Old-timers argue that running your mouth was a lot more dangerous back in the day.
As if the bumps and bruised egos hurt any less today.
''Freddie Mitchell doesn't know how hard he would have gotten hit if he said that in the '60s,'' tough guy and former Bears coach Mike Ditka said Wednesday. ''He'd still be looking for his head.''
We'll get to exactly what Mitchell said in a moment. But first, a reminder for anyone who thinks speech is free and football can't be educational: The most famous spelling lesson in American history took place at the Super Bowl.
That was in 1979, when Cowboys linebacker and confirmed party animal Thomas ''Hollywood'' Henderson said Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw was so dumb, ''he couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the 'c' and the 't.'''
Bradshaw wound up throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-31 win, forcing Henderson to scramble to cover his tracks.
''I didn't say he couldn't play,'' Henderson said afterward, squirming all the while, ''just that he couldn't spell.''
Talking smack is usually a waste of good breath, but rarely so much as during the run-up to the Super Bowl. Keep that in mind Sunday, when the pregame shows keep hyping the skirmish that broke out last week between Mitchell, the Eagles' receiver, and Patriots safety Rodney Harrison.
It began innocently enough, with Mitchell admitting during an interview that he couldn't name any of the players in the Patriots' secondary, except for Harrison, and that he had ''something'' planned for him. Harrison responded by labeling Mitchell a ''jerk,'' then racheted up the war of words the other day.
''I think any time you send a message, sometimes people listen and sometimes they don't. It just depends on how hard you send the message,'' said Harrison, already the most-fined player in the NFL.
Get off a good quote at the expense of an opponent just before the Super Bowl and immortality but more likely, notoriety won't be far behind.
''That's the thing about this week,'' Bradshaw said. ''You say something in week two and it doesn't even hardly get in the paper. But say it in the week of the Super Bowl and suddenly, 'It's lookee here.'
''This,'' he added, ''is not the time to shoot your mouth off.''
Everyone remembers a cocky young quarterback named Joe Namath guaranteeing a victory over the Colts, 17 1/2-point favorites at the time, then pulling it off and never getting stuck with a bar tab for the rest of his life. What most people forget is for every Namath, there's been a handful of Hendersons.
The very first Super Bowl in 1967 featured Chiefs cornerback and B-movie action star Fred ''The Hammer'' Williamson promising to drop so many forearm shivers on the Packers that they'd ''go back to the huddle with their heads ringing.'' Instead, it was Williamson who wound up being carried off the field in the fourth quarter of Green Bay's 35-10 win.
''Laid him out like a bear rug, too,'' a Packer official would recall more than three decades later. ''Some hammer.''
A half-dozen years ago, Atlanta cornerback Ray Buchanan began the week guaranteeing a win over Denver, then got personal with Broncos receiver Shannon Sharpe.
''You can't tell me,'' Buchanan said, ''that he doesn't look like Mr. Ed.''
''Tell Ray to put the eyeliner, the lipstick and the high heels away,'' Sharpe sniped back. ''I'm not saying he's a cross-dresser; that's just what I heard.''
Buchanan's reputation and his ego were smudged in the Broncos' 34-19 win, but he was otherwise unharmed.
Considering the run the Patriots are on two Super Bowl victories in the last three years Mitchell will count himself lucky to get away as cleanly.
''We don't play tennis. This is football and I'm not going to back down from anything. Like I said earlier, it started off as just being funny,'' he said, ''and it's still funny to me.''
Small wonder. Mitchell's teammates have been following him around with video cameras all week, joking and playing at being reporters. They keep asking him if he's worried because of the the things he said.
''But they're also telling me,'' Mitchell said, '''We don't care what you said. We've got your back.'"
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com.
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