The main conspirators in this case were the members of the NFL's Competition Committee, Owners Paul Brown of Cincinnati and Al Davis of Oakland and General Managers Tex Schramm of Dallas and Jim Finks of Minnesota. They are supported strongly by the Rams' Tommy Prothro, who went to the limit. "Move the hash marks five yards," he said, "or always put the ball in the middle. This will give two wide sides to run to." Chicago Owner George Halas, who well remembers the pre-1933 days when in both college and pro football a play started right from where a man was tackled, even if it was one inch from the sideline—creating an unbalanced line that was really an unbalanced line—demurred, forcing a compromise at the same distance apart as the pro goalpost uprights, 18 feet, six inches. Done.
The most dramatic effect of the rule is likely to be a big, boring increase in field goals. Kansas City Coach Hank Stram says the goal, in effect, has been widened by six yards because the bad-angle kicks from inside the 15 or 20 have been eliminated. Jan Stenerud of the Chiefs points out that the change is particularly noticeable in short yardage—"the eight-to 15-yarders," he said. "The angle is not nearly as sharp."
"The field goal cheapens the game," grumbled Atlanta Coach Norm Van Brocklin, "and now this rule makes the field goal easier." Yet the kickers don't seem to be rejoicing, maybe because they still have to worry about onrushing linemen, gusts of fickle wind and their own psyches.
"I think a lot of the kickers will get messed up by it," said Miami's Garo Yepremian. "Because there is a change, the kickers will psychologically think there is something wrong. Most of the kickers are mixed up already. They'll find any excuse for missing goals."
"I've always felt I was a better kicker from the wide hash marks, the old ones, because I concentrate more," said LA's David Ray. "Now it's a straight-on kick and I personally feel that's the toughest."
Many in the league feel the rule is aimed specifically at reducing the effectiveness of the zone defenses played so expertly by Baltimore, Miami and other teams, defenses in which, among many variations, the backs covered areas or zones on the wide side and played man-to-man on the short side. The zones have been particularly good for taking away the long touchdown pass.
"They had to do something with the zone defenses becoming so popular," said Chicago Coach Abe Gibron. "Did you see in the Super Bowl where Bob Hayes had trouble getting out? He'd run and he'd run and there'd still be a guy in front of him. If the hash-mark change doesn't work in opening up the offenses, I'm sure they'll try something else."
Safety Jerry Logan of the Colts doesn't seem to be losing any sleep over the change. "It just won't affect us too much in our zone defense," he said. "The field is still the same size and I'll still have to cover it."
Assistant Coach Bill McPeak of Detroit, Runner Pete Banaszak of Oakland and Offensive Coach Ken Shipp of New Orleans are among the majority who feel the zone will be hurt—not driven out of the sport but made more difficult to operate. Why?
"Because the middle linebacker, who last season could use the hash mark as a friend, can't do it anymore," said Shipp. "Last year, with the ball on the hash mark, he could drop straight back, using the hash mark as a guide. Now he has to commit himself sooner and take a drop that is angular rather than straight back. It's upsetting."