Oakland's George Blanda, whose rookie season coincided with the discovery of fire, says, "I never went through any of that stuff, and we've never done much of it here. The game has gotten more serious, and you don't hassle a rookie who can help you. There's more money at the end of the rainbow than when Layne was playing."
Toward that rainbow's end, the unknown rookie who can step right in and work wonders is a dream shared by players, fans and coaches. But it usually only happens when the right athlete is in the right place at the right time.
"I'll bet that when you look at the unknowns who make it," says Madden, "they were all hidden somehow. They were either injured or were playing another position or had personal problems that kept them from doing what they were capable of. That's where the ability of a scout counts. More than saying O. J. Simpson is a good runner, he has to be able to look at a guy and see him playing another position for you."
Sometimes a man can be hidden in publicity. One of Baltimore's last picks was Tim Berra, Yogi's son, a wide receiver drafted No. 421. Possibly taken for the immediate public-relations value of his name, young Berra worked hard, showed talent and made the squad. For the most part, the rookies in this year's bumper crop are putting time in on the bench, waiting and learning, between sessions of special-team duty. "The toughest thing is sitting around wanting to play," Swann says, "and having to learn from the bench."
That attitude is traditional, but in the opinion of many coaches the old values of discipline and loyalty are disappearing. Today's rookies are more aware, more given to questioning established procedures and are eager to take over, whereas most coaches agree that they have to be brought along slowly. Madden, for one, guards against premature praise.
"You can't pick on a player," he says, "but you have to keep the pressure on to see how he'll react. Too much praise too soon, and he'll settle into mediocrity. You've seen guys who played like hell until the final cut because they were trying to make the team, then not do anything afterward. Once they make the team, it's not the end. You have to help them establish other goals."
Mark van Eeghen, a running back from Colgate, was the victim of Madden's style in a preseason game at Detroit. Oakland had the ball on its 37 with one second left in the first half. Van Eeghen took a hand-off, burst through a hole and galloped 63 yards for a touchdown. As the Raiders headed for their locker room, Madden said, "Way to run out the clock, van Eeghen."
Even so, van Eeghen prefers such limited praise to the caustic comments he heard after a mistake he made against Pittsburgh. "I exploded out of my stance two counts too soon," he said. "I really hate to do things like that. It makes you look like a rookie."