George Starke, starting right offensive tackle of the Redskins, ringes at the mention of the subject, this business of holding. "I just hate to make a big deal about it," he says.
In 1977, NFL officials working Redskin games made a big deal about it. Time after time, big plays or sizable gains were wiped out by yellow flags. Then came the accompanying public address system identification of the guilty party.
Starke heard his number called for too often in 1977, and he also heard the boos and catcalls from the RFK Stadium masses that followed the embarrassing announcement.
"I don't really know what happened or why it happened," Starke was saying yesterday. "Holding has never been a part of my repertoire. I was never taught how to do it or coached how to do it. But sometimes when two men intertwine in these situations, the official makes the call and there's nothing you can do about it."
The National Football League has doone something this year that many save Starke and many other offensive linesmen further public humiliation, not to mention making it easier ot not to mention making it easier to protect their quarterbacks.
The league has changed the rules on pass blocking to allow an offensive lineman to extend his arms and use an open hand in warding off those grabby, pushy, smack-em-in-the head defensive linemen.
Previously, Starke and his colleagues were required to have their arms in a flexed position and could not extend them forward to create a push. Hands also had to be cupped or closed into a fist.
"Being able to push may not seem like much," Starke said, "but it really is a significant change. Now it makes it very difficult for them to hold you and grab you.
"A lot of times I was called for holding last year I wasn't actually holding on to somebody. It got into that extension of the arms and I was being called for illegal use of the hands.
"Sure, the penalties bother you, but you can't worry about things like that. I'm sure after awhile they were looking for me. But you can't let them kae you paranoid."
Ray Callahan, offensive line coach, said yesterday he is not really alternating his approach to blocking because of the new rules. "We're still coaching the same techniques," he said. "Anytime you get caught holding, it's basically because you're out of position.
"When you lose position, that's when you might be forced to do something you're not supposed to do. You just try and hang on the best you can, and that's what gets you into trouble. So we still emphasize getting good position, that's the key.
"Sure, we like the new rules. We're hoping it will let us keep a guy out just a little longer. It gives us a little more freedom with the push and the open hand, and it should help."
Starke says all the holding hassles of a year ago are now ancient history, that he stopped thinking about football the day after the season ended and that "I don't normally discuss things like that (the holding calls) with my friends.
"People who play the game just play, they don't worry about what's in the paper, what the neighbors think. And when things go wrong with the offense, the offensive line ultimately gets blamed for a lot of things. But that's the game, you accept that and go on from there."
Starke, a 30-year-old graduate of Columbia, hardly spent the offseason avoiding crowds or brooding over the past season.
Instead, he plunged into a new project. Starke and a partner own a film production company, and they recently submitted a big to receive an HEW grant to produce instructional films to aid handicapped atheletes.
At the momentt, Starke is concentrating on his work as the Redskins' starting right tackle. If you'll pardon the expression, he seems to be holding his own.