Urgent note to Don Shula, Tex Schramm and the rest of the NFL competition committee: scamper to the supply room for a pin -- and then use it to prick that trial balloon your commissioner has been floating.

In countering charges that have all but crumbled under their own weight the last few weeks, Pete Rozelle has suggested that NFL games would be better by being shorter.

They would, but not with what he said is under consideration: running time off the clock when all that teams are doing on the field is breathing hard and thinking.

According to Rozelle, the competition committee will study starting the game clock the same time the 30-second clock begins after out-of-bounds plays before the final two minutes of each half.

In more graphic terms, if Art Monk grabbed a quick out from Joe Theismann and got bumped out of bounds, before the two-minute warning, the game clock would start when the referee signalled the ball in play.

Presently, the game clock ticks again when the ball is snapped. Or 20-some seconds after the 30-second count begins.

Rozelle is not sure how much the games would be shortened, by a few minutes or by several minutes. One second would be one second too much. Tinker with the rules, if you must, but don't touch time.

The games already are too short.

By that I mean the actual time when teams are doing what customers pay to see: running and passing, and colliding in the mildly violent way that has kept stadiums crowded for decades and ill-tempered men off the streets half a day each week.

Rozelle's suggestion is close to major league baseball suddenly switching from nine innings to eight. Or the NBA running time off the clock during free throws.

It's the dumbest idea the NFL has had since somebody chirped: "Let's take Al Davis to court."

The NFL game is the swiftest and cleanest of its 65 seasons; yet the colleges still offer fans more plays. Locally, Maryland averaged slightly more than 75 snaps in 11 regular-season games this year, the Redskins almost exactly 70 in 16.

Rozelle's idea would widen that gap by quite a lot. Since ticket prices only go one way, who wants to pay more for less?

This is not to suggest that the NFL remain stagnant, for most of the changes over the decades have made for a more entertaining -- and safer -- sport. The latter cannot be emphasized too much.

When lots of us complained, hard and often, about too many cheap shots going unpunished, Rozelle and the competition committee all but ran such as Jack Tatum out of the league.

So safety conscious has the NFL become that some of us who fussed most furiously about unnecessary roughness are beginning to mutter: "You don't have to be that dainty."

The NFL probably has evolved more drastically than any other pro sport: unlimited substitution (the baseball equivalent would be nine designated fielders, nine designated hitters and some designated runners for the designated hitters) and a slimmed-down ball more suitable to passing.

In its infancy, around the turn of the century, pro teams had only to go five yards in three plays for a first down; the field was 110 yards; touchdowns and field goals each were worth five points.

The 1938 Giants won the NFL title with an offense that featured the "A" formation, where the center could snap the ball to any of three backs.

There has been a cry throughout the land most of this season for the NFL to tamper with the rules more than ever. Most lobbies screamed to have defense eased back into the NFL: stop the games from being pitch and catch; stop them from resembling pro rasslin' matches, with 300-pound blockers allowed everything but stepover toeholds.

Guess what? Half the teams in the conference championships Sunday, the Steelers and Bears, live almost exclusively by defense.

The Bears had six different men play quarterback this season, including a couple of incompetents and Walter Payton, and still won 11 games.

So the league does not have to issue lassoes to defensive backs yet. Or make quarterbacks call their shots, like pool, before each pass.

Not much is more dull than a clinker in pro football, one of those Bills-Vikings tests. Try as it has over the years, the NFL cannot overcome stupid management and coaches with earlier draft choices and restricted player movement.

Neither can the league eliminate excellence, thankfully, and wars among the mighty could last hours longer without anyone leaving his seat.

The only delays of game that infuriate fans now are the ones for what pays the bills: television. Sometime soon, a courageous commentator could honestly utter: "We interrupt these commercials to bring you a down from our teams."

He would do that once.

And then he would be selling hand warmers in the tropics.

We all know that April will butt ahead of March on the calendar before the NFL cuts a commercial. Which means that anything that would shorten the length of games also would shorten the time between Alex fetching a Stroh's and John Riggins hustling pickups.

Pete, if you want to improve the NFL, copy the colleges. To save time, use a 25-second clock. To add spice, adopt the two-point conversion; to maximize efficiency, stop the game clock after first downs.

All of a sudden, whoosh!, a working stiff would get as much for his buck in the NFL as he does in the Mid-America Conference.