"The middle linebacker won't be able to take a false step one way to confuse the quarterback and then drop the other way," said McPeak. "He won't have time."
Tim Rossovich, a middle linebacker recently traded from Philadelphia to San Diego, is not considering retirement. "From the films I've seen, the hash marks don't make any difference," he said. "The defenses are set up, nobody's concerned." But, said Banaszak, "It is going to cause the linebackers to guess more. They must cheat my way, and that opens up a throwing lane for the quarterback. In our first game on a draw play I suddenly found room to the outside and I knew there was room for me. I didn't have to worry about how close the sideline was. The hash marks made that play for me. It was a good gain.
"The new markers force the zone defenses to cover more area on sweeps and enable a runner to get around the corner. There's no longer a short side, and don't tell me a defense doesn't have to worry about that!"
How about up the middle? Garland Boyette, a nine-year veteran linebacker for Houston, said he had already noticed a trend in the Oiler exhibition losses to Dallas and Chicago.
"Everybody seems to be running to the middle more, especially the halfbacks on cutbacks," he said. "I guess I've seen more cutbacks than at any time in my career. It might be because the linebackers are having to concern themselves more with the outside."
Now, there are at least two situations in which the changed markings could hurt the offensive team. (Pay close attention, students; this may show up on the final exam.) Joe Sullivan, Washington assistant, pointed out the first: "Say you're deep in your own territory, about the one-or two-yard line. If you try to run a sweep, your pulling linemen could very easily run smack into the goalpost. And the quarterback rolling out could easily run into it, too." In other words, Gus Goalpost would replace Old Man Sideline as the 12th defender.
Move the offense down the field to within a few yards of a touchdown and another problem arises. Some defensive players, backed against their own goal, are happy to stack up the middle or chase a runner a short distance to either side rather than risk chasing down somebody like Buffalo's O.J. Simpson or Denver's Floyd Little sprinting around the old wide side. If this theory holds up, touchdowns might grow scarcer and those field goals Van Brocklin admires so much might increase even more. But there are others who reason that teams no longer will have to play for good field position on third down to help their field-goal kicker, giving them one extra chance at a touchdown. School is still out on this argument.
Lest anybody forget, the field is not yet perfectly balanced, the hash marks are not smack in the center. Green Bay Defensive Backfield Coach Don Doll wants to cling to that optimistic note. "Of course, there still is a short side," he said. "This is a game of inches and there's still 18� feet more field on one side than on the other. That's got to make some difference."
Then he joined the consensus. "But on the whole they've opened up that short side to a lot more offense. Not just passes, either. It's helped the offense, no question about that."
Well, that's it for Hash Marks 101, class, but before you move on to Professors Cosell, Gifford and Meredith, take heed of one more bit of football expertise, one more juicy subtlety, one more clever wrinkle. We return you to Middle Linebacker Rossovich: "If they run, I'll hit 'em. If they pass, I'll find 'em." Fine, the NFL is saying, but just miss once in a while? We want a touchdown!