A Tip for the NFL in Exhibition Season: Save the Best for Last

It is with deep and profound regret that professional football doesn't seek counsel from the wily philosopher here.

If it did, it would be informed that its method of running exhibition games is causing further decay to a product already grown unpalatable.

Coaches, for instance, decide to play their top-seeded quarterback for only one period in the game. And what period do they choose?

They choose the first, as the San Francisco 49ers did last Saturday.

What happens is as follows: when the game winds down to the exciting stages in the last half, you find a condition known in the industry as garbage time.

You have a quarterback in there who can't throw, and he is usually flanked by a collection of bozos not likely to be seen in pro football by the end of August.

So 59,000 are seated at Candlestick Park, most of whom are anxious to see the 49ers catch the Raiders, leading only 20-13, and who is appointed quarterback of San Francisco?

It is Steve Bono. This means San Francisco loses by default. And where is Joe Montana? He played the first quarter.

The argument is offered here that if teams want to play their Joe Montana only a quarter, it should be the fourth.

This would assure, in many instances, a respectable finish in which clubs are trying to win with their best.

Play the bozos in the early stages and finish up with the stars, giving those in the seats, not to mention those watching on national TV, a compelling reason to hang around.

At Churchill Downs, do they run the Derby as the first race? They run it as the eighth, giving gamblers something to look forward to.

If they opened the program with the Derby, the place would empty out as Candlestick Park did in the last stages Saturday.

Exhibition games are deadly enough without ending them, for all practical purposes, at the end of the half.

Following the trials of Steve Beuerlein, quarterback for the Raiders, we would have to say Beuerlein is giving himself bad advice, holding out at such a critical point of his football existence.

As a performer, Beuerlein is still untraveled. He started but seven games last year. With no leverage, he is engaging management in a negotiation duel.

One never enters a fight he doesn't figure to win.

Beuerlein hasn't done enough to muscle the Raiders for the kind of contract he requests. It is said he is asking a package that might bring him maybe $800,000 a year, up from last year's novice pay of $140,000.

The Raiders are talking somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000.

Beuerlein doesn't make a point of this publicly, but it appears to be his feeling that if Jay Schroeder, his rival for the quarterback job, is earning $1 million, Steve has more coming than the Raiders have offered.

Schroeder is earning that salary only because that was the level at which he was working at Washington, before his trade to the Raiders.

And the rules specify that if you re-sign a player, you cannot cut his pay. You can cut it only if you first turn him loose and then try to recapture him.

Doing so, you could lose him to another club, something the Raiders weren't eager to do at a time they are desperate for quarterbacking.

So, bringing Schroeder back, they had to give him his million bucks, creating a problem with Beuerlein.

Meantime, Schroeder has availed himself of training camp work, which Beuerlein also needs badly, and of playing time in the exhibition games.

Beuerlein hasn't done enough on the field to give himself a negotiating case. Once he proves he can throw the ball, he will stick the Raiders for plenty.

But right now, he is trying to win a war with a bow and arrow.

In other affairs of the heart, the love of Marcus Allen for the Raiders, and vice-versa, appears to be out the window, partly because of money differences beginning last year, partly because of personality differences and, unwittingly, partly because of Bo.

Feeling the Raiders were shorting him on pay, Allen asked for a contract review last year and, striking out, ducked minicamp, training camp and exhibition games.

This upset the curator of the Raiders, Al Davis, who long has encountered a problem with the attitude of Allen, who has encountered a problem with the attitude of Davis.

The upshot: both sides have agreed to a trade of Allen, who hasn't been happy sharing his job with Bo Jackson when Bo makes his triumphal arrival each October.

The only problem seems to be, Marcus is approaching 30, which isn't young for a running back, and has discovered, distressingly, that the Raiders have been offered less for him than Marcus ever suspected.

No trader will even volunteer a first-round draft choice.

This deflates the vanity of Marcus, who, over the years, has served on the field as a gallant soldier.

Since one always speaks grandly of merchandise one is trying to unload, the Raiders praise Marcus in public.

And they will hold him rather than yield him for sunflower seeds, although they aren't eager to keep shouldering his million-dollar pay.

In sports, it's another vignette of life. You age, lose a step and you had better brace yourself for the indignities of a cruel society.

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