Things fall apart if the center cannot hold.
"Hands are all in your head," said Wide Receiver Glenn Scolnik of the concept "good hands." "A great receiver is totally relaxed from the waist up. The receiver's face is not all tight. He relaxes so his jowls hang, he eases, and he takes it real soft."
Some of the receivers worked putty in their hands to keep them strong, or squeezed rubber balls, or just spent a lot of time carrying a football around and tossing it from hand to hand. "In the off-season I spend 10 minutes a day with each hand dropping the ball and catching it," said Wide Receiver Ron Shanklin, a great man for getting at the ball as well as for hauling it in.
That is not easy, holding a ball out in front of you in one hand, releasing it and then catching it in the same hand. Wide Receiver Barry Pearson, the player you would think of first if you thought "sure-handed," said his hands weren't big enough to do that. He relied on concentration. "I watch the ball all the way-in. You can't let the point hit either of your hands; it should come between them."
"Lots of guys have good hands and nobody knows it," said Receiver Coach Lionel Taylor, "because they don't have the concentration." He put the Steeler receivers through a number of drills to make them concentrate on the ball.
He would throw them knuckleballs, floaters, end-over-ends. "I learned a lot of hard-catch drills when I was playing. You'd go out for a pass and they'd wave a towel at you, even throw weeds at you. Big handful of brush! You'd say, "What was that!' But then in a game you're used to distractions and you don't flinch.
"Another thing about receivers is when they get hit by somebody when they're coming over the middle. They come through the middle next time, they're short-arming it. They don't want to catch it. I always thought about two things when the ball was coming: catching the football and getting hit. Always expect to get hit when I caught the football. Expect somebody to tear my head off. Then I wasn't surprised."
You never get far from contact in discussing any aspect of football. But the contact of ball on good hands is a special kind. The ball is hard and the receiver's hands are also hard. But a pass goes snk at the end, or even sk or, more softly, ft, or p or pth—instead of splack—when the right touch gets ahold of it. "You don't fight the football," someone said. Iron hands in velvet gloves.
"See those hands," said Kansas City scout Lloyd Wells as we watched a college receiver go out for a practice pass. "Those are board hands. You be scouting long enough you can tell. The sound of 'em. Ball bounced off before he caught it. Plus the fact that the ball made him waver, it made him stride, it made him start to go raggledy-dedaggledy."
Wells said Jimmy Hines, the track star drafted by the Chiefs, "could fly on a pattern. Thought he was going to be another Bob Hayes. Run fast, fast, fast. But he could not catch the ball. Not with a basket could he catch the ball. Hank Stram did everything he could to make him a wide receiver. Used to take him out and throw him 200 and 300 passes. Made him walk around with the ball. He could not catch it."