Soccer players are apt to be as testy about newspaper comments on their performances as Ted Williams or Bill Hartack. A sportswriter who puts into print even a mild criticism of a soccer star may thereafter be regarded as a deadly enemy by the star and his fans. So there was some surprise when an association of sports editors in Paraguay presented a citation to one of their country's stars, reading: 1) he never challenged the accuracy of a reported quote, 2) he never complained about criticism of play and 3) he greeted even his hardest critics with a smile. Accepting the award with another smile, he let slip the reason for his charming tolerance of the press. "I can't read," he said.
NO KICK COMING
When the NCAA approved college football's new punt-return rule last April—only four men on the kicking team can rush downfield before the punt—coaches from Orono, Me. to San Diego moaned they would end up with more walking wounded than the Marines. The kicking team's ends and backs would be annihilated by open-field and blind-side blocks, they said. But now three weeks and 2,000 punts have passed, and there has hardly been an ankle sprain. What has become apparent—and what the coaches perhaps feared all along—is that the new rule is forcing coaches to devote a great deal of time to what was previously a fairly simple aspect of the game.
"Now," says Marv Levy of William and Mary, "you have to do a lot more coaching on a part of the game that most of us used to ignore. It's a fine chance for any coach to outcoach the other guy."
"We honestly spent more time with the punt return last spring than any other offensive play," admits Bob Gibson of Bowling Green. "We figure it can be a great weapon. It can be an equalizer."
Nobody felt the sting of the new rule quicker than highly ranked Alabama and Miami a week ago. In 23 years of coaching, Bear Bryant had only one punt returned against him for a touchdown—until Florida State's Walt Sumner ran one back 75 yards to help the Seminoles tie Alabama 37-37. And Miami's Hank Collins, trying to aim a punt out of bounds from his nine-yard line, fumbled on fourth down to set up North-western's winning touchdown in a 12-7 upset.
Regardless of what coaches say about it, the new punt rule has opened up college football. Punts are being run back an average of 73 yards per game, the most in 19 years and 57% more than last year. Just ask Arkansas' Frank Broyles, who hates the rule. "I hold my breath every time we kick," he says.
So does the crowd, and nobody can say that hurts football.