Assuming that parts of their minds still work this late in the season, National Football League coaches surely reacted with bemusement to Commissioner Pete Rozelle's testimony before Congress last week.
The commissioner insisted his teams would remain competitors on the field, but said they should be one business entity off it, like Sears or Ford. If some Congressmen raised an eyebrow, some of Rozelle's coaches, one after another, might have formed an impish smile, grabbed the phone and said to their leader:
"Pete, Joe Gibbs here. Hey, I'll forgive what those blind zebras did to me in Buffalo, but you can't have this business of ours both ways. You want us to be like Sears, so do I. This week. Sears has all these stores around the country, even around my Washington area, and when one of them is understocked in, say, toasters, it calls an outlet that has lots of toasters and works out a temporary arrangement.
"I need a middle linebacker for the Baltimore game Sunday. Neal Olkewicz is down. He's the one guy who actually can bring a runner to earth before he gets 10 yards each time he carries the ball. What I want is for the Dallas Cowboys to send me Bob Breunig for at least this game. Think of this as toasters.
"I know Breunig ain't excess, but the Cowboys already are in the playoffs. We're still scratching. We'll give him back, if Dallas loses to the Eagles Sunday and has to beat the Giants the next week to clinch the NFC East title. And if we don't make the Super Bowl and the Cowboys do, we'll give 'em Mike Nelms for the day.
"The guys running Sears branches wouldn't have to call up the chief executive officer on something like this; they'd just go ahead and borrow back and forth. You may have to be firm with Tom Landry, though. I understand he and the Cowboys never have thought too much of parity."
Because the NFL shares everything, someone has told Mike McCormack, holding on another line, that Gibbs is talking with Rozelle. The Colt coach demands to interrupt. Immediately, McCormack's call is plugged in, and Gibbs hushed, because the Colts qualify as an NFL emergency.
"You think he's got troubles," McCormack bleats. "I got a halfback who sleeps through meetings, a quarterback who hits more ducks Monday mornings than he does receivers Sunday afternoons and an owner who knows just enough about air conditioners to tell me what plays to call.
"Pete, I'm desperate. At the very least, I need a defensive backfield for our game in Washington this week. With a secondary, I might honestly have a chance. That is, if you also could arrange for us to win the coin toss in RFK Stadium.
"Here's how I figure it. Washington's defense hasn't stopped the run most of the season, and I have maybe the two best in the league in terms of combining power and speed: Randy McMillan and Curtis Dickey. So we punch 'em with McMillan, then turn Dickey lose and maybe get 'em groggy early. Use lots of time to score and keep our defense where it belongs, off the field.
"But we need to get the ball before them. If they get it first, they'll probably score and we'll probably panic. But if we get seven right away, I really believe we have a chance to beat 'em.
"We'd be a whole lot better off with four good defensive backs. The 49ers' secondary would be swell. And that team does need penalizing, its hands severely slapped, for going off and ruining parity this season. Two weeks to go and San Francisco is the only team, the only one, that's clinched a division title. Everybody else has cooperated, Pete.
"Nobody in the whole AFC has so much as clinched a wild-card spot. And only two teams in the NFC are in the playoffs for sure. With two more games to go, 20 of the 28 teams have a chance. You gotta teach those 49ers a lesson, set an example in case somebody gets uppity sometime again.
"I know the Colts won't meet their eight-win quota this year. And our owner, Robert Irsay, burps out something even more dumbheaded just when that doesn't seem possible. But a secondary would make us competitive and weaken the 49ers a lot. That's parity, isn't it, what you've been preaching for years, the NFL way?"
Parity or whatever, I must confess joy over some possibilities this season. The idea of several different teams in the playoffs is appealing. The 49ers and Bengals, the Jets, Chiefs and Lions would be welcome. New playoff places, new faces mouthing, "Hi, Mom."
For years, Bill Walsh was considered a peerless offensive mind, a certain success as the head coach of the first bright team to hire him. His has been a spectacular progression: 2-14 to 6-10 to 11-3 at the moment. NFL handicappers, those who do it more for mental exercise than for money, did not see the 49ers in their present perch months ago.
They saw the Bengals and Jets in the playoffs a few years ago. The Greek was not the only forecaster embarrassed by the Jets' 4-12 record last season. And the Bengals have seemed to have better players than their record indicated for several seasons.
From 1976, Cincinnati has had 11 first-round draft choices. Yet it went from 10-4 that year to 8-6, back-to-back 4-12s and 6-10 last season. Anyone with that many high picks cannot help but be good sooner or later in Pete's Parity Parade.
One other notion about parity: it works toward league-wide mediocrity, but does not make dynasties impossible. The Cowboys may just kick equality all over the lot again in the '80s. They have enough great players at enough positions who are young enough and apparently eager enough to win the next few Super Bowls.
Try as anyone might the last 15 years, the Cowboys have been close to impossible to bring back to the pack. You'll have to work on that, commissioner. Too Tall Jones would look swell in burgundy and gold.