Troy Vincent had the talk with his two sons Friday night.

No, not that talk.

The tackling talk.

Both of Vincent's sons play college football. Taron is a freshman defensive lineman at Ohio State. Troy Jr. is a senior defensive back at Towson.

"I talk to them about this every week,'' said Vincent, a five-time Pro Bowl cornerback and member of the Eagles Hall of Fame. "[I tell them] you've got to take care of yourself and you've got to take care of your opponent. Head out, shoulder in. Use your hands.''

Their reaction?

"It's interesting,'' he said. "One gets real quiet. That's my younger one [Taron], who plays with bad intentions. I have to have this conversation with him more often.

"Troy Jr., who is in graduate school, will be, 'I understand, Dad. I understand. Head out. Tackle with the shoulder.' "

For the last several months, Vincent, the NFL's executive vice-president of football operations, also has been having the talk with the league's players, coaches and officiating crews as they try to — pardon the pun –wrap their heads around the league's new helmet rule, which has made it a no-no for a player to lower his head and initiate contact to any part of an opponent's body with his helmet.

Those chats didn't go very well earlier this summer when the zebras called a whopping 51 lowering-the-helmet penalties against players in the first two weeks of the preseason, including five on the Eagles.

That prompted a flurry of angry comments and tweets from both players and coaches, suggesting that the new rule was going to decide games, cost people jobs, and turn football into something akin to badminton.

Vincent held an emergency conference call with the league's competition committee, which authored the new rule. He shared the concerns of the players, coaches and officials with the committee. They didn't change the rule, but they did make a significant clarification, pointing out that inadvertent or incidental contact with the helmet would not be a foul. In other words, if you didn't mean to do it, it probably wasn't going to get called.

Armed with that clarification, the zebras didn't call nearly as many penalties for lowering the head in the final two weeks of the preseason as they did in the first two. There were just nine in the third week and 12 in the fourth week. The Eagles were flagged just once in their final two preseason games for lowering the head.

"We saw a huge difference after" the rule clarification, Vincent said in an interview with the Inquirer and Daily News.

"We are now very, very clear on what we want to get out [of the game]. We all realized there is going to be inadvertent contact with the helmet and the face mask. Once we cleaned that up and spoke to the officials," there weren't as many penalties.

Vincent told the officials they needed to look for the aforementioned bad intentions.

"You've got to call what you see,'' he said. "The complete play of what you see. Not just the end result. Not that last snapshot. Because it could be a false snapshot.''

The rule clarification shows what can happen when people listen to each other. Vincent said this was the most involved coaches have been in a rule change or adjustment in the nine years he's worked in the league office.

"They've been very, very helpful,'' he said. "They've driven it. We listened to their concerns and applied what their concerns were.

"The officials were just applying the rule the way it was written. Lowering the head to initiate contact. Foul.

"After the clarification, we saw them leave the flag in his or her pocket much more. And that's OK. Because [even if they miss one], we can pick that up on Monday or Tuesday," when the league reviews plays for potential fines and/or suspensions.

Troy Vincent, who introduced his close friend Brian Dawkins at Dawkins’ Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony, said it was hard for he and Dawkins to have perspective on what hard hits would do to them later in life.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Troy Vincent, who introduced his close friend Brian Dawkins at Dawkins’ Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony, said it was hard for he and Dawkins to have perspective on what hard hits would do to them later in life.

Vincent is not trying to be the grinch who stole football. He played the game hard himself. His best friend in the whole world is former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, who was one of the most feared hitting machines in NFL history. Vincent was Dawkins' presenter last month when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But he feels he has a responsibility to protect players from not only their opponents, but also from themselves. As a former player and as the former president of the NFLPA and now, as one of the league's top executives, he has seen what repeated head trauma has done to many of the men who played the game.

"We're not trying to make the game softer,'' he said. "We're not trying to turn it into flag football. I wish some of the things that are in place today were in place when I played.

"When you're in the moment, you're not thinking about the future. You're not thinking about being 35 or 40 or 50. When we think about the protection of the player today and our role, I'm daily thinking about the quality of life for the men who play the game. We're all adjusting."

Vincent still remembers vividly the frequent conversations he had with Dawkins about his playing style when the two were Eagles teammates from 1996 through 2003.

"When Jim [Johnson, the Eagles' late defensive coordinator under Andy Reid] used to let us out of our meetings for restroom breaks, I'd be walking down the hall with Dawk, and I'd tell him, 'Hey, man. You can't keep going in there like that. Everything can't be a car wreck, buddy,'" he said.

"We know better today, and we can do better. The data, the research, the science, the engineering, everything is telling us this is necessary. We're making the game better. We're thinking about today, and we're thinking about the players' quality of life long-term.

"The player wants to know that this game still is everything he signed up for, [but] with his protection in mind."