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Saturday's Pee Wee warriors

A FOOTBALL GAME is about to begin, and this is no time for coddling. A mother - your normal, garden-variety mother, dressed in neat jeans and a T-shirt, her hair combed just so, kids hanging on her arm - is giving Junior a little advice on the sidelines before he steps onto the gridiron. Her motherly advice: "Now go out there and kick some butt! Are you going to kick some butt today?"

Junior, who is about 10 years old, says, yes, he's going to kick some butt today. From somewhere deep inside his helmet, his tiny face wears the kind of self-assured expression that says today he has parent-sanctioned, 100-percent legal permission to kick somebody's behind. It doesn't get any better than this. For the same stuff that gets you sent to the principal's office, they give you a pat on the back and a sticker on your helmet.Is this a great sport, or what?

This is the world of little league football. Thousands of boys throughout the state, ages 8 to 14 - plus twice that many parents - participate in the Ute Conference Junior Football League. By law, parents are required to stand on the sideline in shivering masses each Saturday and yell advice to the kids (and refs and coaches). It keeps them off the street and out of trouble. Hence, mothers admonishing their boys to kick a portion of someone's anatomy.

Each Saturday, several games are played simultaneously on gridirons laid out side by side in parks throughout the state. When one game finishes, they immediately begin another, with no break for commercials. It's a football smorgasbord. During a pause in the action of one game, spectators can simply turn around and watch the other game. Stand there long enough and you'll see it all - fumbles, kickoff returns, comebacks, long touchdown runs, sacks . . . .

As football entertainment goes, it's difficult to beat. For one thing, the sight of little boys lost in shoulder pads and cave-like helmets is kind of cute, and when's the last time you heard that said about the Oakland Raiders? For another thing, you never know what kind of crazy thing is going to happen.

In the NFL, for instance, you almost never get to see 12 men on the field at the same time, unless you live in New Orleans. It's a common occurrence in little league because they can't count - "they" being the coaches.

The little league game is vastly entertaining, and it has managed to thrive without the problems that plague the NFL. The reason is that the little leaguers have created a number of variations on the football theme. The NFL ought to consider adopting all or some of them. To wit:

- NFL teams need a Team Mom. Not the Dallas Cowboys' idea of a Team Mom, in hot pants and a halter top, but the kind who makes phone calls to remind players to attend practice and drives a van and stands on the sidelines during games and says things like, "Oh, dear."

Consider the advantages of a Team Mom. No more sideline profanity and trash talking ("If you can't say something nice . . . "). No more punching out your own teammates. There's always someone to pick up the litter on the sidelines. Team Moms would remedy a lot of problems. After the coach gets the Gatorade bath, she'd be there to tell him, "Better get out of those wet things. Here, have some soup."

- The NFL needs to have team treats. Orange slices at halftime, Twinkies, Ding Dongs and root beer afterward. Everyone feels better after a high-fat snack. Just be careful when it's Michael Irvin's turn to bring the treat.

- The NFL should encourage parents to stand on the sideline so they can yell helpful things to the coaches. In between conversations about mortgage rates and the Dow, parents are always eager to offer suggestions. "Put Herbie in the friggin' game!" "Why don't you try the off-tackle play, moron?"

Coaches appreciate this. Many of them say after a loss, "I just didn't hear enough good advice from the parents today." Mike Ditka is waiting to hear from you.

After all, parents know the game. For crying out loud, this isn't soccer, where the only people who know what's going on have foreign accents. This is American football, and these are American parents reared at the knee of John Madden.

- NFL players should have to ride to and from the game in their parents' Suburban or minivan. This is bound to alter their behavior. Imagine the ride home after Junior does one of those obnoxious end-zone boogies for the TV cameras. "Whassup with that?" Dad (the ex-Marine) would growl, ending minutes of unbearable silence.

- The NFL should have "A" teams and "B" teams. Oh, come to think of it, it already has the NFC and the AFC. Same thing.

- Every player in the NFL must play a minimum of eight plays. Think how fun it would be to see kickers playing other positions to get in their eight plays.

- The NFL should have X men. This is what they call little league players who exceed a certain weight limit. They have to wear a red X on their helmets, and they are not allowed to carry the football, thus increasing the survival rate of tacklers. In other words, Jerome Bettis would be illegal.

- NFL players should pay to play. We'll see if they really would play the game for free. Little leaguers pay more than $100 to play, and almost none of them have guaranteed contracts.

- The NFL ought to employ the players' sisters and mothers as cheerleaders. This would definitely curb sideline viewing habits and discussion.

- NFL players should line up single file after games and shake hands with their opponents. But spitting in the palm first is optional.