defensive end in the Giants goal line defense).

On fourth down, Baltimore coach Weeb Ewbank went for the knockout. Unitas called for a strong side toss to Ameche, who was to then throw a pass to Mutscheller in the end zone. As it developed, Mutscheller was wide open, but, in the heat of the game, Ameche forgot the play. He later told N.F.L. Films: “I completely blew it.” He added: “I thought it was a sweep.” Livingston came aggressively across the line of scrimmage, took the perfect angle, and caught Ameche before he could turn the corner, back at the five yard line. The Giants took over as the crowd went wild.

Here’s where the game turned. On third and two from the 13, quarterback Charlie Conerly faked a toss left to Frank Gifford and hit flanker Kyle Rote on a post pattern behind cornerback Milt Davis at the Giants 35. Rote was caught from behind at the Colts 35 and fumbled when he was hit by safeties Ray Brown and Andy Nelson. The ball rolled forward and Giants fullback Alex Webster, trailing the play, scooped it up at the 25 and took it all the way to the one before being knocked out of bounds by Carl Taseff. Two plays later, Mel Triplett punched it in and the Colts lead was narrowed to 14-10.

Twelve future hall of famers played in that game, six from each team, including Don Maynard, who returned kickoffs and punts for the Giants that day. Ewbank is also enshrined in Canton along with two of the Giants assistant coaches, Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry.

The 1958 Championship was, if not the greatest, then certainly one of the most important, games ever played. For the first time, the action and excitement of the National Football League was readily apparent to the broad american public. It was on that December afternoon at Yankee Stadium that the symbiotic relationship between television and pro football was cemented forever. By the mid-1960s pro football had overtaken baseball as the number one spectator sport.

If not for that goal line stand mid-way in the third quarter, all that drama would never have happened.

What do you remember about Cliff Livingston?   Do you think the NFL has neglected head injuries?