Now, in the nickel defense, three players are in a three-point stance on the line of scrimmage, with another player on the front line, usually upright. He would be the fourth man on the scrimmage line, but from his erect stance he can either react by coming in against a run or by dropping back into a short zone against a pass. A rule that would require the defense at all times to have four men on the line of scrimmage in a three-point stance would effectively take him out of the pass coverage and allow beleaguered quarterbacks a reasonable chance to pass for a first down on third and long.
A less important but probably effective rule would be to freeze the defensive line for the first three plays in any series of downs. In other words, if Jones, Smith, Anderson and Watkins took the field against the Jets when their team got the ball, the same foursome would have to stay in, barring injury, until the Jets had to punt, when the special team would take over. This would negate the practice of substituting tackles and ends who are pass-rushing specialists for tackles and ends who excel against the run. Although this would place a premium on all-round defensive linemen, there is nothing wrong with that. It might be even better to freeze the entire defensive team—but let's not overwhelm all the defense in one season.
It may seem strange to be inveighing against pro football when it is at the peak of its popularity, but cracks are beginning to appear in the prosperous facade. When Super Bowl VII was sold out 11 days in advance, it was put on home TV and 8,476 ticket holders chose to stay away and watch on their TV sets—and the game was played in perfect weather in the Los Angeles Coliseum. Now Congress, in its predictable obeisance to the popular ballot, has about decided that all pro football games will be seen on home TV if they are sold out 72 hours before game time. This is—or could be—the death knell of pro football, among other professional sports, and for many reasons. In cold-weather cities only an idiot would invest in a season ticket if he knew that by waiting until three days before game time he could make a much more intelligent choice between freezing in the stands or watching at home with a hot toddy. In warm-weather cities, the option might be between tolerating a free game in an air-conditioned den or paying to see a dull contest at the end of an irritating drive to a hot, crowded stadium.
Oakland probably has the right philosophy. The Raiders drafted a punter first—Ray Guy—but not for defense. They still believe in attack. "If you have a punter who averages 36 yards," says Madden, "you are like a poker player working with grocery money. You play scared because you can't afford to take a chance. Guy is an ace in the hole. He averages 46 yards a punt. We get the ball on our own 20, we can take three gambles and he'll still put the other team back to its 30, 35. A bad punter, it's the 40, 45. Guy gives us another play to gamble on."
Which is just what the NFL needs.