Fan involvement in NFL games is becoming too loud. Increasingly, there have been delays for prolonged periods because the noise generated by supporters of the home team prevented the visiting team's offense from hearing a quarterback's signals.
This year the situation has gotten out of hand in several stadiums. One of the worst incidents occurred at Cleveland three weeks ago when, with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter, the end zone crazies did a better job of stopping the Raiders' final drive than the Browns' defense did. Quarterback Marc Wilson repeatedly had to back off the line of scrimmage and wait for the fans to become quieter. They never did. Fortunately for the Raiders, they still managed to win.
Last week the Browns got to know what it's like to be on the other end of the noise nonsense. Cleveland was ahead, 6-0, in the third period when Pittsburgh fans, in an attempt to fire up the home team's defense, made it impossible for the Browns to hear quarterback Bernie Kosar.
Play was stopped several times for what seemed like a total of five minutes. Finally, the Cleveland center snapped the ball on third down when nobody was expecting it, Kosar included, and the Browns were lucky to sustain no worse than a big loss deep in their own territory. They punted and Pittsburgh lost little time in taking a 7-6 lead on the way to a 10-9 victory.
This is ridiculous. More games are going to be affected unless officials put a stop to this crowd involvement quickly, before "the noise" spreads across the country faster than "the wave."
The NFL says it is impossible, under existing rules, for a home team to be penalized for a crowd's unsportsmanlike conduct.
Why not make the home team's coach responsible for the crowd's behavior? After one warning, increasingly severe penalties of five, 10 and 15 yards would be in order. I'll bet that would bring silence in a hurry. GAME OF THE WEEK
The Los Angeles Rams at the New York Giants, the Giants favored by 4. I had intended to go with the home team until Rams quarterback Dieter Brock was sidelined by a kidney stone. He will be replaced by Jeff Kemp, who might represent an improvement.
Brock's absence probably had a small, but important, effect on the betting line. Had he played, the number might have been 3 instead of 4, and that can be a huge point when you're dealing with a defense as good as Los Angeles'.
I think I'll pass this one and go to . . . PLAY OF THE WEEK
Washington, giving 2 1/2 at home to Dallas. I wish I could find the "Dallas favored by two" carried by the "Latest Line" in Tuesday's and Wednesday's papers. Unfortunately, it's a fiction.
"The game opened at 2, the Redskins favored, and immediately moved to 2 1/2 all over town," a Las Vegas numbers specialist said. "The action on this game has been all one way, on the Redskins. By later in the week you might well see a blanket of 3."
That's attributable in large part to the performance of the two teams in their last games. Washington crushed Atlanta Sunday; Dallas' defense went to sleep in the second half Monday night before a national television audience and permitted St. Louis to rally from a 10-0 deficit to a 21-10 victory.
Don't be misled by that performance by the Cowboys' defense. It is one of the best and one of the most dangerous in the NFL, and it will play well against the Redskins.
Washington has lost all three games in which the opposition was capable of exerting heavy pressure on quarterback Joe Theismann. The key to beating Washington thus far is to stop the running game, and the Redskins' passing still is suspect since Theismann lacks a proven receiver out of the backfield, which is one way of countering the all-out blitzes employed by Dallas.
What I'm banking on Sunday is an exceptional effort from Washington's defense, a unit that has played solidly all season and has the capability of producing an exceptional effort with so much at stake.
The chances of slowing Dallas halfback Tony Dorsett always are better on grass than on an artificial surface. Quarterback Danny White still doesn't remind me of Roger Staubach, and his problems may be increased should the left side of his offensive line still be hurting.
The Redskins will be at a peak emotionally, and never underestimate the importance of emotion in attempting to cover the spread. Give the 2 1/2 or 3. THE LINE
Other early-week numbers in Las Vegas had Philadelphia 9 over Atlanta, Cincinnati 3 over Cleveland, Chicago 11 over Detroit, Minnesota 5 1/2 over Green Bay, Houston 2 1/2 at Buffalo, New England 9 1/2 over Indianapolis, the Los Angeles Raiders 2 1/2 at San Diego, Miami 3 1/2 over the New York Jets, Kansas City 2 over Pittsburgh, St. Louis 2 1/2 at Tampa Bay and Seattle 6 at New Orleans.