Upon review, the NFL has more problems right now than Dan Marino has Isotoners. The games take longer than Monopoly, the rules don't make sense, parity has turned perverse and, on the schlockometer, the broadcasts fall somewhere between the Home Shopping Network and the Bud Bowl. Where are my 3-D glasses, anyway?
So go ahead, Don Shula and Tex Schramm and all you honchos of the league's Competition Committee, eat every plump shitake mushroom at this year's NFL Super Bowl mega-party in Miami, savor every morsel of caviar, slurp every butter-soaked bit of Florida stone crab claw. And enjoy the game. Then get yourselves and your cholesterol into a meeting and start fixing it.
First thing, you get a Bic lighter and torch this "in-the-grasp" rule. If this isn't the wimpiest, dorkiest rule, then that's Ted Koppel's real hair.
Talk about a slap in the face to the paying fans, not to mention to the sport. Here's Philadelphia quarterback Randall Cunningham, hopping like a corn kernel on a hot griddle, juking this way, spinning that. This guy could dance between raindrops. The crowd is going wild. Receivers are twisting themselves into pretzels trying to get free. Linebackers are closing in. Beers are about to be spilled, and...
January 16, 1989
...some 280-pound duffel bag, sprawled breathless across the carpet, unties one of Cunningham's shoelaces as he sails by and tweeet! End of play.
This is like stopping Wolfgang Puck right after the appetizer. Or I.M. Pei after the first floor. Or Michael Jordan in the middle of a tongue-out, rock-behind-his-neck, do-you-read-me-mission-control jam. Tweet! Sorry, you jumped much too high. You're going to get hurt. Clippers' ball.
Don't talk to me about injuries. Quarterback injuries have increased this season over last. Besides, quarterbacks stand a far greater chance of getting injured when they're releasing the ball, leaving themselves wide open, than when they're trying to slide out of somebody's mitts. Look, the game is played by 22 violent men, not 21 men and Mr. Peepers.
And while the pencils are sharp: Who says the ground can't cause a fumble? Why not? It just did, didn't it? If a guy gets the DNA knocked out of him and he hits the ground and the ball pops loose, then it was the hit that caused the fumble, right? A hellacious hit followed by a helmet rolling in one direction and the ball the other is the way the game is supposed to be, isn't it? What are you trying to turn this into, study hall?
Also, there's nothing less satisfying or more antiseptic than one of those he-broke-the-plane-of-the-goal-line touchdowns. Yecccch! Like kissing through a window screen. Great job, Bronko. You broke the hell out of that plane! If breaking the plane of the goal line is a TD, why isn't a receiver catching the ball in the air in the end zone but landing out of bounds a touchdown? He broke the plane, no? Look at the word again: It's touch-down.
As for parity, sure, 15 teams were in the running for the playoffs until the final week this season, but there's a general lack of excellence. It's O.K. to keep the draft the same, winners chasing after losers, but why double the penalty by making their schedules harder than the losers'? Schedule randomly and give dynasties a chance to develop. That's what memories are made of.
And give Cincinnati coach Sam Wyche a break. Here he came up with something different—the no-huddle-anytime offense—and people cheated (the Seahawks faking injuries) and complained (Buffalo coach Marv Levy) to get the league to stop him. Wyche was doing squat illegal. What he did made the game interesting, injecting a virus into all the IBM-mainframe defensive coordinators with their six substitutions on every play. Wouldn't it be great if Wyche could teach coaches to draft guys who can play more than one down in a row? Anybody remember 11-man football? I still want a 38-man roster and a limit on substitutions so the fans—especially the kids—can actually get to know something about some players, like their names. Hey, Dad, can we get Killer Davis's autograph? He's really cool on second-and-eight or longer or on obvious passing situations not otherwise covered by the dime.
And one last thing: I can handle the Miller Lite NFL Lineman of the Year and even the Turns Neutralizer of the Year, but until they teach the Clydesdales to squib, there's no such thing as a Budweiser kickoff. Whenever there's a sack in Denver, the radio color man says, "That big hammer is brought to you by the Big Tool Box, with 17 convenient locations."
Here's hoping that by this time next season, when we hear some Super Bowl winner say, "I'm going to Disney World," the game will be just a little less Mickey Mouse.