Older RBs deserve respect

Given the demands of the RB position, I have great respect for older backs like Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis.

Updated: December 1, 2004, 11:54 AM ET
By Merril Hoge | Special to ESPN Insider
Aging is inevitable for everyone, but it can be especially tough (and accelerated) for a running back. That's one reason I have so much respect for older running backs who continue to perform.

I laugh at the NFL's defenseless-player rule, which outlaws leading with the helmet against offensive players in a "defenseless position" (including the QB in the act of throwing and the receiver and punt returner before the catch). Why do I laugh? Because it's always legal to hit the runner with the helmet.

Have you ever watched a running back closely? One defender has him by the shoulder pads and helmet, another has his legs and another takes a shot at his ribs. Or he gets spun around and someone drills him in the back with their helmet.

Former NFL fullback Merril Hoge is an analyst for a wide variety of NFL programs on television and ESPN Radio. An eight-year NFL veteran, Hoge spent 1987-93 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and joined ESPN in 1996.