Isaac Curtis believes that if today’s wide receivers experienced the conditions he did while playing in the NFL in the 1970s, the only thing wide open would be their mouths, agape and aghast at being banged, shoved, cut blocked, clotheslined, and worse as they tried to run their routes.
“It wasn’t about covering you. It was about basically taking you out,” said Curtis, a four-time Pro Bowler who played for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1973-84. “You could run a crossing route back then, and as long as the ball wasn’t there, if you crossed the linebacker or the safety’s face, they could clothesline you.
“Sometimes a corner would play with a safety behind him and throw a cross-body block.”
When Curtis entered the league, trying to get open for a pass was one part hand-to-hand combat and one part running the gauntlet. Today’s high-profile, highly-paid receivers owe Curtis a debt of gratitude for helping to inspire a change in working conditions.
The most influential factor in the wide receiver position developing into a predominant one in modern pro football is not genetics or game planning, but the rulebook.
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