Talk going around Indianapolis is that coach Frank Kush was fired during a locker room tiff with owner Bob Irsay on Nov. 25, and that he'll wind up in Arizona as coach of the USFL's Outlaws.
The story goes like this: Irsay's wife, Harriet, phoned her husband in his box—just before the half, with the Colts trailing the Raiders 14-0, and said that even she knew what was going wrong offensively with the Colts. So Irsay sent son Jimmy, the Colts' general manager, down to the locker room. According to several Colts players, Jimmy told Kush, "Those guys are reading our offense. And Dad said to tell you that the offense is a stinking mess. He wants you to do something about it."
The players say Kush replied, "I run this team, and if he doesn't like it, he can damn well get somebody else."
Jimmy went back upstairs and reported to Dad. Minutes later, the players say, Irsay burst into the locker room, collared Kush and pulled him off into another room, where, the players believe, Kush was canned.
Last week Jimmy Irsay denied that Kush, who has two years left on his contract, was out. But the Colts have given Kush permission to talk to the Outlaws.
The Draft Doug Flutie Association has a thriving chapter in Buffalo, whose Bills have a 2-13 record and could win the right to pick No. 1 in the NFL draft. "This guy's like Americana—Norman Rockwell," Bob Orrange, 28, the DDFA's president, says of Flutie.
Here's an excerpt from the inaugural DDFA newsletter, which was distributed at the Dec. 2 Bills-Colts game: "Let's look at some history: The Bills have had the No. 1 overall pick three times. First O.J. Simpson in 1969. Even the Bills couldn't screw that up.... In 1972, they took Walt Patulski, the first NFL player to win the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. In 1979, they took Tom Cousineau, the first top draftee to sign with another country.... Some say [Heisman-winner Flutie] is a gamble because of his height, but letting the Bills draft at all is a gamble."
Les Steckel "has turned the Vikings into the Boys Club of the NFL," says a former player for the team. Here's the type of thing he is talking about: At halftime in the Vikings' Nov. 29 game with Washington, Mike Lynn, Minnesota's general manager, spied receiver Sammy White and running back Ted Brown, both injured, leaving the press box. The Skins were leading 31-0. The two vets headed to the Rusty Scupper restaurant.
At a team meeting the next day, insiders say, Steckel stormed around, asking any player who quit in the game to stand up and raise his hand. When no one did, Steckel charged over to Brown and met him nose to nose. "You quit, didn't you?" Steckel said. The coach turned to White and said, "You quit, didn't you?" Steckel told them they'd be fined and put on injured reserve. Steckel also told them he never wanted to see their faces again.
White, the team's alltime leader in receiving yardage and touchdown receptions, was "humiliated" that his coach yelled at him in front of his teammates. White says, "If they keep me around, I'll retire." He says he didn't know that leaving the game was taboo and that ex-coach Bud Grant never required his injured players to show up at games.
Two days later, both players met with Steckel and Lynn, and Steckel said both players would be fined. "Forgiveness is a virtue," he said. "They have been forgiven. Excused? No."
In February, 49ers rookie tight end John Frank begins his first year of medical school at Ohio State. Bill Walsh's offense may be complicated, but Frank admits that football isn't brain surgery. "I do find it intellectually stimulating," says Frank, who had a 3.9 grade point average in chemistry as an Ohio State undergrad.
San Francisco linebacker Milt McColl, a fourth-year med student at Stanford, agrees. "The game is so specialized that you're forced to do a lot of thinking," he says. "However, it's not a life-or-death matter."
McColl (Stanford '80) usually attends classes from February to June. Last year, however, he took three months off to coach the Bologna (Italy) Doves pro football team. "I couldn't go to med school full time," says McColl, whose father, Dr. Bill McColl, studied medicine in the off-season when he was an end for the Bears (1952-59). "It's too intense. Besides, I like knowing I can do two things well."
Says Frank: "A surgeon friend told me, 'Love the one you're with.' I'm committed to football, and I don't care how long it takes to finish medical school."
Bad and good news on the NFL attendance front:
Buffalo, which averaged 75,142 in 1981, is drawing 44,937 in '84. Only 20,693 fans showed up in 80,290-seat Rich Stadium for the Dec. 2 game with the Colts, one of the sparsest turnouts in modern league history—for one of the least consequential games, to be sure.
Tampa Bay, which averaged 66,492 in '81, has fallen off to about 46,000. Detroit is down 12,986 fans per game from 1983's 69,199, and Cleveland has fallen farther—down 13,260 from last year's 70,564.
But the Super Bowl champion Raiders have improved attendance by about 15,300 a game—up to 61,352; the Jets, having jumped from 60,372-seat Shea Stadium to New Jersey's 76,891-seat Giants Stadium, have gone from 51,510 to 67,030; and the Colts, having made a somewhat longer jump, from Baltimore to Indianapolis, have risen from 37,441 to 52,754.
Dan Fouts, San Diego's 12-year quarterback, ain't what he used to be, says Denver end Rulon Jones. "He doesn't seem to backpedal as swiftly as he once did," says Jones. "He's slowing down pretty quick, because he's paying for those licks he's taken." Before '83, Fouts was 45-22 (.672) in 67 straight starts. Then injury struck. He has failed to start in nine of the team's last 25 games. In the 16 starts, his record is only 8-8. On Dec. 5 Fouts, who has four years left on his contract at $1.2 million per, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
Making his debut as a quarterback, Sir Walter uncorks a pass.
After suffering in Sack City, Moon has shone.
'LET'S RUN A SCREEN LEFT TO CAL OVER THERE'
The first half was drawing to a close when the Chicago Bears, desperate, decided to audition a new quarterback. And what did Walter Payton think of his brief stint at QB in Sunday's 20-14 loss to the Packers? "It was O.K.," says Payton, who took six snaps, all from the shotgun formation. He had one of his two pass attempts intercepted by Green Bay's Tom Flynn, and he carried the ball himself four times for 25 yards. "But," says Payton, who had never played quarterback before, "I wouldn't want to do it for a living."
With Jim McMahon sidelined with a lacerated kidney, second-stringer Steve Fuller out with a separated shoulder and newly acquired 38-year-old Greg Landry waiting in the wings, Bears coach Mike Ditka decided to give Payton a try. Rusty Lisch, the No. 3 quarterback, didn't mind being pulled. "I was kinda excited, really, just to see what would happen," said Lisch.
The Soldier Field fans went crazy; on every play, Payton had to signal them to quiet down. In the huddle, he was just as cool. "He took charge," said center Jay Hilgenberg. "One time he said, 'Screen left to Cal over there.' The rest of the time he had it all right."
Playing halfback, Payton ran 31 more times for 150 yards and a touchdown—the first NFL player to run the ball more than 3,000 times in his career. In the third quarter, Payton shifted to the left wing from a Power I, took the hand-off from Lisch and threw a two-yard TD to Matt Suhey.
"The man can do everything," says Jim Osborne, defensive tackle. "His first year, I saw him catch a punt in practice—behind his back. He was doing it as though he does it all the time.... I'm looking forward to seeing it on the news."
MOON IS NO LONGER BLUE IN HOUSTON
When the Houston Oilers were 0-5 and slip-sliding to nowhere, quarterback Warren Moon, who had played six seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL, leading them to the Grey Cup championship five times, wasn't sure that he'd done the right thing when he signed a $6 million contract with the Oilers last February. "I was beaten up—physically and mentally," says Moon. "I didn't tell anybody except my wife. People would ask, 'Don't you wish you were playing for the Seahawks?' If I'd admitted how tough it was, they'd have asked me that question even more."
Moon was a strong-armed sprint-out quarterback at the University of Washington and at Edmonton, but what he found in Houston was an ultraconservative game plan. So, he perfected his hand-off technique. "I thought it was my fault we weren't winning," Moon says. "I'd come back to the huddle and say, 'My mistake.' The linemen kept complaining that I wouldn't yell at anybody but myself."
Now Moon is a. candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year: He has completed a rookie-record 240 of 419 passes for 3,032 yards and 12 touchdowns, with only 14 interceptions. Best of all, he has taken charge: He calls audibles about half of the time. Moon's still learning to throw out of the shotgun, but he can read defenses well, and the Oilers have won three of their last five games.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: Rams running back Eric Dickerson rushed for 215 yards in 27 carries to surpass O.J. Simpson's single-season rushing record set in 1973 (2,007 to 2,003) as the Rams defeated Houston, 27-16.
DEFENSE: Bengal defensive end Eddie Edwards had 11 tackles, recovered two fumbles and sacked Richard Todd twice as Cincinnati beat New Orleans 24-21 to stay in the race for the AFC Central title.