Terry Bradshaw is irritated by the National Football League's quick whistle to protect ball handlers even though he escaped its application through a technicality on Sunday and executed a desperate throw for the touchdown that ended the dying hopes of the Houston Oilers in the fourth quarter.
A rule revision enacted in 1979 provided that "officials are to blow the play dead as soon as the quarterback is clearly in the grasp and control of any tackler behind the line."
Defensive end Andy Dorris of the Oilers had Bradshaw by the quarterback's left arm, trying to fling him down for a sack. Bradshaw shook loose and threw a 50-yard pass to wide receiver John Stallworth for a touchdown that accounted for the 31-17 final score.
The pass was allowed because, as an NFL representative explained, though Dorris had Bradshaw in his grasp the defender did not have him in control.
Later in the game, Bradshaw barely got off a pass as the referee's whistle indicated he already was in the grasp and control of a defender, and the completion was disallowed.
After the game, Bradshaw said, "It is a stinking rule; it is just killing us (quarterbacks). We can't be athletes anymore. We're sissies."
That tied in with what teammate and middle linebacker Jack Lambert said when the rule was revised. "They'll be putting skirts on them (quarterbacks) next."
Quarterback Ken Stabler of the Oilers had a special appreciation of the rule's benefits when he faced a crashing collision late in the game. His hair trigger release barely beat the whistle as two muscular Pittsburgh defenders rushed toward him.
At the last possible moment, the defenders ground their heel cleats to a halt and drew back arms that would have throttled the passer.
On another occasion, he completed his pass as he was tackled and the whistle sounded.
Bradshaw put his throwing shoulder and possibly the Steeler hopes for a fifth Super Bowl victory in jeopardy on the first play from scrimmage, when he called a play designed for the three big Pittsburgh quarterbacks. As the flow of the play evolved to his left, he ran to the right. A Houston defender hit him low with a leverage tackle that sent Bradshaw somersaulting onto his right shoulder as he let go of the ball.
It wasn't ruled a fumble, but not because of the quick-whistle rule. It was because of the regulation that says if a runner or receiver is holding the ball when contacted by a defender and does not let go until and except from the impact of hitting the ground, he retains possession.
Art McNally, supervisor of NFL officials, attended the game and noted that though it was a hard-hitting contest, the players showed unusual respect for one another by keeping their tackles in control and even picking up opposing passers, runners, and receivers afterward.
McNally said the quick-whistle rule has been regarded as "an almost total success" by clubs, because it protects their most valuable players.
He said there have been few complaints from last season and from the exhibition season this year.
He pointed out three sources of expected criticism:
The quarterback may be hit with his back to the referee and the ball may slide loose as he is driven back. The referee can't see the fumble but blows the whistle to protect the quarterback, and a fumble becomes a nonfumble.
The quarterback appears ready to be in the grasp and control of a defender, but gets off a pass for a gain, as Stabler did Sunday.
In a preseason game between Pittsburgh and Dallas, quarterback Danny White was driven back about four yards and was judged by the referee to be in the grasp and control of a Pittsburgh tackler when he unloaded a pass that was intercepted by another Pittsburgh lineman. The lineman was infuriated when his interception was disallowed.
The combination of defenders being able to have only one bump of receivers within the first five yards and the quick whistle giving relative security to passers resulted in an offensive show in the National Football League Sunday.
Billy Sims, the former Heisman trophy winner at Oklahoma, kept it from being a day dominated by the forward pass. The No. 1 draft choice of the Detroit Lions scored three touchdowns, set up another and gained 153 yards in the 41-20 upset of the Los Angeles Rams. Earl Campbell of Houston was held to 57 yards rushing by the Steelers, but became part of the day's passing heroics by completing a 57-yarder for a score.
Dan Fouts of San Diego completed 21 of 31 throws for 230 yards and four touchdowns, two to wide receiver John Jefferson.
Phil Simms, beginning his first full season as the New York Giants' quarterback, threw five scoring passes, four to wide receiver Earnest Gray.
Tommy Kramer of Minnesota hit on 30 of 42 throws, 11 to Ahmad Rashad, for three scores.
Ron Jaworski of Philadelphia tossed three touchdown passes, one to Harold Carmichael for 56 yards that extended the wide receiver's consecutive-game reception streak to 113.
Steve Grogan of New England threw three touchdowns among 17 completions in 26 attempts for 277 yards.
Ken Stabler of Houston completed 24 of 43 passes for 196 yards, but his average would have been sparking if his receivers had not dropped nine throws. His percentage also was reduced by five interceptions, three coming after deflections of otherwise well-aimed deliveries.