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The new rules have done one undisputably good thing, though. They've made the game safer. Backs can't chop pass rushers from the blind side anymore. ("Yeah, but the tight ends still do it," Humphrey says.) There's no more blocking below the waist on punt and kickoff returns. The quick-sack whistle means no more grabbing the quarterback and shaking him like a rag doll and no more teeing him up for someone else. Or at least not as much.
Bert Jones and Gary Danielson might not believe it, but the injury rate on quarterbacks is down. Last year there were 32 occasions when a team's No. 1 quarterback was hurt and couldn't start; this year the number is down to 24. At least one team orthopedist, Dr. James Nicholas of the Jets, thinks that everyone in the game is healthier. "The quarterbacks have fewer injuries because of the rules," he says. "Other players are protected because of the use of more sophisticated braces and equipment. In past years you couldn't get a man to wear something like the flak jacket Dan Pastorini wears. Everyone wanted to strip off as much equipment as he could to make himself lighter. Now he accepts it."
And then there are the lawyers. Last month the Supreme Court ruled that former Bronco Safety Dale Hackbart had every right to sue Fullback Boobie Clark, then with the Bengals, now an Oiler, for striking him "negligently and recklessly" while he was in the end zone in a 1973 game. The suit is for $500,000. Cheap-shotters beware. It could cost big money.
O.K., on to what's ahead. We are 11 weeks into the 16-week season, and what do we see out there? Well, no great sleeper team, unless you count Tampa Bay, which I don't. It's too soon to pick an All-Pro quarterback. Too many of them are getting too hot too often. There's no defensive end who can touch the Bucs' Lee Roy Selmon. Plays the run and plays the pass; that's what I like. The Browns' Jerry Sherk was playing the best defensive tackle in the league until he had his knee operated on last week. The Chargers' defensive tackle, Wilbur Young, leaves an unholy trail of bodies when he decides to come full tilt. There might be someone better, but I haven't seen a tight end as good as the Eagles' Keith Krepfle. When are they going to vote him into the Pro Bowl? Or the Jets' offensive guard, Randy Rasmussen? He's the No. 1 NFL player who has never been picked for anything. No linebacker has made as many big plays in crucial situations as the Giants' Harry Carson, and I haven't seen Dallas' left guard, Herbert Scott, play a bad game in the last two years.
With Swann playing semi-hurt, Stall-worth, Seattle's Steve Largent and San Diego's John Jefferson seem to be the class among receivers, but the toughest guy to cover one-on-one is the Broncos' Rick Upchurch. How do you choose two All-Pro runners from among the trio of Chicago's Walter Payton, Houston's Earl Campbell and St. Louis' Ottis Anderson? Bet the pickers chicken out and select all three.
Thorny question: Why doesn't any team use the pass-lateral? Throw to the tight end, who then pitches back to a trailer. I've seen it about three times in the last 20 years, each time for big yardage. Another one: On third-and-20, why run a draw play for five yards instead of quick-kicking? Lots of quarterbacks can punt. I saw Terry Bradshaw hanging them up for 4.7 and 4.8 seconds in practice one day.
Thorniest question: Why do teams still use that prevent defense? Give me the teams that rush four people and even blitz in the last two minutes. "The prevent defense is the slow sizzle," says former Giant Coach Allie Sherman. "It's death by torture—especially with these new passing rules."
But so many teams use it. Take Atlanta vs. Seattle on Monday night two weeks ago. The Seahawks were the ultimate gamblers, risking four whacked-out offensive maneuvers that paid off. Came the last two minutes and they went numb. Used the prevent, and the Falcons picked up 108 yards and seven points and almost won the game.
It happened to the Steelers in Super Bowls X and XIII. In X they gave the Cowboys 103 yards and seven points in the last 2:54. In XIII Staubach hit them for 137 yards and 14 points in the last 6:51. Why? Why do it?
"Damned if I know," Perles says. "I guess we wanted to start celebrating seven minutes early."