Eleven Is a Big Fat Crowd

Sept. 09, 1987
Sept. 09, 1987

Table of Contents
Sept. 9, 1987

First Person
NFL '87
Raiders And Cowboys
Centers And Noseguards
Less-Man Football
NFC East
NFC Central
NFC West
AFC East
AFC Central
AFC West
Point After

Eleven Is a Big Fat Crowd

Sorry, Dr. Z, but there are too many players—no-necks in particular

Will the defendant rise and state his or her name?

This is an article from the Sept. 9, 1987 issue Original Layout

Eleven, your honor.

Oh no, not you again. The usual charge, officer?

Yes, your honor. We've got Eleven on vagrancy again.

Don't you ever do anything?

Well, your honor, look at it this way: If it weren't for me, Ten and a Dozen would bump into each other all the time.

Watch it, Eleven. Any more wisecracks like that, and I'll hold you in contempt of court. Are you good for anything?

Well, your honor, there's the 11th hour and 7-come-11.

Don't gimme that, Eleven. The only reason there's an 11th hour is that the 12th hour is what counts, and 7 is really lucky. You're just a back-up lucky number. Big deal.

Well, your honor, the Armistice went into effect at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month.

Yeah, and that was 1918, pal. High-button shoes. What have you done lately? Face it, you're a loser, Eleven. Or—heh, heh—are you going to tell me about 11-pin bowling, the 11 days of Christmas, the original 11 states? Shakespeare didn't write Eleventh Night, buster. Mrs. Thatcher isn't answering the mail at 11 Downing Street, is she? Does a cat have 11 lives? And don't gimme any stuff about the 11 tribes of Israel or a stitch in time saving 11. Even Jesus took in Judas before he'd get stuck with 11 apostles. You are the most shiftless, useless number around, you know that?

Do you think that's the whole 11 yards, your honor?

Get this creep outta here. Eleven days in the county jail, and I better not see you back in here again or your number's up. You hear me, Eleven?

Now, now, your honor, don't worry. You see, it's almost fall, and I can always get a little seasonal work.

Yeah, how's that?

You know, it's the football season, when the 11's play.

Well, I guess that's so. So get on your 11-league boots and take a hike outta my courtroom. Next case, bailiff.

Your honor, the state of common sense hereby brings a civil suit against football, charging that the use of 11 men on a side is a waste of human resources and causes second-degree tedium.


Walter Camp, who inflicted upon us All-America teams and many other football institutions, was primarily responsible for football having 11 men to a side. Lord knows, the number wasn't carved in stone; it wasn't in the 11 Commandments. The first football game, between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869, featured 25 men to a side. Fortunately, that number has been reduced, otherwise ABC would need seven guys in the booth for a Monday night game. But why stop at 11?

Isn't it time to eliminate the feather-bedding, pare the rosters and catch up with the times? Both college and pro football officials claim that the game is too expensive, and it is evident that the players have gotten too big and fast to operate in the same Campian field of 100 yards by 53.3 yards. Without one or two tackles or guards, who don't have necks, or that extra halfback, who does nothing but serve as a "safety release" when everybody with good hands is covered, football would instantly be more economical, more entertaining and in all likelihood a lot safer. Less is more. Less suet, more sweat.

None of this is particularly new. Although for some reason nobody ever seems to have played 7-man football, the 6-, 8- and 9-man varieties have abounded since a man named Stephen Epler concocted the 6-player version in Chester, Neb., in 1934. Six-man football, which is played without guards and tackles and minus one back, enjoyed its heyday some time ago, but it still thrives in New Mexico. Most of the reduced action is in 9-man football (sans tackles), which is featured in the Dakotas and Minnesota, and in the 8-man version (both tackles and one back are bagged), which is played almost everywhere in an arc from Oklahoma to the state of Washington.

The principles of less-man football are the same as those for 11-man, but the fewer the players, the more speed counts, the more passes are thrown and the more points are scored. But blocking is blocking, tackling still tackling. Such NFL heroes as Randy Rasmussen, Dean Steinkuhler, who won the Outland Trophy as best collegiate lineman in 1983, Les Josephson and Jack Pardee, now the coach at the University of Houston, played forms of less-man in high school.

Says Harry Elder, one of the top coaches in Kansas high school 8-man. "In 8-man, there's not so much congestion, so you have no place to hide the lard butt." Pardee, who played 6-man at a tiny high school near San Angelo, Texas, says, "Everybody has to be an athlete and be able to handle the ball. You can't have a bunch of guys with their hands wrapped up in bandages."

Naturally, the game's hidebound purists and those unregenerate members of NAFTROAL, the National Association For The Retention Of All Linemen, vehemently oppose any reduction in the football force. The dreaded assistant coaches' lobby is also on record against cutbacks, and, of course, that is not a power to be sneezed at. The latest figures indicate that there are now more assistant football coaches in America than illegal aliens.

Traditionalists simply cannot conceive of a football game without tackles, for the fairly obvious reason that without them there could be no off-tackle plays, which, of course, are the staple of bull-elephant football. But would that be a substantive loss? Says Mike Stokes of the Ransom-Everglades School in Miami, who used to coach the 6-man game: "It wasn't real football if you like line play. Of course, I don't know of anybody who likes line play."

Dick Schindler, assistant director of the National Federation of State High School Associations and a man who has seen many less-man games, says, "It's not so much different than regular football. In fact, I daresay a fan could watch a 9-man game for some time before he realized 22 players weren't on the field."

The difference between the conventional game and the balanced-budget version has been most vividly displayed when 8-man and 11-man teams have played each other. Les Nash, the coach of 11-man football at Payette (Idaho) High School, once coached an 8-man team in Nevada that took on 11-man schools. (The team on offense had the choice of playing 8-on-8 or 11-on-11.) "The 11-man teams had a lot more trouble adjusting to 8-man defense than the 8-man teams did adjusting to the 11-man defense," says Nash. "The 8-man guys felt as if they'd died and gone to heaven when they had the three extra men, but when the 11-man team had to put eight on the field, they'd be turning around and yelling at each other, 'Who has this guy?' "

It's all very elementary. The more no-neck linemen you eliminate, the smaller the ratio of defenders to eligible receivers. Statistically, it works this way: In 11-man football, 11 defenders cover six potential ball-touchers, which means there are 1.83 defenders for every ball-toucher. In 8-man it's 8 to 5, or 1.6 to 1. In 9-man it's 9 to 6, or 1.5 to 1, and in 6-man it's 6 to 5, or 1.2 to 1.

Less-man also has a lot more tricky stuff than 11-man, such as the quarterback pitching to the halfback and then going out for a pass. Further, on running plays, once a back turns the corner he's frequently gone. This slam-bang action has proved to be popular with fans. Eight- and 9-man high school games have been played in such venues as the Kingdome in Seattle and the Metrodome in Minneapolis, and Arena Football, which is played indoors on a pocket-sized field (50 yards by 28.3 yards) with eight players, was well received this summer.

Considerable disagreement still exists over how safe less-man is. Many traditionalists claim that it could produce more injuries than 11-man because less-man features more open-field tackles at top speed. But most coaches who have been involved in less-man insist that it has fewer injuries than conventional football. In particular, less-man has fewer knee injuries, which are the bane of the NFL.

Buddy Gibson, a high school principal in Oakesdale, Wash., and a longtime board member of the state's Interscholastic Activities Association, says, "There's not near the pounding in 8-man that you have in 11-man. I can't remember a serious injury in 8-man in this county in my 27 years here. And we don't seem to have nearly the number of knee operations or any of those types of injuries."

Mark Martin, coach of Midway-Denton, the perennial Kansas 8-man champion, says, "You don't have the big pile-ups, and your running back doesn't get smacked so much when he cuts back."

The injury question aside, numerous colleges around the country should change to 8- or 9-man immediately. Less-man would be perfect for the Ivies, because rarely do fellows without necks attend Ivy League institutions. The Southern Conference, the Big Sky Conference and that one with Central Michigan and Toledo in it are other leagues that should go 8-man. BYU and Stanford could make the transition even more easily, because they have been running 8-man plays for years without knowing it. Then, after the 8- or 9-man national championship game between Yale and Weber State draws a 38.2 rating, the NFL and the College Football Association will be falling over themselves to go less-man.

This widespread reduction of 11-man football to a smaller number base would instantly create the following bounties:

•NFL teams would save millions of dollars in salaries by not having to keep hordes of no-neck players around—as well as the many assistant coaches in charge of the no-necks.

•Colleges could reduce their expensive scholarship quotas, thus saving great sums of money and pleasing academicians.

•The sleazebags who sell steroids to no-necks would see their market cut in half overnight.

•A few NFL quarterbacks would actually retire with two knees apiece.

•Nobody would have to ask around so he could write down the names of unknown offensive guards and tackles, who, by law, are required to play in the Pro Bowl game.

•All those no-luck no-necks who were squeezed out of football could take up Greco-Roman wrestling—which is a lot like line play and every bit as dull—so we could finally beat the Soviet superheavyweights in the Olympics.

•The handful of linemen who are left in football would no longer feel like mindless drones and oafish mules beside the glamorous passers and catchers and runners. Instead, there would be so few linemen that they could start calling themselves "specialists" and "educated biceps" the way the little fellows with educated toes do.

•With the NFL down to playing only eight men on a side, Arenaball could then cut its payroll even further and play three on a side.

•With fewer players to buy, it would be much easier for Southern Methodist to make a comeback when it finally gets off probation.

ILLUSTRATIONKEITH BENDISIn less-man football the bandage-handed and the lard butts have no place to hide.ILLUSTRATIONKEITH BENDISLinemen who lose their jobs could find new careers as Greco-Roman wrestlers.ILLUSTRATIONKEITH BENDIS