Criticism of NFL officiating has taken yet another dramatic upswing, and some coaches and league executives say instant replay has made officials indecisive, even on calls that are not reviewable.
The battle lines are being drawn for the instant-replay debate that will rage again after the season. Pete Rozelle and Tex Schramm called on all their resources, not to mention favors, to keep instant replay last time around. Rozelle was even hoping the league would adopt it permanently last March, as a retirement gift. But that didn't happen.
Now the debate is as hot as ever. Brown owner Art Modell said: "Maybe the best thing to do with instant replay is cut down on the number of situations. Officials are leaning on the (replay) booth too much. They're abdicating their responsibility on the field."
No one, of course, could accuse field judge Bernie Kukar of failing to make a tough call Sunday at Giants Stadium. Kukar's controversial pass-interference call against Giant safety Sheldon White set the stage for a 19-13 sudden-death playoff victory by the Rams.
Now there could be a move afoot, some league executives say, to assign a team a certain number of "objections." Like timeouts, a team couldn't call for the replay if it already had used its allotment.
Denver Coach Dan Reeves said Monday that modifications might be beneficial, "but I don't see that taking away replay will all of a sudden help officiating."
Reeves repeatedly mentions that replays are useful, especially since television will continue to utilize them. "I don't think if you have the ability to change something and make it correct, you take away the one thing that can prevent a game from being won or lost on an incorrect call," he said.
Reeves had the perfect answer when asked how the Browns and Broncos would be affected by this week's early starting time (11:30 MST) and the altitude. "The altitude is really tough at 11:30," he said. "That's the reason we practice at 2; there's not a lot of oxygen at 11:30."
A season marred by in-fighting ended that way in Buffalo. Art Still, the 12-year veteran who went to the Bills before last season, said Coach Marv Levy is guilty of having double standards. He didn't specify which Bills got special treatment, except to say that they were some of the team's stars.
"There are some ballplayers who can freelance and do whatever they want," Still said. "I think that was a big problem this past year. I understand people wanting to make a name for themselves, but that can affect the players around you. I think you have to have some backbone, some rules. And if you're going to have rules, they should be for everybody."
Levy said he would not comment on the remarks because Still did not name names.
It could also be the end of the road--at least in Buffalo--for 11-year nose tackle Fred Smerlas. "It's up in the air," Smerlas said. "They told me five years ago I was too old."
When Charger running back Gary Anderson first started his holdout, Bobby Beathard said on NBC-TV that Anderson was not worth $1 million, the salary he supposedly was demanding at the time.
Now, as the Chargers' general manager, Beathard may have to eat those words. Beathard indicated this week that one of his priorities is signing Anderson, who sat out the season. The Chargers, with Anderson and Marion Butts, could have one of the best backfields in the AFC.
"I would love to have Gary Anderson back here. He'd be a big help to this team," Beathard said. And about his earlier comments? "I was misquoted," Beathard cracked.
Club executives may not be able to offer random incentive bonuses to players during the season, but players can. The 49ers' offensive line, which calls itself the "No-Respect Club," had some extra incentive against the Vikings that paid off.
Platooning left tackles Bubba Paris and Steve Wallace collected $900 from their teammates for not allowing NFL sack leader Chris Doleman to get a sack. Safety Ronnie Lott launched the bonus scheme by offering $200, and Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and team consultant Harry Edwards all matched it; defensive end Larry Roberts chipped in $100.
Roberts, however, gets a rebate if he sacks Ram quarterback Jim Everett on Sunday.
San Francisco linebacker Matt Millen unsuccessfully tried to get the 49ers to take a long look at his former Raider teammate, tight end Todd Christensen. Millen said the biggest difference between the devilish Raiders and the angelic 49ers is only perception.
"I got a letter last year (while a Raider), saying, 'You're the dirtiest so-and-so who every played and you ought to be kicked out of football.' This year, nothing about my game has changed, and I get a letter saying, 'It's great to see you contributing so much in a 49ers uniform.' It was the same signature on both: 'Love, Mom.' "