It's time the NFL instituted new rules to shorten games. "People are going to start losing interest," says Steelers president Dan Rooney. "Fifteen years ago the games averaged about two and a half hours. Now they are 33 percent longer. What happened?"

Says 49ers coach Bill Walsh, newly appointed to the NFL's competition committee, "More passing means more incomplete passes and more incomplete passes mean longer games. It's a vicious cycle."

The average NFL game has been three hours and 12 minutes long this season, compared with 3:09 a year ago. Monday night games are, on average, slightly longer, at 3:20. Fourteen league games have run longer than 3½ hours. The Broncos-Chiefs game Nov. 16 went 3:49. Says Denver's All-Pro defender Karl Mecklenburg, "I got hungry in the third quarter. My stomach was growling." The 49ers-Redskins game on Nov. 17 lasted 3:48. The Raiders-Chargers OT game on Nov. 20 went 3:56.

In contrast, an average college game goes 2:56, according to Dave Nelson, secretary of the NCAA rules committee. NCAA rules allow only 25 seconds between plays versus 30 seconds in the NFL. But Nelson doesn't think that makes much difference. Nelson blames TV. "Big Ten games run about 3:15," he says, "solely because they're on television and require the TV timeouts."

The USFL had several rules that shortened its games: Once the ball was spotted, the game clock ran after a change of possession; and the 30-second clock ran after penalties and when the ball went out of bounds. Those rules cut the average USFL game from 3:11 to 2:57.

Says Walsh, "Perhaps we should keep the clock moving on incomplete passes. That would be a dramatic change for receivers. It has been a respite for them, a means to gather themselves before the next play. But it might make a difference in the overall length of games."

At this time last season the advertising world couldn't get enough of Bears defensive tackle William (the Refrigerator) Perry. Luckily there was plenty of the Fridge to go around. For a seven-month stretch from late October until late May 1986, Jim Steiner, his St. Louis-based agent, received as many as 75 calls a day from companies that wanted to employ the big guy as their spokesman: Kraft, Georgia Pacific, McDonald's, Levi's, Pontiac, Hasbro Toys....

Now, $3 million worth of endorsements later, Perry's popularity has thawed dramatically. Steiner says that calls for the Fridge's services have slowed to as few as 10 per week.

"If William wants to do more speaking engagements, he may have to lower his fee," Steiner says. He now charges $10,000 to $15,000. "I get the feeling there is Bear Burnout. The Bears are as exposed as they can be."

In a recent poll by Marketing Evaluations Inc., which rates the familiarity and popularity of sports personalities, Perry ranked 10th. At the top of the list was Walter Payton, followed by Larry Bird and ice dancers Torvill and Dean.

Says Damian Bisch, whose New York advertising firm specializes in sports products, "Ask Andy Warhol. Maybe the Fridge only has five more minutes of fame. Or perhaps it's over.

"There are two reasons. First, the party atmosphere of the Bears has soured. They were unhappy last year, but they appeared happy. This year, they don't appear happy. They're unhappy," says Bisch.

"In addition, the novelty of the Fridge was his versatility. He showed the world that the idea of a 'skill position' was all baloney. Skill was acquired, and even a 308-pound man could run with or throw the football. He hasn't done enough of that this year."

The Raiders seem to have waged a disinformation campaign involving a knee injury to All-Pro defensive end Howie Long. And Long is unhappy about it.

First, Raider officials said Long was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Nov. 16 for simple draining of fluid from above his left knee. That procedure does not normally require the use of an operating room or anesthesia. But when contacted in his hospital room the next day, Long said he had a blood clot in the knee.

"It was surgery—they knocked me out," Long says. "Then [the Raiders] said it was my thigh. The bruise was in my knee. The clot was in my knee. The scar is on my knee. And my knee is where it hurts."

Dr. Robert Rosenfeld, the Raiders' chief orthopedist, admitted that Long had been operated on for a clot above the knee, which he described as "massive." Pressed for a more specific description, he said it was "teaspoon-sized." Said Long, "Yeah. He said it was a teaspoon. About 10 of 'em. The clot was the size of my fist."

So why the secrecy, when the NFL requires full disclosure of all injuries? "I wish I knew," says Long, who believes that if he hadn't gone public about his surgery, the Raiders would have continued to downplay it. Long, who sat out the Nov. 20 game against San Diego, may be back this week against Philadelphia.

"It's a medical matter and not something we feel is relative to the press," says Al LoCasale, the team's executive assistant.

Says coach Tom Flores, "You have to understand the way we are."

Kickers and punters come up with the craziest excuses when they shank the ball. They blame everything—the wind, the rain, the sun, the field—but themselves.

What could a kicker possibly blame when he messes up inside a domed stadium? You would be surprised.

Rohn Stark, the Colts' punter, remembers playing against the Vikings in the Metrodome when the lines on the field were marked with chalk instead of paint: "Pat Beach [the snapper] picked up the ball right off one of the lines. It was full of chalk. The snap came back to me head-high. When I caught it the chalk nailed me in the face. I could barely see the ball on my drop. I fought it off just enough to keep one eye on the ball and managed to get the kick off."

Lee Johnson, the Oilers' punter, lists these Astrodome hazards: "First of all there are cracks in the [AstroTurf] seams that form small hills where second base and the pitcher's mound are [for baseball]. Then there's a giant ridge that runs all the way across the field. Shoot, it must be at least an inch or an inch and a half high. You can stub your toe on that. Then there are the pigeons in the roof."

Rich Karlis, the Broncos' kicker, says, "The air conditioners have gotten me."

And as long as we're talking about domes and punting, here's one interesting story that the Chargers' kicker, Rolf Benirschke, tells about a time he was approached by then coach Don Coryell in the Seattle Kingdome. According to Benirschke, Coryell said, "Well, Rolf, do you want to kick with the wind or against it?"

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PHOTOJOHN BIEVERFridge hasn't stocked up on TDs this year. FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

OFFENSE: Bernie Kosar completed 28 of 46 pass attempts for a career-high 414 yards and two touchdowns, as Cleveland beat Pittsburgh 37-31 in overtime to remain in a tie for the AFC Central lead.

DEFENSE: Rams safety Nolan Cromwell picked off two passes by Dave Wilson for 21 yards and also had three tackles and two assists to help Los Angeles to a 26-13 win over the New Orleans Saints.

QUICK COUNT

"I went to sleep counting flags instead of sheep," said Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the San Francisco 49ers owner, about the penalty-filled game against Washington on Nov. 17. A total of 30 penalties were called—23 against the 49ers (15 of which were accepted). "I was mad enough to see red, but all 1 could see was yellow," said DeBartolo. The 49ers aren't even among the league leaders in penalties.

Here are the most and least penalized teams, through Sunday's games:

TEAM

PENALTIES

YARDS

MOST PENALIZED

Jets

97

718

Bills

96

697

Raiders

92

770

Oilers

91

761

Saints

91

711

Cowboys

88

761

Bengals

88

675

Packers

88

674

Chargers

87

706

LEAST PENALIZED

Dolphins

52

456

Bucs

64

520

Rams

70

499

Lions

70

523

Vikings

71

565

49ers

74

529

Seahawks

74

630

Bears

75

589

Colts

75

713

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)