REVITALIZING THE NFL
Paul Zimmerman hit the nail right on the head with Dr. Z's R To Revive The NFL (Nov. 12). It seems that the NFL game has become another victim of high-tech standardization in the '80s. The aura of pro football today is one of machinelike organizations performing on a synthetic field of conformity and non-emotion. What happened to Billy (White Shoes) Johnson's TD dance and Butch Johnson's California Quake? Where are the Otis Taylors and Paul Warfields, who could have had their uniforms ripped off and still would have made the catch? And what about Dick Butkus and Bob Lilly? Do you think anyone ever told them it was too cold to play outside? And get rid of the "in the grasp" rule that's supposed to protect the quarterback. Roger Staubach made some of his best passes from two inches off the ground.
Dr. Z is right. Football is a great game and part of the American way of life. Let the players get their hands dirty and get excited about playing in the NFL. We fans miss that.
Nobody asked me, but I believe Dr. Z recommended the wrong medicine for curing what ails the NFL. The single biggest reason for the declining popularity of the NFL is the 1978 rule modification that has made playing pass defense all but impossible. What the Competition Committee and the networks wanted was a tremendous infusion of 80-yard bombs to generate show time. What they did was make the spectacular commonplace. All they got was pseudo touch football, and games that drag on interminably, pass after pass after pass. What's needed is a return to many of the pre-'78 rules, particularly in the area of pass defense.
I agree with Paul Zimmerman's 11 remedies to cure the ills of the NFL, but I would add a No. 12: Have Dick Butkus head up the rules committee.
The only brand of football I watch now is the college game. It fits the description of Dr. Z's revised NFL game very closely. The players are more individualistic. They play with torn, untucked shirts and are allowed to express their enthusiasm. More of the college games are played on grass, and a gimmick play can come at any time. To put it simply, the college game is more fun.
Paul Zimmerman's article on the ills of the NFL was on target—especially when it called for the banning of artificial surfaces. They can be dangerous for the players, and it's just plain dull to watch a game played on the stuff. There are no divots flying through the air to add to the excitement of a great cutback move. Punts bounce for miles, beefing up the stats of mediocre punters. Players come off the field after an overtime looking clean as a whistle.
It's time for football to be taken off what I think of as parking-lot carpets—see my sketch (below)—and put back on grass. The players, the fans and the NFL all will benefit.
State College, Pa.
Dr. Z's remedies are fantastic! Changing the scoring on field goals and adopting the college option for the two-point conversion would enliven the game a lot. Ruling out mass substitutions should have been done long ago. No. 10, however, was probably the most important of the remedies. Hey, coaches, you've got 11 men out there, try something new.
Maple Grove, Minn.
Paul Zimmerman has a good idea on scaling the scoring for field goals, but he has it backward: A team should be awarded fewer points, not more, for the farther-out field goals. A football team should be rewarded for penetrating its opponent's territory, and this reward should be in direct (not inverse) proportion to that achievement, culminating in six points for crossing the goal line. There could be three points for field goals made from one to 20 yards (as measured from the line of scrimmage), two points for 21-to-40-yard kicks and a single point for anything from beyond 40 yards. Reward the team, not the kicking specialist.
Dr. Z's proposed field-goal rule is absurd. Consider this hypothetical example: The Denver Broncos are beating the Los Angeles Raiders 10-7 with 18 seconds to go, and the Raiders have the ball at the 50-yard line. Jim Plunkett finds Cliff Branch for a 30-yard gain to the Broncos' 20. Oops, they went too far downfield, so on the next play Marcus Allen runs nine yards in the wrong direction so that Chris Bahr can then kick a 46-yard field goal to tie the score 10-10.