What the hell’s going on???

By Rick Morrissey
Updated: December 7, 2010

CHICAGO — You probably aren’t surprised that Bears coach Lovie Smith saw the play the way referee Ed Hochuli saw it.

And you probably aren’t ­surprised that Bears general ­manager Jerry Angelo reacted to the play as if our American way of life had been threatened.

But Ndamukong Suh’s hit on Jay Cutler looked very much like a ­football play, though it’s ­getting harder to define exactly what that is anymore. If a player makes a tackle with feeling these days, there’s a ­decent chance the NFL will ­dispatch a crew of ruler-wielding nuns for discipline purposes.

The play in question occurred in the fourth quarter of the Bears-Lions game Sunday, and it needs to be pointed out that the unnecessary-roughness penalty Hochuli called on Suh was not the reason the Bears won. The way the game was going, they would have scored on that drive anyway.

So this isn’t about an injustice.

It’s about the wussification of the NFL. It’s about the way the game is losing some of its soul as the league swerves wildly in its pursuit of a safer game.

Maybe the NFL is making up for lost time. It didn’t give a whit about players’ health the previous nine decades. What we’re seeing now is an overcorrection.

Cutler had already gained yards during a run and was looking to pick up more. He made a few moves to avoid defenders.

When he crossed the line of scrimmage, he no longer was a quarterback, the most protected species on earth, including the snow leopard. He was a ball carrier and thus subject to the same brutality any running back faces.

QB: Protected species

Suh hit him from behind. In real time and in slow motion, it looked as if he pushed Cutler violently. Nothing more, nothing less. Pushing, tackling, violence — hasn’t the NFL become a multibillion-dollar business because of these things?

Hochuli called it an “unnecessary non-football act.” He also called it a “blow to the back of the runner’s helmet.” He was wrong on both counts.

Suh loves playing nasty football. Hochuli loves attention. Those two truths dovetailed into an unfortunate flag and one more reminder that football is turning into full-contact yoga. If Cutler had been a running back, there wouldn’t have been a call.

If Cutler had been a wide receiver or a tight end, there wouldn’t have been a call.

But this was a quarterback, one named Jay Cutler, which is why ­Hochuli reached for his yellow flag and why Angelo, seated in the press box, saw Suh’s hit as the kind of heinous act that jeopardizes the integrity of the game.

“[Suh is] too great a player for that,” Angelo told reporters. “That was a poor sign of a football player in the National Football League, given all that our game stands for.”

This is a sport that stands for organized mayhem.

If you’re a ­quarterback and you choose not to slide to avoid contact, there’s a decent chance you’re going to pay a price.

Cutler wanted to get extra yardage, at which point he became fair game. And make no mistake, a quarterback on the run is as much wild game as a deer is during ­hunting season.

In the moment that Suh hit ­Cutler, it never occurred to me it was a penalty. Wasn’t even a ­passing thought.

A pacifist league?

What flashed before Angelo’s eyes was the prospect of his $50 million quarterback being left in bits and pieces on the artificial turf at Ford Field. If that’s not what was behind the GM’s anger, then we’re left with a former defensive tackle who has forgotten his roots.

There’s no place for helmet-to-helmet hits in football, and the NFL has been handing out more fines and suspensions in an ­attempt to rid the game of them. But the league has gone pacifist on us.

What’s next, Mike Ditka ­advocating for man-hugs? Football players try to inflict pain on their opponents. When you run full-speed and throw yourself at a moving target, that’s implied, isn’t it?

“In playing football, there are two things — getting it done and there’s not getting it done,” Ravens defensive end Terrell Suggs recently told reporters. “Great defensive guys get the job done by any means necessary.”

“I really don’t care about the fines.

They’re stupid, and I think there is injustice and it’s [favoring] the offensive side of the ball, but I don’t care. I’m always going to play my way.”

You probably aren’t surprised that few of the Bears’ defenders came to Suh’s defense after the game, but surely they saw a football player getting punished for the crime of being a football player. They have to know their way of life is in danger.

At this rate, staring at a ­quarterback is going to be a fineable offense.