And now a kind word about NFL officials, the zebras who lately have taken such a public whipping for two awful noncalls in two important games - and also the thought that the league would be nothing less than stupid to enact the major changes it is considering: full-time officials or an instant-replay system.
In Super Bowl 12 Sunday, the officials were under at least as much pressure as the players - and performed far better. Another "phantom faumble" or obvious error exposed by television would have been oil on an already fierce blaze, and would probably have forced the NFL into dreadful changes out of panic.
Referee Jim Tunney and his new crew were splendid - quick and decisive, properly positioned and absolutely correct on two important calls probably 75 per cent of the Superdome crowd would have ruled otherwise until television replays settled the matter.
The first came midway through the first quarter, with Dallas ahead, 13-0, and punting to Denver from its 32-yard line. There was a mad scramble just after the ball hit the turf but the view here - from the second level but at a decent angle to the play - was that a Dallas player had touched it with his leg and Denver should have possession.
But no. A Bronco, John Schultz, had been on the turf, his head between the legs of a Cowboy, and the ball smacked his helmet. If most of the 76,400 fans missed it, half of Tunney's crew - the back judge, field judge and line judge - saw it and correctly awarded Dallas possession when Bruce Huther recovered the ball.
The second important call came midway through the third quarter, with Dallas ahead, 13-3, and third and 10 from the Bronco 45. A long Roger Staubach pass had sailed over receiver Golden Richards in the end zone the previous play, and this pass near the goal line seemed certain to elude Butch Johnson.
But Johnson, broken finger and all, drove for the ball and caught it. However, when he hit the turf - across the goal line - he seemed to drop the ball.
"It was (field judge) Bob Wortman's call," Tunney said later. "We talked about that one. He caught the ball in the air, in flight, and crossed the goal line in possession, and came to the ground in the end zone. Then he released the ball. he didn't fumble the ball . . . he hit the ground, then released it."
There is a follow-the-leader reaction in the stands to situations such as these, because at least a third of the Bronco fans had access to television monitors in the press box.
One of the Bronco fans did not, who in fact was closer to the play than those near television sets, rose to protest. He was about to do what you would expect him to do under such circumstances when he suddenly realized he would be almost alone in anger.
The opposite end of the stadium, where other Bronco fans had seen Wortman vindicated on television, was silent, so this man simply let out a heavy sigh of resignation and silently sat down. Undoubtedly, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle also let out a heavy sigh - of relief.
For several weeks now, Rozelle has been bombarded with cricitism from fans and the press about his officials, especially when obviously wrong decisions were important in determining not only who made the playoffs but also who made the Super Bowl.
There is a tendnecy to overreact in such situations, to insist on useless changes that ultimately would do more harm than good. In fact, some change is necessary.
What is needed, however, is to make use of systems already on hand rather than to create something elaborate - and totally unnecessary.
Full-time officials would be no more competent than the present crews of part-tiem officials, although if the league keeps playing more games on odd nights some might have to be full-time simply to attract qualified men who could not be released from other jobs so often.
Most of the time, a bad call comes from an official, in proper position, being screened by some elephantine guard or linebacker. Full-time officials would be subject to the same fate. Also, it would be tougher to replace a poor official if he were full-time, as pro baseball and basketball have discovered.
A seventh official, tried as an experiment during part of last preseason, might be useful but any fail-safe system of instant replay would be too expensive and allow coaches to delay games far too long. Humans play the game; humans ought to officiate them. Everyone should realize that both make mistakes, and that those mistakes do tend to even out, although not necessarily in the same season.
Still, the NFL does have this marvelous tool - the instant replay - and to not make some use of it also would be foolish.Take what the networks already produce, and give the officials a hand.
The replays now show the officials make correct decisions most of the time, anyway, so outrageous delays ought not to be anticipated. The networks might push for it, because it offers yet another time-out possibility.
All it might take is someone with enough sense to monitor the replays in the press box and a TV monitor convenient to the field.
When this upstairs official sees something that appears to clearly contradict a judgment on the field - whether this be a fumble, holding or an unseen cheap shot far upfield - he could alert the referee. In a minute or so, the referee would have access to the replay himself, and the authority either to overrule the decision or uphold it.
An official on the field now has the power to overrule a colleague on plays on which he has the clearer view, and a tennis umpire often asks: "Will you yield to the chair?"
When an obvious error has been committed, it ought to be corrected. The NFL can do this with a little time and a little money and, most importantly, a lot of thought.