That thing all those dock workers, meat packers, icemen and railroad brakemen started almost 60 years ago, and which came to be known as professional football, is about to lead us once again on a thundering off-tackle 29 Oley Bob P-Series Power Ride into the grinding teeth of a 56 Stub-I Rex Change defense, if not a 43 Purple Sloop. It is going to happen whether O. J. Simpson likes it or not. Momentarily. Just as soon as the sport's newest glamour-boy-quarterback-hero, Baltimore's Bert Jones, gets his hair combed and his autographing hand taped.
But four long months from now, after the last set of linebackers has run the last "Bazooka" at the last "Calypso" formation, the chances are excellent that the same two teams—Pittsburgh and Dallas—will return to the Super Bowl, this one to be played at the Woody Hayes Memorial Funeral Parlor in Pasadena, Calif., otherwise known as the Rose Bowl.
During the intervening months of soaring incompletions and commercial pauses, however, it is altogether possible that America will not discover very much new about the game it has taken to wearing on its head like a VFW cap. More than likely, in fact, America will only be reminded that:
•After all these years 14 of the NFL's 28 teams still play in stadiums made for baseball.
•There are only eight certified, guaranteed NFL head coaches: Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, Don Shula, George Allen. Hank Stram, Bud Grant, John Madden and Lou Saban. The number of college dropouts has swollen to eight, and now includes USC's John McKay at Tampa Bay, UCLA's Dick Vermeil at Philadelphia and North Carolina State's Lou Holtz with the New York Jets. But the pro coaches are predominantly a cluster of escalated assistants who have yet to prove themselves. Plus one car dealer, Bart Starr.
•It is easier to place a bet illegally over a New York telephone than legally with the Delaware lottery.
•ABC-TV should be up for a community-service award for keeping Cleveland, Denver, San Diego, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, New Orleans and the New York Giants off Monday Night Football.
•"Limbo" and "Cha-Cha" are signals for the Dallas defense.
•The quarterback breakdown remains the same. The once and future stars: Bert Jones and Atlanta's Steve Bartkowski. The reliables: Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Ken Stabler, Fran Tarkenton, Bob Griese, Ken Anderson, Jim Hart and Bill Kilmer. And the jury is still out on: Steve Ramsey, Dan Pastorini, Manning-Scott-Douglass, Harris-Jaworski, Joe Reed, Craig Morton, Jim Plunkett, Lynn Dickey, Steve Spurrier, Mike Phipps, Ferguson-Marangi, Steve Grogan, Mike Boryla, Jim Zorn, Bob Avellini, Mike Livingston, Longley-Fouts and what is left of Joe Namath.
•Lynn Swann may get to Mars before Viking III.
•Joe Namath has reached the point where he ought to consider peddling Mr. Coffee instead of Brut.
•In a "Cyclone," the "Banjo" chops down a "Rocket" with an "Ax" as long as the "Outlaw" remembers to "Skunk." Got it, Howard?
•Minnesota and Los Angeles should win their divisions by Sept. 26.
•Ohio State's Archie Griffin heard a pass play called in the Cincinnati huddle and didn't know what it was.
•And, finally, the Buffalo Bills have put in a running play inspired by O. J. Simpson and called "The 32 Retainer and a Share of Increased Sales Over Present Dollar Volume."
Although the season lies ahead, many of the big stories of Pro Football '76 are already behind us. So, for those who may have missed them, they are re-created here as accurately as possible:
NEW YORK—Larry Csonka, who twice led the Miami Dolphins to Super Bowl glory and once led the World Football League to dissolution, signed a contract today with the New Jersey Dwarfs. Terms of the contract were not revealed but it is known that Csonka has agreed to carry the ball at least 12 times during the 1976 season. In exchange, Csonka has reportedly received from the Dwarfs:
1. $4 million spread over the next six months.
2. A helicopter.
3. A penthouse duplex.
4. 300 tickets to each game.
5. $5,000 a month to entertain clients.
6. A Bloomingdale's charge-a-plate.
7. Notification well in advance of any "Waco Hammer" rotation on the part of an opposing team's defense.
8. Six dozen first-class round-trip plane tickets for friends.
9. A 20-year loan of $10 million at minimum legal interest rates.
10. A makeup artist for road games.
SAN FRANCISCO—Columnist Herb Caen, speaking for the City by the Bay, said it was unfortunate that San Francisco had to give up the Golden Gate Bridge and Union Square but it may have been worth it to obtain Quarterback Jim Plunkett for the 49ers. Plunkett said his five years' experience without pass receivers in New England would prove invaluable to him in his new role.
"All I have to do is learn what a 60 Basic Split Post is," he said.
KANSAS CITY—The All-Fellowship of Christian Athletes Team was announced today with several repeaters, including the Steelers' Ernie Holmes and free agents Joe Gilliam and Mack Herron. The 11-member all-star team, selected on arrests rather than actual convictions:
•Possession: Ernie Holmes, Steelers; Darryl Carlton, Dolphins; Ken Payne, Packers; Shelby Jordan, Patriots; and Gilliam.
•Firecrackers on airplane: Terry Metcalf, Cardinals.
•Holding Vitamin C: Mack Herron, cut by Rams.
•Herb in car: John Matuszak, Redskins.
•Accident-scene leaving: Jeff Winans, Raiders.
•Disturbing peace: Scott Anderson, Vikings.
•Punching bicycle rider: Mark Koncar, Packers.
Each member of the all-star team will receive galley proofs of Lance Rentzel's new book and life-size posters of W. K. Hicks, Warren Wells, Paul Hornung and Alex Karras.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—Quarterback Craig Morton of the New Jersey Dwarfs said today he is contemplating legal action against a clothing manufacturer he represents for using his picture in a magazine ad. Morton said the photograph, which showed the veteran passer in bikini briefs, had forced him to change his phone number 27 times since it appeared.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—After visiting 12 different training camps and interviewing as many coaches, owners and players as possible. Running Back John Riggins selected the Washington Redskins today as his new NFL team. Riggins said money was no consideration. "I wanted the club with the most colorful terms," Riggins said. "Things like Log, Smack, Adios, King, Queen, Jack, Ace, Pic, Poc and Double Poc."
Riggins explained that it had been very dull playing for the Jets where they only used such expressions as "Bubble" to describe an area covered by a linebacker.
"Coach Allen says if our Do Dads and Tares and Obies work the way they're supposed to, I can make some yardage off the Witch, provided the tight end isn't tailored," Riggins said.
A spokesman for George Allen said this was not necessarily true if the Redskins were playing Dallas, which might be in a "Rifle," "Pistol" or "Mombo" coverage.
Observers at the Redskins' training camp say it probably doesn't matter. Bill Kilmer has been running the "Woolworth" to perfection without risking a "Bingo," and the "Sally Rand" has not come up against a single "Orvil," "Zelda" or "Ruby Doo."
WILMINGTON, DEL.—All 187 residents of this state apparently favor legalized betting on NFL games, but just how popular the lottery cards will be with tourists remains to be seen.
Typical of fan reaction was that of Angelo (Hit the Middle) Rossoff, a longtime NFL enthusiast who says he has frequently flown over Delaware. Rossoff was in town from Rochester to inspect the computer cards on which a fan must pick all seven winners to share in the lottery pool prize each week.
"It don't do much for the guy who wants a dime on the Colts take 7½ and a dime on Miami give 6½," he said. "I'm stayin' home."
THOUSAND OAKS, CALIF.—Dallas Cowboy Quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Clint Longley got into a pinching contest today during lunch break at training camp. It started when Staubach accused Longley of stealing a milk carton off his food. The scuffle between Staubach and Longley was not the first. Earlier in the week they had been seen tugging at each other's chinstraps and untaping each other's socks. It was during the first episode that Longley clearly frogged Staubach on the arm, an act Staubach described as "gutless," inasmuch as he was throwing a pass to Drew Pearson at the time.
"Staubach shouldn't use a word like gutless," Longley said. "It is not part of the Cowboys' terminology. He should have said Wanda or Sarah."
Observers said the scene during lunch was one of near pandemonium. After Longley allegedly stole Staubach's carton of milk, Staubach hollered, "Liz!" indicating a left-side pass rush. When Longley looked away, Staubach took a helping of navy beans off the backup quarterback's plate.
The pinching contest began when Staubach told Longley, "I'm going to catch you in a Skeezix and run a 60 Dig across your Easter Bunny teeth."
Longley countered with, "Hey, Tunnel Vision. Get off my case."
The more experienced members of the press corps who witnessed the incident said it reminded them of the time two other quarterbacks competing for the same job—Washington's Bill Kilmer and Sonny Jurgensen—retreated behind a hedge to have it out but went to get a couple of six-packs first and never returned.
STUDIO CITY, CALIF.—O. J. Simpson announced today that unless Commissioner Pete Rozelle put an NFL expansion team in St. Tropez he would not play football in 1976.
"I've enjoyed my years in Buffalo, but now it's time for me to think about being closer to my family and the Cannes Film Festival," Simpson said.
As Simpson spoke, he tried to conceal the fact that his right arm was bandaged, the result of a fall he took recently while filming a Hertz commercial.
Simpson said his decision to play only in St. Tropez or retire was based partly on a new contract he had signed with TreeSweet Products.
"Participating in marketing activities can be fun," Simpson said. "Also, TreeSweet doesn't play exhibition games."
It had been rumored that Simpson was willing to be traded from Buffalo to the Los Angeles Rams if the Rams' owner, Carroll Rosenbloom, would assure him that he would not have to play all four backfield positions at the same time.
"That's absurd," Rosenbloom said. "O. J. would be asked to do nothing more than play running back, fullback and wide receiver, just as he did at Buffalo."
Simpson said he expected his Hollywood career to blossom more rapidly now that he was free of his football obligations.
"If I can avoid being typecast as a security guard or an elevator operator in TV movies of the week, I think I can make it," he said.
Buffalo Owner Ralph Wilson wished Simpson well.
"I don't see why O. J. can't succeed as an actor," Wilson said. "For seven years he did a good job of acting like he didn't hate Buffalo."
OAKLAND, CALIF.—The Oakland Raiders, a team noted for coming up with innovations, have developed yet another novelty for the 1976 NFL season. Specifically, Coach John Madden said his team was going to eliminate confusion by adopting a new terminology. "You won't hear any more 'Mississippi Gambler Open Decks' around here," Madden said. "And we're not going to call a deep pattern a 'Fly' either. We're going to call it an 'Up.' A lot of teams use the word 'Stunt.' I think that has a circus connotation. We'll say 'Twist Right' or 'Twist Left.' The same goes for lateral. Too many syllables. We'll use 'Flip.' "
Madden said the idea occurred to him last week in a Raider scrimmage.
"In our lexicon, a fumble has been known as a fumble, and we've had a lot of injuries to guys going after the ball," said Madden. "Now we call a fumble a 'Red Hot' and you don't see as many people banging into each other."
Al Davis, Oakland's managing general partner, was asked what he thought privately about Oakland's chances. "I'll say this much," said Davis. "If Snake can hit the Pop, the Hitch and the Shake, particularly against the Orange Three, and if he can read the El Paso as good as he reads the Tango, there's no reason why we can't Double Sponge anybody, especially if we're using George and their Jill is cheating."
As Terry Bradshaw strums idly on his guitar and Jack Lambert sips from a thermos of warm blood, both awaiting Pasadena, so begins another season.
PETE ROZELLE'S DICTIONARY
BAZOOKA: Blitz by three linebackers.
BUBBLE: Area covered by a linebacker.
BINGO: What a player yells when he intercepts a pass.
CHA-CHA: Pass rush with one tackle looping behind the other.
DO-DAD: Double-team block by the guard and center.
EL PASO: Stunt between the defensive end and tackle.
FLARE CONTROL: Defense keeping an eye on a back going into the flat.
FIRE PROTECTION: Blocking on a quick pass pattern.
GEORGE: Tight end and tackle block in, guard blocks out.
LIMBO: Pass rush with an end looping behind a tackle or vice versa.
MEG, MAC, MARY: The middle linebacker.
MOMBO: Pass coverage rotation to the strong side.
ORANGE 3: Three-man defensive line.
ORVIL: A defensive formation.
RED HOT: Call after a fumble.
SARAH or SAM: Strongside linebacker.
SALLY RAND: Naked reverse, what else?
WACO HAMMER: Defensive rotation to the weak side.
WANDA: Weakside linebacker.
ZELDA: Prevent defense.
29 OLEY BOB: The two-back through the nine hole with a double guard pull and the other back blocking a linebacker.
43 PURPLE SLOOP: Fake blitz.
56 STUB-I REX CHANGE: Combination defense with a linebacker blitz and a stunt on defensive line.
60 BASIC SPLIT POST: Deep pass pattern in which the flanker and the tight end cross, with the flanker heading for the goalpost.
60 DIG: Two wide receivers cutting across the field on a pass route.