- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
In a move designed to promote the welfare of short punters, small receivers, elderly quarterbacks, lame linebackers and bored fans, the usually conservative owners of the National Football League last week adopted nine new playing rules aimed at reanimating their game. It was the most sweeping series of changes since 1933, when George Preston Marshall pushed through regulations establishing conference playoffs for the title and allowing quarterbacks to launch passes from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage.
"If the owners had met one more day," complained Redskin Coach George Allen when he heard of the new rules, "I would have expected the return of the flying wedge. The owners wanted more of a show. I don't agree, and I talked with Don Shula on the phone today and he doesn't agree either." Shula said, "I disapprove of the entire package."
One NFL official replied, "It's about time the coaches realized they are the directors, not the producers, of this show."
The altered rules are: 1) goalposts are moved from the goal line to the end line; 2) the kickoff is from the 35-yard line; 3) after a missed field goal, the ball returns to the line of scrimmage or the 20-yard line, whichever is farther from the goal line; 4) on punts and field-goal attempts, the offensive team may not move downfield until the ball is kicked; 5) wide receivers may not be blocked below the waist; 6) receivers may be bumped only once after they have gone three yards beyond the line of scrimmage; 7) wide receivers cracking back toward the ball within three yards of the line of scrimmage are not allowed to block below the waist; 8) the penalty for offensive holding, illegal use of hands or tripping, which usually occur near the line of scrimmage, is reduced from 15 to 10 yards; 9) a 15-minute sudden-death overtime is played if a game ends in a tie.
The NFL competition committee, composed of Tex Schramm of Dallas, Paul Brown of Cincinnati, Jim Finks of Minnesota and Al Davis of Oakland, had suggested one or another of the changes separately at earlier league meetings, but without success. "We were given a mandate by the owners this February in Miami," Brown says, "so we presented the changes as a package, to be accepted or rejected that way. No one agrees with all the changes, but if we had tried to get them through piecemeal I doubt that we would have gotten any changes."
The vote to accept was a resounding 24-2, reflecting the growing concern of the owners about criticism of pro football as an increasingly dull game. According to Schramm, "If it had been necessary, we could have had unanimous acceptance. We had to do something."
Not everyone feels that way. The caustic Norman Van Brocklin, coach of the Atlanta Falcons, says, "What it all means is that we'll go out there and play the old boring punting game for 60 minutes and then wake up the fans and go home. You can tell the owners made these rules changes, not the coaches."
Brown, who is general manager and coach, disagrees. "The committee wanted to put the emphasis on scoring touchdowns instead of winning by kicking five field goals," he says. "These changes are all interrelated and they came about after years of close study."
The big change, according to Brown, is the relocation of the goalposts. "That opens up the offense," he says. "The whole end zone is open for pass patterns now; the goalposts were, in effect, another safety man when you got inside the 20. You couldn't run or pass around them. And it was hard to punt or pass coming out of the end zone."
Once the goalposts were moved, it was possible to change the kickoff from the 40- to the 35-yard line. "If we had left the goalposts on the goal line," Schramm says, "we could not have changed the kickoff. We would have had long returns, which we want, but they would have set up more field goals, which we don't want."