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Actually, the list of quarterbacks who recorded incidents of deliberate running in college, and are strong enough and fast enough and elusive enough to handle an option offense, has grown fairly long in the pros. It includes Baltimore's Bert Jones, New Orleans' Archie Manning, Seattle's Jim Zorn, Tampa Bay's Doug Williams, Miami's David Woodley, New England's Steve Grogan and Chicago's Vince Evans.
Even without options, Wilkinson points out, the pro quarterback who can run well and dares to exercise that ability is an asset (and an example) that may go far beyond what even the most devout pro watchers realize. For one thing, the better scramblers of recent NFL history, Fran Tarkenton and Roger Staubach, had an amazing longevity—18 and 11 years in the game (and Staubach spent four years in the Navy). More important, says Wilkinson, their maverick behavior gave a dimension to their teams' offenses that was directly related to the success of the offenses.
A good running quarterback actually makes busted plays "part" of an offense. "If you cut from the Dallas films the times Staubach [effectively] passed or ran off a scramble, Dallas doesn't win," says Wilkinson. Add one commercial consideration: Scrambling quarterbacks are fun to watch.
One factor not openly examined but obviously damaging to NFL running attacks is the negative effects on offensive linemen of the increasing reliance on the forward pass. Wilkinson found that linemen who come to the NFL, no matter how good they are, soon adopt a blocking stance "where they get used to taking the first step back [in order to pass-block]. By stepping back so much, they're not ready to explode off the ball the way you have to for an effective running game."
Bear Bryant brought the equation home to Wilkinson a few winters ago. Bryant's Alabama team had just come off another good season—with a lot of passing yardage—but it had also given up a lot of points. Bryant complained to Wilkinson that overindulging the passing game had led to a defensive weakness against the opponent's running game. How? By spending so much time pass-blocking in practice, his offensive linemen hadn't given his defensive linemen a proper indoctrination in the running game. "I'm going back to running," Bryant told Wilkinson. And, of course, he did, with well-documented results.
As for the argument that defensive players are just too big and too fast to run against, it's too dumb to get into. Offensive players are also bigger and faster than ever, and as Vince Lombardi pointed out years ago, a good 250-pound offensive lineman ought to be able to move a good 270-pound defensive lineman at least some of the time.
Of course, as the waste goes on, you would have a hard time proving it these days.
Pro football and college football are two different games. Each can generate tremendous excitement, each can put you to sleep at times, each has left its indelible memories of magic moments. But on a tactical level they operate differently. College teams get their big yardage by running the ball, the pros do it by passing. If you want to laugh at the pros because they can't run as effectively as the colleges do, then you must also chuckle at what some of the NCAA passers look like. But to equate the quality of a game with rushing yardage? Hey, get yourself a surveyor's tape and stop cluttering up our press box.
"I can prove anything by statistics except the truth," said British statesman George Canning 155 years ago. So, before we go any further, let's examine some of those showpiece college-rushing numbers John Underwood points to.