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THE NFL / BILL PLASCHKE : Any Old Joe Could Start For Packers This Week

Emptying the National Brand pad while thinking about Jerry Sherk, Ozzie Newsome, Clarence Scott and Reggie Rucker. . . .

The game of the weekend might not be in Dallas, but in Green Bay, if only because we can’t wait to see who the Packers will trot out as starting quarterback in their Central Division showdown against the Chicago Bears. With Brett Favre hobbling on a sore ankle, and backup Ty Detmer lost for the season after thumb surgery, Packer Coach Mike Holmgren spent the week in a panic.

He tried out Doug Pederson, signed rookie Mike McCoy to the practice squad and eventually pulled Bob Gagliano, 37, off a tennis court in Santa Barbara. Gagliano has not played in a game in nearly three years but could start Sunday. “I’m not saying it’s going real good,” Gagliano acknowledged. And, oh yes, Holmgren phoned Joe Montana. He later claimed he was joking, but even close associates took Holmgren seriously when he said he told Joe, “Before you say no, listen to my proposition.” Montana, of course, said no. Probably had something to do with the prospects of playing on a team with T.J. Rubley.

Rubley, supposedly the Packers’ third-string quarterback, messed up so badly last week in Minnesota that Holmgren won’t go near him Sunday with a 10-foot mitten. With the Packers in position to win with a last-minute field goal, Rubley called an audible on a quarterback sneak then threw an interception that led to the Vikings’ game-winning kick. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a coach that upset,” Rubley said.

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Our guess? Favre somehow will keep alive his consecutive-game streak of 54--longest in the league for quarterbacks--by limping behind center as long as he can stand the pain.

It makes for an interesting backdrop to the 150th meeting in one of the league’s best rivalries. Both teams finish the season with easy schedules, so the winner could be the winner of the Central Division. One winner is already Bear offensive coordinator Ron Turner. When he joined the team in 1993, his group was ranked last in the league. It is now sixth. Anybody else think we have a head coaching candidate on our hands?

The Bears have many undrafted free agents in their starting offense (Antonio Carter, James Williams and Erik Kramer) as well as first-round picks (Andy Heck, Curtis Conway and Rashaan Salaam). None of the Bears’ 25 offensive players has a Pro Bowl appearance. Of the five teams that rank above them in offense, each had at least 11 Pro Bowl invitations among their offensive starters.

We can see Turner taking control of the Arizona Cardinals--Bill Bidwill still has a soft spot for Chicago guys. We can also see Viking defensive coordinator Tony Dungy going to the Detroit Lions. A probable vacancy in New Orleans could be filled by Auburn Coach Terry Bowden, and University of Florida Coach Steve Spurrier and his considerable head could find a home with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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DOODADS

Wandering aimlessly while pondering Bill Nelsen, Dick and Ed Modzelewski, Clay Matthews and Ernie Kellermann. . . .

This sad NFL week ended appropriately when it became apparent that Willie Broughton would replace Robert Goff on the New Orleans Saint defensive line. These are bad times indeed when a nose tackle nicknamed “Pig” is sent to the bench.

So, we all finally know where Wayne Fontes stands. After watching his team get embarrassed by the Atlanta Falcons, Lion owner William Clay Ford said Fontes has to make the playoffs or be fired. “It’s got to be the playoffs,” Ford said. “Absolutely. I think we’ve got enough talent on this team to be [in the] playoffs. And not to make the playoffs is not acceptable.” Given that his team is 3-6, Fontes probably has to win the rest of his games to survive. The party could be over in less than 36 hours, after the Lions play host to Tampa Bay on Sunday.

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Even Fontes has finally acknowledged it, saying, “If we lose a couple of more . . . the fat lady will start clearing her throat.” We miss him already.

Modern Day Doc: Michael Dillingham, the San Francisco 49er team physician who is not allowed by the team to speak to the media except in rare and controlled situations, did not issue a statement about William Floyd’s knee surgery until after his recent season-ending operation. Of course, before the surgery, Dillingham talked all about it on his weekly radio show.

Then there is Jack Kent Cooke, Washington Redskin owner, who recently approached a reporter and asked, “Do you work for us?” He wanted somebody to move his car.

KNICKKNACKS

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Working the room while waxing over Gary Collins, Bob Babich, Walt Michaels and Cleo Miller. . . .

The Houston Oilers are going to formalize their agreement to move to Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, although several hurdles must be cleared before the team actually moves--things such as selling the luxury suites in the new stadium and getting approval for state funding of the facility. But it’s a done deal.

The Oilers are contracted to remain in the Astrodome through the 1997 season, but expect owner Bud Adams to buy out of that lease and move the team to Memphis for two seasons--beginning next year--while the new stadium is being built.

Why move? It’s as simple as Adams choosing between paying rent in the aging Astrodome or being allowed to play for nothing in a new Nashville stadium bought by taxpayers and ticket-holders.

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What kind of market is Nashville? Is it big enough by traditional NFL standards? Is it truly major league?

In these times of free-agent franchises, does it matter?

Cheers to the St. Louis Rams for activating tackle Jackie Slater this week, just in time for Slater to play in his 20th NFL season, setting a league record for most seasons on one club. Slater had been sidelined since the start of the season because of elbow problems.

Slater, 41, has played in 258 NFL games, more than any offensive linemen in history. Only three other players--George Blanda, Jim Marshall and Jan Stenerud--played in more NFL games. Slater has blocked for 23 quarterbacks and 36 running backs for the Rams, including seven different 1,000-yard rushers. (How many of those rushers can you name? We’ll print the answer next week.)

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Quote of the Week: Linebacker Micheal Barrow of the Oilers after they played in Cleveland against the Browns: “It’s about time we played against a team whose owner is hated worse than ours.”

ENDINGS

Bouncing off the walls while remembering Leroy Kelly, Jim Kanicki, Chip Glas and our all-time favorite, Fair Hooker. . . .

Some final words on the Cleveland Browns’ move to Baltimore, where Bill Belichick will feel at home with all those crabs:

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One of sport’s best rivalries will not die quietly. When the Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers play Monday night, many Steeler fans will be wearing orange armbands. “Even when the game didn’t mean anything, this rivalry was the essence of football,” said Dan Rooney, Steeler owner. . . . Art Modell, Brown owner, will be there, but he is not attending any of the Browns’ three remaining home games. He is also not sleeping in his Cleveland mansion.

We wish more wimpy owners felt like Ralph Wilson, who wants Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to fight Modell. “The league is afraid of an antitrust suit, but . . . you go for it anyway,” said Wilson, Buffalo Bill owner for all of their 36 years. “You draw a line in the sand. You say, ‘No more.’ You say, ‘Go ahead and sue us.’ ”

Added Wilson: “There are times in your life when you have to decide if you are going to be honest, or go the other way. If you are going to keep that extra $5, or give it back to the clerk and say she made a mistake. For the league, now is that time.”

Indeed, there exists one NFL team that will not move. God bless the Packers, that publicly owned, nonprofit corporation with 1,898 shareholders, none of whom can hold more than 200 shares by rule. Most of the shareholders are average people living in Wisconsin, so there is no way they would ever vote for a move. And if the team is in financial straits? The bylaws say that the team is dissolved with the remaining assets going to the local American Legion Sullivan-Wallen Post.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

QUICK KICKS

BARRY’S WEEK, PART I: Barry Switzer, Dallas Cowboy coach, stopped his news conference after Monday night’s victory over Philadelphia to note that a radio reporter looked like the “Son of Sam.”

“Has anybody ever told you that before?” he asked.

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BARRY’S WEEK, PART II: During the same news conference, Switzer referred to one of his starting defensive linemen as “Kevin McCormack.”

It’s Hurvin McCormack.

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BARRY’S WEEK, PART III: On Thursday, Switzer noted that his son Doug would be playing an important college football game this weekend as quarterback for Arkansas Pine Bluff against “William Morris.”

William Morris?

“Oh yeah, that’s a talent agency, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean William Brown. Yeah, it’s William Brown.”

William Brown?

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Switzer’s son is playing against a college called Morris Brown.

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TAKE THAT, NO-CALS: Far worse than any barbs he could throw at the 49ers, Deion Sanders spent the week referring to the city as “Frisco.”

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DIFFERENT SORT OF BLITZ: The Chicago Tribune obtained a “Media Relations Action Plan,” written by a local public relations firm, which includes directions on how to leak stories, and to whom.

The firm’s client? The Chicago Bears.

The type of stories to be leaked? Stuff about the Bears’ push for a new stadium.

What those stories said? In one instance, a reminder was written to leak a story about the Bears’ potential interest in moving to Los Angeles or Baltimore.

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SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY: Miami Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino, who is 38 yards from the all-time record for passing yardage, has thrown passes to 54 receivers.

At least eight of them have spent time in jail. One is dead. And Marino said he could name “Maybe half.”

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FINAL WORD: Disillusioned Pittsburgh Steeler owner Dan Rooney said this about the move of two Central Division foes, the Browns and, probably, the Houston Oilers:

“I was always pushing for realignment. I guess they gave it to me.”


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