What to do about the cruel and unusual punishment inflicted on quarterbacks, even when the punishment is within the rules.

For a start, the regulations on holding should be rewritten. Even those blood enemies, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders, agree on that.

Raider coach John Madden has lobbied for years for more specific protection. He would equip an official with a horn to sound once the passer has released the ball; a horn because it would have a distinctively different sound from a whistle, which is used for so many other purposes.

The horn would be an answer to the defensive lineman who says he sometime does not see whether the ball has been released by the passer as he unloads on him.

A penalty would be automatic if a passer is hit after the horn sounded.

Dan Rooney, president of the Steelers, said, "We always seem to be putting restrictions on the defense, with the reasoning that we want to have more offense for the entertainment of the fans.

"Well, if we want to do something for the offense, we should not call what I term 'technical holding.' It's counter-productive. A 10-yard holding penalty means the offense then has to go 20 yards; it's tough enough to go 10 yards for a first down.

"Call holding Yes, when a guy on offense is grasping a defender's shirt; when he obviously is keeping the defender from going to the passer or ball carrier. That's holding.

"But if a guy merely puts his hands on a defender - to defend himself - that shouldn't be a foul. The defender now can use his hands to push, to grab an offensive player by the shirt, and so forth. Why can't the offensive player use his hands without closing them to grasp"

Al LoCasale, executive assistant to managing general partner Al Davis of the Raiders, said his boss has proposed that a camera be kept on passers during a game instead of following the flight of the ball, so that a study could be made.

Taking note of the three broken legs quarterbacks suffered Sunday, LoCasale observed, "The quarterback is just too valuable to the success of our NFL product to have this happen. There should be a maximum effort to prevent the passer from being harassed beyond the provisions in the rules.

When quarterbacks go down, the value of the game goes down, the game is built so much on passing.

"What we need to study on film is whether it is the quarterback dropping straight back who is getting hurt the most . . . or the one who is mobile and running outside the pocket and becoming fair game for the frustrated defenders who resent having to chase him and thus want to thump him.

"Some quarterbacks run and then slide, like Joe Theismann. They are not trained to slide, as baseball players are, and some catch their cleats in the ground."

Other sources note that sportscasters - some who have been defensive players - harp on the offensive linemen being traditional holders, even when the offensive lineman might be doing something legal.

LoCasale's pet peeve is the "rip-up" by a defensive lineman: "Say you are a defensive end on the right side. You come up with your left arm in the left armpit of the offensive left tackle. It can lift the offensive lineman up on his toes unless he can clamp down with his own left arm to prevent his shoulder from being pulled out of joint. Yet that often is called "holding."

"Another instance is when the defensive player buries his helmet in the chest of the offensive lineman. The latter has to be able to use his hands to stop that, or surrender and end up with a hole in his chest."

Rooney of the Steelers says the NFL owners should get together after the season and rewrite the rules on holding, pointing out that the game officials are damned if they don't call infractions and violence results and damned if they do and ruin an offensive drive with "technical holding."

He recalled that there are a rash of holding penalties after the fourth game in 1976, following a memorandum from the commissioner's office to game officials instructing them to "reaffirm the rules" and mentioning holding.

Rooney said the holding penalties escalated sharply for a couple weeks after that, then leveled off.

There were 400 offensive holding penalties called in the first seven games of 1976; 419 in 1977.

There were 238 offensive holding penalties called against NFC teams, 181 against AFC teams.