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By maintaining a laissez-faire attitude in the recent misdemeanor assault trial of quarterback Ken O'Brien and defensive end Mark Gastineau, the New York Jets management may have been more lazy than fair. On Sept. 12, a jury in Manhattan Criminal Court convicted Gastineau but acquitted O'Brien of charges stemming from a September 1983 incident at Studio 54, a formerly fashionable New York disco. Gastineau faces a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine or a year in jail.

The Gastineau-O'Brien trial lasted 24 days. Neither player practiced with the Jets during that time. Gastineau didn't miss any games, but O'Brien lost the quarterback job to Pat Ryan.

Inexplicably, attorneys for the two players requested—and obtained—six postponements, dating from last December, before the case went to trial on Aug. 20. All this time the Jets say they maintained a hands-off posture. Maybe they did, but it's hard to believe that the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Raiders or any other NFL team would have stood for all those legal delays.

Washington fullback John Riggins, explaining why his back ailment disappeared during training camp: "I got up on a rack, drained the oil and put in some additive. That's the trouble with a make and model my age. It's hard to get parts."

If the NFL doesn't think the USFL is for real, why is Jack Donlan flying around telling the owners and their money people to take a hard line on salaries?

Word is that commissioner Pete Rozelle has dispatched Donlan, the head of the NFL management council, to reiterate to the teams that they mustn't be manipulated by agents who, Rozelle believes, use the USFL as a "ghost" to drive up payrolls.

The average NFL player salary was $130,000 last season and will rise to $160,000 this year. But the biggest difference is in salaries for drafted rookies, which have skyrocketed 26% as a consequence of the war against the USFL. Because of those escalations, Rozelle is concerned that some teams, such as the 49ers, whose player payroll for '84 is $2 million greater than last season's, will lose $1 million this year and as much as $3 million by 1986.

Atlanta quarterback Steve Bartkowski, who's in the final season of a $450,000-a-year contract, lost negotiating leverage when he admitted last week that he likes it just fine down Georgia way.

"Atlanta is definitely my home," Bartkowski says. "It will be until the Lord comes back or takes me home to live with Him. I have no desire to play somewhere else. For me to take a 32-year-old body somewhere else and walk away from all I've tried to do all these years, to try and help make this team something this city can be proud of...would be the greatest hypocrisy I can think of...."

Hypocrisy aside, Bartkowski's agent is talking $900,000 a year for the quarterback's new multi-year contract.

In practice before the Raiders' Sept. 9 game with Green Bay, Derrick Jensen was working as a blocking back in tandem with Frank Hawkins. "I'll give you $500 if we switch positions [in the game]," Jensen said, surely in jest.

When the Raiders lined up for Hawkins' one-yard TD run against the Packers, Jensen led the way, blocking. But later, with the Raiders driving for their final TD in a 28-7 win, the two pulled the switcheroo, Jensen carrying three times and scoring from the one-yard line.

Hawkins is still waiting for his $500.

There's trouble brewing in Big D. After the Cowboys' 28-7 loss to the Giants on Sept. 9, several Dallas players criticized coach Tom Landry and his staff for not having prepared the team for the two Lawrence Taylor blitzes deep in Giants' territory that resulted in fumbles by Gary Hogeboom. Reacting to adverse comments by tight end Doug Cosbie and backup quarterback Danny White, Landry called a team meeting and snapped, "That's a mistake on their part to be critical. I could be very critical if I wanted to be after a game. We're all on the same team. Coaches make mistakes just like players make mistakes. You live with them and overcome them. This means we're not where we want to be from a unity standpoint."

Landry defended calling 52 Rover Slant twice, although the formation left Taylor virtually free to get Hogeboom. Both times, Landry said, Doug Donley was wide open in the end zone, and with any chance to throw, Hogeboom would have had two touchdowns. "I could've completed the pass," Landry said, "and I can't even throw."

The next day, the meeting's details appeared in The Dallas Morning News. Said Landry, "That's team unity for you."

Bud Grant may have retired from coaching the Minnesota Vikings, but he hasn't retired from ripping refs. On Sept. 9, the Vikings lost to the Eagles 19-17. With seven seconds left, field judge John Grier ruled that a Viking had committed a face-mask penalty, giving the Eagles a first down. On the next, and final, play, John Spagnola caught a TD pass to give Philly the W.

Grant, who watched the game in the den of his Bloomington, Minn. home, was outraged by Grier's call. "This would've been my biggest fine ever," he said. "I would really have let them have it. This proves what I've said over the years, that officials decide the outcome of a lot of ball games. That call was just terrible.... Hockey learned a long time ago that you can't have a penalty call decide the outcome of a game in the final minutes. I wonder if the NFL will ever learn and quit making calls like that toward the end of the game."

The Giants' victories over the Eagles and Cowboys failed to squelch rumors that Carl Peterson, G.M. of the USFL champion Philadelpia Stars, and Jim Mora, the Stars' head coach, are ready to take over those jobs in New York, or the year-old rumor that former University of Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger is waiting in the wings.

Giant G.M. George Young is getting his kicks trying to figure out where the rumors come from. "Peterson started the latest rumor about himself," Young says. As for the Schnellenberger rumor, Young traces that to a football banquet last December in New York City. He suspects that Jimmy the Greek happened to see Giant owner Wellington Mara, who was sitting at a table next to Schnellenberger, who later happened to shake the owner's hand, and....

Says Young, "I told Jimmy, 'You gave me such a headache last year.' He's not a journalist. Journalists are those who start at the bottom, learn the business and don't get their hair combed."



Muncie flunked the test and was sent packing.



For now, the Chuck Muncie story is on hold.

The latest episode in the saga of the troubled running back began Saturday, Sept. 8, when he phoned Charger coach Don Coryell to say he wouldn't be on the team's flight to Seattle for the next day's game. Someone had slashed the tires on his $56,000 Porsche, he claimed. (He had used that excuse once before to explain an absence when he was with the Saints.)

When Muncie arrived in Seattle, the Chargers asked that he submit to urinalysis. Muncie, who in 1982 was treated twice for drug and alcohol dependence, refused. On Sept. 10, Coryell traded him to the Dolphins for a No. 2 pick in '85.

It took Muncie four days to get to Miami. The word was, Muncie wanted time to clean out his system. When he finally arrived, he said, "My drug problems are in the past." But an hour later, the trade was off. He had failed his urinalysis. "They found THC and some alcohol in my system," said Muncie. THC is tetrahydrocannabinol, the chief intoxicant in marijuana. The Dolphins have been mum, but the Miami Herald and the News and Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale quoted unnamed Dolphin sources as saying the test showed Muncie had traces of cocaine in his system.

Commissioner Pete Rozelle ordered Muncie to undergo a complete drug evaluation and comply with any prescribed treatment—or be suspended.

Said one Charger, "Chuck was a pain in the ass. All his lies and excuses. He hasn't practiced three days in his life. But we overlooked all of it because on Sundays he was brilliant."

The day after Muncie left, Shula, desperate for a runner, tried out Rickey Young, 31, a nine-year veteran cut by the Vikings in August. Young also flunked his urinalysis. Said Shula, "Very disturbing."


OFFENSE: Tampa Bay quarterback Steve DeBerg came on in the second quarter to pass for 195 yards and two touchdowns, rallying the Buccaneers from a 14-point deficit to a 21-17 win over Detroit.

DEFENSE: Washington cornerback Vernon Dean, reinstated as a starter, had three interceptions—one for a 36-yard TD—and 10 tackles, eight unassisted, as the Redskins beat the Giants 30-14.