THE NFL / BILL PLASCHKE : For the Shulas, the Son Is Rising, Thanks to Blake

Nothing but notes . . .

STUFF

Does anybody else think that Dave Shula is saving his job while Don Shula is losing his? . . . The Cincinnati Bengals' Jeff Blake has been the most exciting passer of the first half of the season. You ask us, the Miami Dolphins' Dan Marino has been one of the most disappointing. Vinny Testaverde has thrown more touchdown passes. And Marino has a worse interception percentage than one-armed Drew Bledsoe.

Yet expect Marvin Demoff, the agent who is known around the league as "the Monsignor" because everyone tells him their secrets--and he keeps them--to finish a deal soon that will make Marino the highest-paid player in the league. More than $6 million a year for about five years should do it. Considering that the only top quarterback prospect is currently a college sophomore--Peyton Manning of Tennessee--and that Marino's backup is about 100 years old, the guy is probably worth it.

The Dolphins have bigger problems than their tough quarterback, who figures to return for next week's showdown with the Buffalo Bills. . . . The running game has gone south again--it has accounted for fewer than 50 yards in three of the last four games, including 28 yards against a team that ranked 28th in the league in run defense, the New Orleans Saints. The Dolphin players think the problem is that offensive coordinator Gary Stevens is reluctant to develop a running sequence and stick with it. Players think he is so used to dealing with an ineffective line and backs, he doesn't know how to coordinate for the sort of power game that could be possible with a big guy like Terry Kirby.

Things are also heating up again around defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti, who should be fired after the season if he fails to maximize one of the best lineups in the league. Or perhaps the person fired should be the one who signed off on Terrell Buckley, still burned consistently, even though he plays only on passing downs.

The fans hated him in Green Bay but they hate him worse in South Florida. "It's just always 'Get Terrell Buckley Day,' " Buckley said. Yeah, for the opposing teams. . . . After putting this year's hottest free agent, Deion Sanders, in their defensive backfield, the Dallas Cowboys will probably lose next year's hottest free agent from the secondary. Darren Woodson, the league's best strong safety, can surely not remain in Dallas under the salary cap. . . . And Emmitt Smith will go next. Bets are already being taken on the length of next year's training camp holdout.

MORE STUFF

Does anybody else think that teams using alternating "change-of-pace" running backs--as the Pittsburgh Steelers and St. Louis Rams do--are simply trying to hide that they don't trust one guy to do it all? Funny, but Smith doesn't need anybody to help him change the pace. He can do it on the same run.

This thing with the Steelers' Kordell Stewart smells rotten.

A white quarterback is drafted in the second round, he struggles in training camp, so what? He should become a third stringer and stay there the entire season while he learns. Rob Johnson in Jacksonville, Chad May in Minnesota, Stoney Case in Arizona.

But what happens to Stewart, who is black? At the first sign of trouble, he is moved to wide receiver. The Steelers claim injuries forced the switch and he is still a quarterback, he still attends quarterback meetings . . . but he practices at wide receiver, and he played there Thursday against the Bengals. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and sounds like a duck . . .

Although the Steelers are owned by the liberal Dan Rooney and run by highly respected executive Tom Donahoe, this is dangerously close to what Warren Moon is talking about when he says black quarterbacks fight subconscious stereotypes even today.

It's a shame we live in a society in which Jeff Blake brags that he has never played anything other than quarterback. Blake, of course, was released by Pete Carroll and the New York Jets last season before he became a star.

Instead of the black kid from East Carolina, Carroll decided upon the white kid from Boston College. Surely you remember Glenn Foley?

STUFF LIGHT

Does anybody else think that with tight end Keith Jackson now in uniform, the Green Bay Packers are the second-best team in the NFC? A distant second, though. . . . On the eve of contract negotiations designed to keep reborn quarterback Jim Harbaugh in Indianapolis, Harbaugh said, "I'm just a grinder. If I were a horse, I would be a mudder. I'm never going to look like Dan Marino, Steve Young or Troy Aikman. . . . I'm the king of uglitude."

Leigh Steinberg, Harbaugh's agent, immediately informed Harbaugh that he had just joined a select group of clients who sabotage their own negotiations. The charter member was Steve Bartkowski who, upon being drafted by the Atlanta Falcons as the first overall pick in 1975, said, "I love this game so much I would play it for free." Then there was Aikman, who recently said that if Sanders could guarantee the Cowboys a Super Bowl, he would play for nothing. Finally there was Young, who, on the eve of his negotiations three years ago, said, "I don't play for money, I play for the joy of it."

Football will not replace baseball as the national pastime until somebody publishes a football encyclopedia that doesn't require a working knowledge of Sanskrit to decipher. . . . There is no little rich kid on this planet who hits harder than John Lynch, Tampa Bay Buccaneer safety, Stanford graduate, La Jolla-bred and son of the guy who owns XTRA radio. Lynch is one of the reasons the Buccaneers lead the league with 21 take-aways, a key to their success. They certainly aren't winning because of that 28th-ranked offense.

STUFF PLUS

Does anybody else think that Rich Brooks' successful step from the Pacific 10 Conference to the St. Louis Rams will make Terry Donahue a viable NFL coaching candidate again? . . . This business about the NFL challenging Sanders' contract because it violates the "spirit" of the salary cap is bogus. What would happen if we were investigated by the IRS for violating the spirit of the tax code? Half of the churches in this country would close down. Either you broke the rules or you didn't, and the Cowboys didn't.

OK, so Jerry Jones was showboating when he paid Sanders the NFL minimum salary of $179,000 for the first three years of the contract so he could prorate or back-load most of the $35 million deal to the uncapped season in 1999. Everybody in the league has been doing that since the first days of the cap in 1993. Heck, the San Francisco 49ers practically invented the ruse.

If the league is just tweaking Jones, fine. But if the NFL is serious about challenging this deal, then it is challenging an entire system, one that has helped make the NFL the hottest thing in pro sports.

After meeting with agents this week in Dallas, it's apparent the players' association will try to get the labor contract extended beyond 1999. Agents, finally, agreed with the rest of the world that the system works. That, and they want the TV honchos to be assured of labor peace when negotiations begin for the new 1998 network contract. . . . Take that, Tom Matte: With successive victories over the Rams, Dolphins and 49ers, the Indianapolis Colts have won three in a row over teams with winning records for the first time since 1964. If they beat the Raiders on Sunday, it will be the first time in franchise history they have won four consecutive games against winning teams.

AND THIS STUFF

Does anybody else think truer words have not been spoken than when George Seifert, 49er coach, said this about backup quarterback Elvis Grbac: "There's a certain amount of excitement about it, too, in a zany kind of way, a masochistic kind of way." . . . The Detroit Lions, who visit Washington on Sunday, have not beaten the Redskins in 30 years, having lost 16 consecutive games to them during that time. . . . There were, one supposes, a million ways that predominantly black NFL teams would have handled the Million Man March on Monday. The Jacksonville Jaguars were cool, allowing five of their players to miss practice to attend the event. The Miami Dolphins were uncool, their black players refusing to talk to reporters that day in honor of the march, undercutting feelings of unity that were fostered there.

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QUICK KICKS

FAMOUS LAST WORDS: Tony Zendejas, the four-times released kicker who replaced released San Francisco 49er Doug Brien this week, offered these words of comfort to the confused and somewhat angry youngster:

"As kickers, nobody really likes us."

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HARD TO BELIEVE: If you are still wondering who made that decision to give the ball to Derek Loville on a counter play at the goal line as the first half was ending for the 49ers in their loss to the Colts--a play that netted minus-two yards--get this:

The call was not made by offensive coordinator Marc Trestman because he and other coaches upstairs had left the booth, thinking the first half was over. When officials added two seconds to the clock, giving the 49ers one more play, Trestman was in an elevator.

It was Coach George Seifert who hastily made the call.

Going down?

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MOTHER OF THE YEAR: After being publicly accused of spitting in the face of Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Trent Dilfer on Sunday, rookie cornerback Corey Fuller of the Minnesota Vikings was awakened at 5:30 a.m. Monday by a phone call.

From a radio talk show? Team official?

No, it was his mother. She told him to keep his loogies to himself.

"She was cussing me," Fuller said.

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SON OF THE YEAR: Fuller later issued a four-part apology for what he claims was an accidental shot. He apologized to Dilfer, the Buccaneers, the Vikings, and . . .

"Most of all, I want to apologize to my mother," he said. "I'm still her child, no matter how much money I make."

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AT BOOKSTORES NOW: With the New England Patriots in the depths of a five-game losing streak, some hot new reading has hit the stands.

It is Coach Bill Parcells' new motivational book entitled, "Finding a Way To Win."

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AND AT HEALTH STORES NOW: Parcells skipped the postgame news conference after the Patriots' defeat in Kansas City last week because of dehydration caused by wearing one of those nylon jackets overweight people use to lose weight.

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HUMOR UNDER FIRE: Marv Levy, Buffalo Bills' coach, certainly does not have cancer in his funny bone. He was recently explaining to male reporters that taking hormones was an option in dealing with his prostate cancer.

"But hormones have considerable side effects," Levy said. "One of them is growing breasts. While I like [them] as much as you guys, I don't like them on me."

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FYI: For a second consecutive home game, the Raiders could not fill Oakland Coliseum this weekend in time to lift a TV blackout.

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