One of those stories that you wish were true but, alas, is only a spoof:

BIG APPLE, N.Y., Dec. 6 - In an effort to relieve pervasive national confusion and discontent, the commissioner of the National Football League, Pete Rozelle, announced that the system for deciding NFL wild-card payoff berths has been changed, effective at midnight Wednesday. (A warning will be given two minutes before.)

Dropped as determining factors are head-to-head records, comparative results and "point differentials" between teams with identical records (except in the Geneva Conference). Rozelle admitted that these are "mildly confusing to the public though much more scrutable than the nickel defense."

"I don't understand all the fuss, really, since we have in this country three professors of theoretical math, one Nobel Prize-winning physicist, two warlocks, a graduate student in computer technology and Sanskrit, and a ecumenical Talmudic scholar who understand this thing (the wild-card formula) perfectly," Rozelle said.

"However, they disagreed among themselves as to the interpretation of the square root of the times sacked divided by the logarithm of fumbles lost in nonconference preseason games' clause.

"Naturally, I understand this subtlety but I couldn't get it across to either Howard Cosell or Jimmy the Greek," Rozelle said. Switching from English to Pigskin Latin, the language in which his announcements are traditionally utered, Rozelle added: "Ose-thay ig-bay ummies-day."

Rozelle spent Monday night fomulating new wild-card rules, doodling with a chisel on stone tablets during commercials in the Miami-Baltimore game.

Today, he took the elevator to the top floor of NFL headquarters, from which he oversees the universe on any given Sunday, and handed down the law: Playoff stragglers will now be decided by the time-honored "trial by ordeal."

"It's an old pagan device that I remembered," Rozelle said. "To prove themselves, people had to do things like go one-on-one with Lions, who were more ferocious in those days. Remember Joe Schimdt?"

"Trial by ordeal" will be a blissfully simple way of filling wild-card playoff spots. Coaches of teams with identical records will be forced to walk unarmed down a dark dressing-room tunnel inhabited by Chuck Noll's "NFL Criminal Element." The ones who survive are in the playoffs, Rozelle said.