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IT'S TIME FOR A TUNE-UP
Rick Reilly
January 16, 1989
The NFL needs to pull in for some postseason repairs
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January 16, 1989

It's Time For A Tune-up

The NFL needs to pull in for some postseason repairs

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Upon review, the NFL has more problems right now than Dan Marino has Isotoners. The games take longer than Monopoly, the rules don't make sense, parity has turned perverse and, on the schlockometer, the broadcasts fall somewhere between the Home Shopping Network and the Bud Bowl. Where are my 3-D glasses, anyway?

So go ahead, Don Shula and Tex Schramm and all you honchos of the league's Competition Committee, eat every plump shitake mushroom at this year's NFL Super Bowl mega-party in Miami, savor every morsel of caviar, slurp every butter-soaked bit of Florida stone crab claw. And enjoy the game. Then get yourselves and your cholesterol into a meeting and start fixing it.

First thing, you get a Bic lighter and torch this "in-the-grasp" rule. If this isn't the wimpiest, dorkiest rule, then that's Ted Koppel's real hair.

Talk about a slap in the face to the paying fans, not to mention to the sport. Here's Philadelphia quarterback Randall Cunningham, hopping like a corn kernel on a hot griddle, juking this way, spinning that. This guy could dance between raindrops. The crowd is going wild. Receivers are twisting themselves into pretzels trying to get free. Linebackers are closing in. Beers are about to be spilled, and...

...some 280-pound duffel bag, sprawled breathless across the carpet, unties one of Cunningham's shoelaces as he sails by and tweeet! End of play.

This is like stopping Wolfgang Puck right after the appetizer. Or I.M. Pei after the first floor. Or Michael Jordan in the middle of a tongue-out, rock-behind-his-neck, do-you-read-me-mission-control jam. Tweet! Sorry, you jumped much too high. You're going to get hurt. Clippers' ball.

Don't talk to me about injuries. Quarterback injuries have increased this season over last. Besides, quarterbacks stand a far greater chance of getting injured when they're releasing the ball, leaving themselves wide open, than when they're trying to slide out of somebody's mitts. Look, the game is played by 22 violent men, not 21 men and Mr. Peepers.

And while the pencils are sharp: Who says the ground can't cause a fumble? Why not? It just did, didn't it? If a guy gets the DNA knocked out of him and he hits the ground and the ball pops loose, then it was the hit that caused the fumble, right? A hellacious hit followed by a helmet rolling in one direction and the ball the other is the way the game is supposed to be, isn't it? What are you trying to turn this into, study hall?

Also, there's nothing less satisfying or more antiseptic than one of those he-broke-the-plane-of-the-goal-line touchdowns. Yecccch! Like kissing through a window screen. Great job, Bronko. You broke the hell out of that plane! If breaking the plane of the goal line is a TD, why isn't a receiver catching the ball in the air in the end zone but landing out of bounds a touchdown? He broke the plane, no? Look at the word again: It's touch-down.

As for parity, sure, 15 teams were in the running for the playoffs until the final week this season, but there's a general lack of excellence. It's O.K. to keep the draft the same, winners chasing after losers, but why double the penalty by making their schedules harder than the losers'? Schedule randomly and give dynasties a chance to develop. That's what memories are made of.

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