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There is no understanding Jadeveon Clowney's hit

Jadeveon Clowney hit Vincent Smith, and we're still talking about it.


1. You'd be forgiven for quitting the sport. No one would begrudge you the moment when you got up---why the hell did you get up? And how?---and just took off your helmet forever, walked to the bench, and sat down forever. No one would blame you for a second, because Jadeveon Clowney is 6'7 in cleats and a lean, lethal 260 pounds, and just hit you so hard your helmet flew at least five feet in the air, all with an audible pop like a bowhunter cracking a wounded deer's neck.

2. I don't even know whether to give Vincent Smith credit for getting up. I will, but that's a personal choice left to you, because that kind of violence, even in a violent sport like football, is not part of the expected contract between you and the game. You expect contact, even violence, and always the pain of random injury. You do not expect a sasquatch on the hunt to apparate from thin air at 20 miles per hour. It is not part of anyone's plan ever, and Jadeveon Clowney is officially unreasonable to expect on a football field.

3. I've been in a motorcycle accident where I T-boned a car at around 30 miles an hour. After the initial brainscramble, all you can think is, "I'm okay I'm okay I'm okay I'm okay I'm okay I'm okay." I'm sure Vincent Smith thought the same thing, and likely felt nothing too bad after the hit. Trauma like that has a kindness. It wears off when the bruising starts, and today Vincent Smith probably has a gigantic bruise he once called his sternum. A hit like that makes your toes sore the next day.

4. Violence in football is its own point, usually. Defenders in particular take real joy in doing things with a personal violence, an applied force monogrammed and addressed specifically for you. Ray Lewis loves hitting people, but Ray Lewis marked days he played Eddie George with a special felt-tip pen and highlighters, because Ray Lewis simply relished harming Eddie George. There was something inherently hittable in George for him, and repeated applications of hatred to his ribs only magnified the pleasure.

5. I don't think that was the case here, and that should make it so much scarier for anyone who has to play football against Jadeveon Clowney in the future. This was circumstantial violence with context. South Carolina had been screwed on a fourth down call the prior play, with the referee following scratch golf rules and awarding Michigan a first down on a measurement clearly two links shy of the mark. South Carolina needed something, particularly with Devin Gardner nibbling away at the Gamecocks secondary and Michigan threatening to augment a 22-21 lead.

6. A situational application of exceptional brutality: this is what the moment called for, and that is what Jadeveon Clowney did. The wording matters here, because I am tempted to write "happened," the word you use when agency seems impossible. You use "happened" in situations like meteorites striking baby carriages, trees crushing adorable puppies, and lightning strikes killing random golfers.

7. That's the wrong word: Clowney did this with a calculation and read of blown technique, slipping through an abandoned crawlspace of empty air left unblocked on a miscommunication by the Michigan line. Saying this "happened" takes away from Clowney's spectacular nanotiming on the play. He did this, and in a single move seized the game back from no fewer than 22 men on the other side of the ball.

8. Did you see the flutter of his hands on the swim move? It's almost fussy, like a gifted baby tossing a solved Rubik's Cube to the side. Jadeveon Clowney is 19, and by stupid rule has to play one more year in college football. Be terrified. Be utterly and totally terrified.

9. The helmet flying off isn't impressive by itself. Players know there is a certain way to knock them off, particularly if the player has a good stack of braids between him and the helmet's surface. It's the elevation, coming to rest 11 yards behind him. I watched a watermelon fly off a flatbed trailer on the interstate in an accident once; it looked a lot like this, minus the gory red explosion of it hitting the pavement. (Thank you, Vincent Smith, for not exploding into a red mist on this hit. No really; thank you so very much for not doing this.)

10. The hand goes out to get the ball, a moment of total composure that shows just how impersonal this was. Vincent Smith, or anyone else on the other side of the ball, was a personal irrelevance. Smith had knocked Clowney from the game with a low block that hit Clowney in the balls, but that seemed long forgotten in how clinical this got in an instant: Smith on the ground, the ball spitting to the side, and his huge hand palming it while his teammates start celebrating before the play's even blown dead.

11. The part I still can't wrap my brain around: Clowney did that with about eight yards of running room. In the span of 24 feet, he gained enough momentum to do that to Vincent Smith. The equation is F=MA, and the numbers work out, I'm sure, but the brain can only do so much. It's a day later and my eyes still can't believe the spectacle and brutality of applied physics in football pads. When you have a variable like Jadeveon Clowney, though, sense is never, ever part of the equation.

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