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A proposed rule that would make it a foul if a tackler or a runner initiates contact with the crown of his helmet has come under fire from both current and former running backs, but Hall of Famer Jim Brown said Monday he didn't think it was such a big deal.
Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, however, said Tuesday in an interview with ESPN Radio that he thinks the rule proposal is "ridiculous."
"I didn't use my head," Brown told Newsday from the league's owners meetings in Phoenix. "I used my forearm. The palm of my hand. And my shoulder. And my shoulder pads. I wasn't putting my head into too much of anything. I don't think that's a good idea. At least it doesn't sound like a good idea to me if I'm not guaranteed that my head is going to be strong enough to hurt somebody else and not hurt myself."
If a player is flagged for using the crown of his helmet, the play would result in a 15-yard penalty. Incidental contact with the crown of the helmet would not be a penalty. The rule would apply only to running backs who are outside of the tackle box or are more than 3 yards downfield.
The league studied every helmet-to-helmet play in Week 16 last year and found five backs who would have been penalized for a crown-of-the-helmet hit. "We're trying to bring the shoulder back into the game," competition committee co-chairman Jeff Fisher said.
Owners will vote on the proposal this week at the owners meetings.
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte criticized the proposal on Sunday in a series of tweets, calling it an "absurd idea." Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk also has criticized the idea.
Smith, the league's all-time rusher, agreed that the rule proposal is out of bounds in an interview with ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on Tuesday.
"This has to be one of the most absurd rules I've heard in a long time in the game of football," Smith said. "There's no way it's possible for a running back to get to the situation where he has to make the decision whether or not to plow forward for an additional yard to keep the chains moving and keep the clock rolling to end the game or keep the chains moving so his team can continue to drive down the field to get a field goal to win the game.
"What you will see is guys starting to run out of bounds."
Smith said he was taught not to lead with the crown of his helmet, but it's natural for a running back to lean forward.
"Here in this particular case, when you do that, actually you're leaning forward, the first thing that is going to get contact naturally is going to be the head first, and then the shoulder and body is going to absorb most of the blow from that point on," the former Dallas Cowboys star said.
Smith said that if the rule passes, he expects refs will throw more flags "because they are unsure." He also said he thinks the league should consult former players before making rule proposals public. "The league itself is trying to protect players, but I think in a lot of ways they're going a little overboard. They're creating more issues than they really want to," he said.
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Tuesday that he didn't think Smith would have been found to violate the proposed rule when he was playing.
"I don't think Emmitt ever violated it," Jones, a member of the NFL's competition committee, said. "When people first hear it, they say, 'Oh my God, we can't do that.' Then they see what the league is talking about in terms of really being in the open field and really dropping that head and using your head as a weapon."
Smith made similar comments last week in an interview with a Dallas radio station. Brown, however, said he doesn't know of any other running backs who feel the same way.
"Nobody I ever broke bread with, and I see players all the time, talked about using their head running the football," the former Cleveland Browns great told Newsday. "I've seen Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson and Marcus Allen and Franco Harris, and we've all been together -- we were all together at the Super Bowl -- and no one talked about using their head."
Dickerson, however, told CBSSports.com that he looked at film of himself after he heard about the proposed rule and found evidence that he had used his head sometimes when rushing.
"I did it to protect myself," he told CBSSports.com. "Sometimes I did it to deliver punishment. It's a violent game.
"I think it's a bad rule. Mostly because it's a natural reaction. You'll never be able to police it. Running backs have to be able to protect themselves and doing that is protecting yourself."
Information from ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton, ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins and The Associated Press was used in this report.