Facebook Twitter



Awright, huddle up. This is the play: Everybody out for a pass. On two. Ready, break.

It doesn't happen that way, not in the big leagues. At least it's not supposed to happen that way. How could coaches justify the computer printouts, the headsets, the Polaroid camera shots, the hand signals, the quarterback meetings, the videotape? What about tendencies and probabilities?Without sophisticated, elaborate, technical methods to call plays, pro football would be no more than fun.

Quarterbacks don't even get involved much anymore. Steve Grogan of the New England Patriots is believed to be the last of the National Football League quarterbacks to call all his own game.

Others, including the Bears' Jim McMahon, have the responsibility of changing plays by calling audibles at the line of scrimmage and the obligation of running their own two-minute "hurry-up" offenses. But taking control of the entire game plan went out along with simple defenses and small rosters that precluded "situation substitution."

The undefeated Cincinnati Bengals could start a new trend if their success continues. They run a hurry-up offense at unconventional times to keep defenses from substituting or to catch defenses with too many men on the field.

Cincinnati quarterback Boomer Esiason called many plays against the New York Jets last Sunday from the line of scrimmage and caught the Jets with 12 men on the field three times.

"There was a lot of conversation at the line," Esiason said.

In noisy, unfriendly stadiums, such a strategy might be impossible.

Pro quarterbacks have too many other things to think about these days, such as blitzing linebackers, camouflaged coverages and "sight adjusted routes" by receivers, not to mention showing up for calendar photo sessions, attending fashion shows and balancing checkbooks.

Bears coach Mike Ditka, following the example of Dallas coach Tom Landry, arrived in Chicago intent on calling his own plays. After turning the job over to offensive coordinator Ed Hughes, then taking it back, then giving it back to Hughes, then yelling at Hughes, then watching McMahon change everything anyway, Ditka gave the responsibility this season to Greg Landry, coach of quarterbacks and receivers.

Landry, 41, is a former pro quarterback who called his own plays for the Detroit Lions.

"I called plays in high school, college and throughout my pro career," he said. "I don't think they call them in high school, college or the pros anymore. You get quarterbacks who have not called plays for a long period of time."

There's more involved than the changing complexities of X's and O's. There is also the almighty dollar sign.

"If a coach's job depends on how a game is called, he'd rather have the responsibility of doing it," Landry said. "If he gets canned for a poor performance by his team, he'd rather have it in his hands than a person who might not be studying as much."

The studying requires much more than the 45 seconds between plays. Last season, it was 30 seconds, but the clock started only when the referee decided. To make it uniform, it is now a 45-second clock reset as soon as each play ends unless normal play is interrupted, in which case the 30-second clock is used.

Play-calling starts on Tuesday, when offensive coaches assemble their game plan. With help from a computer that charts defensive tendencies from the previous four games of an opponent, Bears offensive coaches Ditka, Hughes, Landry, line coach Dick Stanfel and backfield coach Johnny Roland decide which plays are likely to work best in certain situations.

If the Dallas Cowboys, for example, always line up in their famous "flex" defense on nearly every first down and 10, the Bears have certain plays in their playbook designed to work best against that kind of defense.

Ten down-and-distance situations are printed on a piece of cardboard: first and 10, second and 5, second and 6-9, second and 10-plus, third and 3-5, third and 6-12, third and 13, plus territory (inside the 20-yard line), two-minute plays, and short yardage and goal line.

After practicing various plays on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Landry makes up a short list of the plays he likes best.

"Mike does one, too. His might be a little different, but, basically, after talking all week we both have the same ideas of how to attack a team," Landry said. "The only way we change is if they start doing something different from what we planned. Then we might adjust a couple of plays and put them in a different category."

To monitor whether a defense is reacting differently, Hughes sits in a coaches booth in the press box along with two Bears' defensive coaches and watches the opposing defense. Hughes is on a telephone to Roland on the sidelines. Roland is charting the offensive plays and the defensive reaction. So is backup quarterback Mike Tomczak.

After each series of plays, Landry and Hughes converse. Before and after each snap, Polaroid pictures of the defense are snapped from the upstairs coaches booth to verify defenses.