A lot of us in the sports department and no doubt a lot of you readers puzzled over the legality of the "volleyball" play that earned underdog Maine a 7-7 football tie with New Hampshire and a boxed iten in the Sunday Post.

We weren't alone.

UNH Coach Hill Boxes steams that the gimmick was, at best, unethical and he will protest "as far as we can "including to the NCAA Rules Committee.

Maine Coach Jack Bicknell counters that "I would never do anything illegal or unethical." Admitting to being "a little embarrassed but not ashamed." Bicknell said he told the referees about having the trick play in the Black Bears' repertoire before each game and "in all cases, they said it was completely legal."

To reconstruct: Maine lined up as if to try a field goal from the UNH 28. But when holder Tony Trafton got the snap, he threw the ball up and behind him, and kicker Mike Hodgson punched it with clinched fist, a la the volleyball serve. The ball landed on the UNH five and skidded through the mud into the end zone where Maine lineman Dave Higgins fell on it for a touchdown.

Bicknell learned about the play last summer from reading "Illustrated Football Rules" by Davey Nelson, U. of Delaware athletic director and editor-secretary of the NCAA Football Rules Committee - how legal can you get. The rule outline calls it "an interesting and innovative play offering an alternative for the team that cannot kick a field goal from the 30-yard line."

According to Bicknell's view of the rules - and the refs agreed - the forward hit was a fumble, making the ball "a free ball." Bowes counters by citing the rule that forbids batting forward all loose balls "between the goal line." (But the subsection specifies "forward and out of bounds - giving Bicknell a possible loophole since it was kept in bounds.)

Bicknell, who used to be on the Boston College staff with Bowes as assistant said it was ironic the play was used againt Bowes, "a close personal friend - I hope he still is."

Bowes: "I think we should use the term 'were' close friends." Run Protection

Robert Newhouse unwittingly might have tipped off the Redskins' defense to Dallas plays in the 9-5 Washington victory on Monday Night Football, according to an eagle-eyed observer of the Cowboy fullback's mouthpiece.

Richard Woldow, a sports producer for W B B M, Chicago noticed on TV that Newhousc seemed to let his white mouth protector dangle on pass plays and insert it over his teeth on running plays. The next day Woldow and WBBM sportscaster John Morris watched replays to confirm their suspicions. Morris, onetime Bear teammate of Dallas receiver coach Mike Ditka, called Ditka to warn him of the habit. Newhouse has not worn the mouthpiece the past two games.

If Woldow, a former investigative reporter specializing in crime and fraud, spotted the peculiarity, did the Redskins? No, their superb defensive effort that night made do without that key, according to Richie Petitbon, secondary coach who said at Redskin Park yesterday (and rechecked films):

"That's the most ridiculous think I ever heard of. We had no idea." And no close-ups? Foot-in-Mouth Dept.

City Council of Bloomington, Minn., home of the Twins, has voted unanimous censure of the ball club's President Calvin Griffith for his recent Waseca, Minn., speech of racist nature.

Those Chicago folks are all over the Cowboys. ABC news commentator Paul Harvey telegraphed Dallas Coach Tom Landry yesterday, "Sorry, Tom," by way of apology for having been hoodwinked into reporting a fictitious Bear-Cowboy trade (Bob Avellini and Robin Earl for Danny White - after the NFL trading deadline, yet) on a nationwide broadcast. Landry chuckled and said, "It just shows Paul is human."