REVITALIZING THE NFL
Paul Zimmerman hit the nail right on the head with Dr. Z's R To Revive The NFL (Nov. 12). It seems that the NFL game has become another victim of high-tech standardization in the '80s. The aura of pro football today is one of machinelike organizations performing on a synthetic field of conformity and non-emotion. What happened to Billy (White Shoes) Johnson's TD dance and Butch Johnson's California Quake? Where are the Otis Taylors and Paul Warfields, who could have had their uniforms ripped off and still would have made the catch? And what about Dick Butkus and Bob Lilly? Do you think anyone ever told them it was too cold to play outside? And get rid of the "in the grasp" rule that's supposed to protect the quarterback. Roger Staubach made some of his best passes from two inches off the ground.
Dr. Z is right. Football is a great game and part of the American way of life. Let the players get their hands dirty and get excited about playing in the NFL. We fans miss that.
Nobody asked me, but I believe Dr. Z recommended the wrong medicine for curing what ails the NFL. The single biggest reason for the declining popularity of the NFL is the 1978 rule modification that has made playing pass defense all but impossible. What the Competition Committee and the networks wanted was a tremendous infusion of 80-yard bombs to generate show time. What they did was make the spectacular commonplace. All they got was pseudo touch football, and games that drag on interminably, pass after pass after pass. What's needed is a return to many of the pre-'78 rules, particularly in the area of pass defense.
I agree with Paul Zimmerman's 11 remedies to cure the ills of the NFL, but I would add a No. 12: Have Dick Butkus head up the rules committee.
The only brand of football I watch now is the college game. It fits the description of Dr. Z's revised NFL game very closely. The players are more individualistic. They play with torn, untucked shirts and are allowed to express their enthusiasm. More of the college games are played on grass, and a gimmick play can come at any time. To put it simply, the college game is more fun.
Paul Zimmerman's article on the ills of the NFL was on target—especially when it called for the banning of artificial surfaces. They can be dangerous for the players, and it's just plain dull to watch a game played on the stuff. There are no divots flying through the air to add to the excitement of a great cutback move. Punts bounce for miles, beefing up the stats of mediocre punters. Players come off the field after an overtime looking clean as a whistle.
It's time for football to be taken off what I think of as parking-lot carpets—see my sketch (below)—and put back on grass. The players, the fans and the NFL all will benefit.
State College, Pa.
Dr. Z's remedies are fantastic! Changing the scoring on field goals and adopting the college option for the two-point conversion would enliven the game a lot. Ruling out mass substitutions should have been done long ago. No. 10, however, was probably the most important of the remedies. Hey, coaches, you've got 11 men out there, try something new.
Maple Grove, Minn.
Paul Zimmerman has a good idea on scaling the scoring for field goals, but he has it backward: A team should be awarded fewer points, not more, for the farther-out field goals. A football team should be rewarded for penetrating its opponent's territory, and this reward should be in direct (not inverse) proportion to that achievement, culminating in six points for crossing the goal line. There could be three points for field goals made from one to 20 yards (as measured from the line of scrimmage), two points for 21-to-40-yard kicks and a single point for anything from beyond 40 yards. Reward the team, not the kicking specialist.
Dr. Z's proposed field-goal rule is absurd. Consider this hypothetical example: The Denver Broncos are beating the Los Angeles Raiders 10-7 with 18 seconds to go, and the Raiders have the ball at the 50-yard line. Jim Plunkett finds Cliff Branch for a 30-yard gain to the Broncos' 20. Oops, they went too far downfield, so on the next play Marcus Allen runs nine yards in the wrong direction so that Chris Bahr can then kick a 46-yard field goal to tie the score 10-10.
Better come up with a better idea on scoring, Dr. Z.
Silver Spring, Md.
Eliminate the field goal entirely and see who can really play the game!
JAMES W. SPURLOCK
North Wales, Pa.
Dr. Z leaves out the one thing that most prolongs games—while also rewarding the unworthy. Why, oh why, give a quarterback who can't complete a pass a time-out to think up his next goof? Start the time clock when the 30-second play clock starts on incompleted passes and you'll be watching 60 Minutes 17 minutes earlier every Sunday.
I agree with Paul Zimmerman that the NFL is ailing, but he got carried away. The same results can be obtained with one rule change: Reduce the 30-second play clock to 25, which the colleges use, or even 20 seconds. The action will increase, and so will the number of viewers.
One question for Dr. Z: Why do teams change field position at the end of each quarter in domed stadiums? Is the light better at one end? Does air conditioning play a big factor in point production? I feel it's just another way to get in 10 more minutes of TV commercials, which already have put most games over the three-hour mark.
Dr. Z failed to cover one point, the growing unrest among the fans at the stadium. While TV viewers have the choice of watching the commercials or doing something else in their homes, the stadium fans are stuck with seemingly interminable commercial breaks not just once, but many times during a game. Pete Rozelle should remember this.
I'm amazed that writers of the intelligence and experience of Paul Zimmerman and William Taaffe spend eight pages writing about what's wrong with the NFL without putting heavy emphasis on the real reason for the league's problems.
Today's games take too long; it's as simple as that. In 1960, NFL games were two hours of intense, dramatic competition, the finest by far in all of sports. Now the average time for an NFL game is more than three hours. That's ridiculous!
Any industrial time-and-motion-study person fresh out of college could devise means—such as automatic breaks for commercials during time-outs for injuries and in certain penalty situations, and more expeditious use of the 30-second clock—to cut back NFL games to two hours and 30 minutes while retaining as many plays from scrimmage and as many minutes for commercials as there are in today's three hour-plus ordeals. The fans would get fast-paced, action-packed games again, and NFL owners and the TV networks would not lose a penny from current revenues. The best of both worlds!
But why have smart fellows like Pete Rozelle and his cohorts allowed America's best spectator sport to deteriorate? Lack of competition—monopoly, no competing league to force them to keep their product sharp and attractive—that's why. Yet Zimmerman and Taaffe seem to be rooting for an NFL that is devoid of competition from another league. For shame!
Sure, I'm the founder of the USFL, but today I have no connection whatever with my former associates. I'm just a football fan who is truly alarmed over the results of lack of management by the NFL, the USFL and the NCAA, all of whose games are much too long.
DAVID F. DIXON
Although I agree with most of Paul Zimmerman's suggestions, I believe he omitted two crucial changes: First, eliminate zone defenses and bring back the dekes-and-streaks; and. second, eliminate regular-season play between the two conferences. Football was never more exciting than when the AFL took on the NFL.
GARY D. CLARK
Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
As a pastor, I subscribe to a couple of dozen magazines and periodicals, all designed to keep me in touch with the realities of the world in which we live and our human condition. One of those magazines is SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. I am consistently impressed not only with the pictures and stats in SI, but also with the writing, which touches the heart and the mind.
I was particularly taken with the article on Larry Brown written by Gary Smith ("Where You Gonna Be Next Year, Larry?" Nov. 12). My congratulations to Smith on the insight of this article, not only for what it revealed about Brown, but also for what it reveals about all of us.
THE REV. JAMES E. LONG JR.
Beulah United Presbyterian Church
"Where you gonna be next year, Larry?" The answer is obvious. He's going to open a travel agency with Lou Saban. Minority partners will include Chuck Fairbanks and Billy Martin.
MICHAEL C. BRAND
LETTER ABOUT AN EDITOR
While most of the letters to 19TH HOLE concern articles written about sports personalities or events, I'd like to stray from that path. Instead, I'd like to say thanks for all the good things that former managing editor Gilbert Rogin contributed to the magazine during his tenure at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. He was right in stating, "People often begin reading it when they're very young and continue to do so into adulthood" (LETTER FROM THE PUBLISHER, NOV. 12). I started reading SI as a youngster, and because of the talents of men like Rogin, I'll continue to read it into my old age.
Good luck in your new endeavor, Mr. Rogin. You'll be missed.
WILLIAM S. HENRY
Letters should include the name, address and home telephone number of the writer and be addressed to The Editor, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Time & Life Building, Rockefeller Center, New York, N.Y. 10020.