Pop on the tape from an NFL game back in the early-to-mid 1970s and you’ll come away feeling like you’re watching a game from a different planet compared to the football on your TVs every Sunday today, especially defensively.
Some of that can be attested to the implementation of the “Mel Blount Rule” in 1978 that barred contact with wide receivers beginning five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, a rule that helped mark a turning point in the game that began to skew more heavily to an open passing attack.
Today, the game of football is very much a pass-heavy game, which has evolved from the pre-1978 game that was three yards and a cloud of dust into today’s game with footballs filling the air and receivers and tight ends making huge plays down the field.
For Blount, it’s a badge of honor to have an NFL rule named after him, but at the time the All-Pro defensive back was rather upset, he said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey over the weekend.
“It was almost like an insult,” Blount said to Mackey, according to original reporting from the Post-Gazette. “I’m serious. That’s just how I looked at it. So they didn’t think I could play another way? I was naive.”
A third-round pick out of Southern University in the 1970 NFL Draft, Blount is one of the greatest cornerbacks to ever play the game—and not just because his playing style brought about a rule change. He finished his career with 57 interceptions in his 14-year NFL career, not to mention four All-Pro accolades (two first-team, two second-team), five Pro Bowls and a Defensive Player of the Year award in 1975.
Prior that 1978 rule change, he had recorded 23 interceptions over the three years prior to the rule’s implementation. Though the Mel Blount Rule was named after him, he wasn’t the only player targeted in hopes pf creating more of a disadvantage for the Steelers’ all-time great defense.
In the end, it didn’t work as well as the NFL may have hoped as the Steelers still won championships in 1978 and 1979.
After the creation of the rule, Blount still thrived, making the Pro Bowl in three of the first four years after it came into effect. He registered 17 interceptions in that four-year span, several more than he had in total during his first five seasons.
Turns out, he could play another way, and showed it time and time again, capping off a Hall of Fame career in impressive fashion.