Among the many ongoing feats performed by the lords of the National Football League, the latest is an effort to speed up the game. This revolution has already been nominated for a Nobel Prize in economics. The league has moved things briskly along by sacrificing only real football. Not a single commercial.
Since TV commercials supply a good part of my grossly overblown income, I am not about to cavil with the policy in general. But I think it is fair to raise a few questions. Have we reached a nirvana when one cable broadcast runs a crawl across the bottom of the screen with a "story line" of a Giants game -- and it happens to be, "The game took only two hours and 27 minutes"? And are there really families out there that drive joyfully home after a pulsating last-minute victory by the home team, only to have one of the kids check his NFL Products- endorsed watch and announce, "Hey mom and dad, this game took 3 hours and 22 minutes"?
I beg to doubt here. I have yet to meet man, woman or child who loves football but wants less of it. That argument falls somewhere between a Miller Lite commercial and one for Ultra Slim Fast. True football fans want their passion more filling, not less, a gridiron image of the "before" Tommy Lasorda. You like four exciting quarters? You'll love six.
Of course, if you're watching something like the Steelers' offense or the Patriots' locker room, you'll settle for a coin toss -- over as quickly and by paying higher prices for less football.
As always, there is an exception to the theorem. Not surprisingly, it is "ABC Monday Night Football." For better or for worse, MNF always has been an exception. It positively glitters with ego and self-importance. Even the most rapacious PR types at other networks never have resorted to promoting such feats as "the longest punt return in the history of CBS doubleheader games." But ABC has assembled an entire library of heroics in the dark.
This is harmless enough to be toasted with a fine wine. Unfortunately, it comes only with a whine. Set your NFL Products watch by this: At precisely 11:30 p.m., Eastern, Frank Gifford will begin complaining about how long the game is going to keep him from his plane, his family, his millions.
I have always found this the most annoying aspect of Monday night ball. But this week I finally found merit in The Giffer's malaise. Hold that plane and restock the first-class galley. I have a plan to speed up those national games. Put muzzles on the zebras.
Jerry Seeman and his crew have never been among my favorite officials. (Come to think of it, does any right-thinking American have a favorite official?) But Monday night in Seattle, Seeman illustrated how games can be dialed fast forward.
A quick sampling should suffice. Cincinnati's Harold Green clearly fumbled. The refs blew the call. Someone awakened the replay officials in time for them to question it. Seeman resolved it in the time-honored cop-out of his trade. The whistle had blown. Time wasted: enough to run around the block, if the viewer were fat and slow.
Seeman later resurrected a penalty unheard of since Sammy Baugh was punting. A Seahawk threw one guy out of the way so another could rush the punter. This took an explanation slightly shorter than the Koran. Time wasted: enough to sprint to the next city for the reasonably fit. On returning, the runner would find that Seeman had called it yet again.
As the game dawdled on, the refs turned a ball that was downed on the 1-foot line into a touchback. They missed a Seattle receiver stepping out of bounds and gave him 30 extra yards. Then there was the Moliere-style farce at the end, when Seeman ruminated endlessly to adjust the game clock -- when one and all knew that Dave Krieg was merely going to kneel down and get out of there.
The lesson here is that national TV drives zebras to hog the cameras. For Monday nights only, jam their frequencies and pan away from them. Cancel all shots of that fun couple in the replay booth. Play football the way ABC meant it to be. In the dark.
For this week's tough card, I hope I've seen the light. The hot Dolphins are 6 over the promising Jets. These teams always play high-scoring wars, and this should be another. Jets plus the 6.
The Steelers are getting 1 at home from the Chargers and still seeking their first offensive touchdown. A Pittsburgh newspaper has started a contest for the reader who can guess when it happens. The prize is two tickets -- to a Pirates game. But I wonder if those cynics know that the underdogs are 4-0 in the Steelers' first home games against teams from west of the Mississippi? Steelers plus 1.
The Vikings are 7 over the Lions. The troubled Vikings' latest loss is star rusher Keith Millard. Detroit is 4-0-1 on the road in its division. I've always been a big fan of QB Bob Gagliano. Lions plus 7.
The Bears are 4 over the Packers. The last eight teams to play the punishing Raiders have lost the next week. Green Bay is coming around. Packers plus 4.
On Monday night, the Broncos are 9 over the Browns at Mile High. This is the biggest spread against the Browns in four years. The dog has covered 13 straight national TV games in Denver. The Browns were the only blemish on my record last week. One more try. Browns plus 9.
Last Week: Through an error in taking down the line, I wrote that the Raiders were getting 1 instead of giving 1 over the Bears. If the difference had come into play, of course I would have taken the loss. It didn't. The Raiders squashed them, 24-10.
The Browns, getting 6 1/2, bowed in Kansas City, 34-0. The Packers plus 2 1/2 at Pontiac, beat the Lions, 24-21. The Jets, at pick'em, were served Marc Wilson by the Patriots. Enough said. Jets, 34-13. The Seahawks, getting 2 1/2, overcame the Bengals and the Seeman crew, 31-16.
Total for week: 4-1.
Total for season: 11-9. The 55 percent bracket fits like an old referee's shoe.