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PRO FOOTBALL : Giant Changes Will Come in Short Doses

The New York Giants, who in the Super Bowl edged the Buffalo Bills by a single point, are gearing up to be more dominant this time.

Tinkering with the NFL’s most conservative attack, the Giants have added the Bill Walsh short-pass, ball-control offense to their famous ball-control running game.

“I expect that it will take us most of the summer to nail it down,” the champions’ new coach, Ray Handley, said the other day. “But when we do, we should be able to mix high-percentage passes with hunker-down runs and not contribute materially to our turnover total.

“Our philosophy is unchanged: Don’t lose the game when you’re on offense.

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“I’m sure that Walsh had the same goal in mind at San Francisco when he put in all those ball-control passes for Joe Montana.”

Handley, a math and history specialist from Stanford who became a Giant assistant in 1984 and succeeded Bill Parcells three months ago, is as conservative as Parcells, and believes as devoutly in continuity and unity.

Thus, among other things, Handley picked up most of his predecessor’s staff. The conspicuous newcomer is quarterback coach Jim Fassel, a former USC quarterback who served with Handley at Stanford in 1979-83 and who has been coaching Walsh-style football ever since, mostly in the WFL and USFL.

One complete team: The difference between the NFC’s two title favorites--the Giants and San Francisco 49ers--is that the 49ers have lost their once respectable ground game, as they demonstrated again in Berlin Saturday when they defeated the Chicago Bears with their pass offense.

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As one-dimensional as San Francisco, the Bears can only run.

The Giants are the only complete team in the conference, although their best ballcarrier, Rodney Hampton, has been injured again this summer. In the view of Giant center Bart Oates, however, Hampton isn’t injury prone.

“Rodney will be ready,” Oates said. “He’s a thoroughbred. It won’t be long until he proves to be the steal of the 1990 draft.”

The Giants, drafting 24th in the first round that spring, had planned to take an offensive lineman when they found Hampton still on the board.

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The 49ers could have traded up for him in the 22nd or 23rd slot, but instead took Dexter Carter 28th.

Oates, 32, a graduate of Seton Hall’s law school, is a practicing attorney in nearby Morristown, N.J., though he has no plans to retire from football.

He would rather play a game, and he is proud of the Giant offense, which controlled the ball about 40 minutes to Buffalo’s 20 in the Super Bowl after finishing the regular season with only 15 turnovers--an average of fewer than one a game.

“That’s a new, all-time, single-season, world record for turnovers,” Oates said. “In any league.”

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Realist at work: The NFL’s new labor vice president, Harold Henderson, is traveling from camp to camp this month trying to get a line on the players’ bottom-line demands for a collective-bargaining agreement sometime down the road.

It is a problem that can only be solved if the owners grant the players unrestricted free agency--after, say, three NFL seasons--on condition that the players grant the owners an annual payroll maximum of, say, $30 million.

Exact figures and terms are in dispute.

“I’ve got a number in mind,” Henderson said. “But I don’t want to talk about it now.”

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The owners, facing the end of the draft in 1993 if they don’t cut a deal with the players, are still too divided to worry about it.

“Speaking for myself, I’d never agree to three years,” said Giant President Wellington Mara.

A small contingent of owners still believes that the NFL Players Assn. can be bypassed, somehow, enabling the clubs to bargain on another basis.

Henderson, more of a realist than predecessor Jack Donlan, has told the league that that’s not going to happen.

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Giant safety Dave Duerson, the club’s union leader, described NFL players as overwhelmingly supportive of the NFLPA.

“It would be foolish for us to (bargain) with the owners on our own,” Duerson said. “It would be like a player trying to negotiate his own contract.”

Looking for Magik: Man for man, the Green Bay Packers aren’t to be compared with the Minnesota Vikings, who routinely spice up the NFC’s Pro Bowl team on both sides of the ball.

Nonetheless, astonishing many fans, the Packers have tied the Vikings in the NFC Central standings in each of the last two seasons.

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In a historic oddity, Minnesota and Green Bay shared first place in 1989--when both were 10-6--and shared last place in 1990, when they were both 6-10.

“We had (quarterback) Don Majkowski one year and not the next year,” said Green Bay General Manager Bob Harlan, explaining Green Bay.

Nobody can explain Minnesota.

“That brings us to this year,” Harlan said. “And Majkowski is 90% back this year (from arm surgery). We think he’ll be about 100% (opening day) against Philadelphia.”

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So what do the Packers foresee?

“We’ll be competitive enough to stay in the race all year,” Harlan predicted.

Coach Lindy Infante, who has restored much pride to Green Bay, said: “We don’t have all those majors stars they have in Chicago and Minnesota. We’ll have to scrap all out every Sunday. I’m looking for us to do that.”

Quote Department:

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--Art Modell, Cleveland owner, predicting a winning season: “They’ll rue the day they didn’t put us on Monday Night Football.”

-- Ted Phillips, Chicago executive, on his problems signing players: “I don’t know if I’ve ever met a reasonable agent.”

-- Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia quarterback, making a surprising comment on the coaching change--extroverted Buddy Ryan to quiet guy Rich Kotite: “Rich is more verbal. He gets more into the practices, whereas Buddy would sit back and just watch things, like he was watching it on film.”

-- Scott Norwood, Buffalo kicker, on the miss that cost his teammates the Super Bowl last January: “You (don’t) get too low when things don’t work out, or too high if you’re in the Super Bowl. Just keep on an even keel.”

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