At 11:30 a.m. Sunday, some extraordinary calls started coming into the Sullivan Stadium press box in Foxboro, Mass. The calls were from some bookmakers around the country to sportswriters covering the Dolphins-Patriots game. The questions were the same: Had Miami quarterback Dan Marino been arrested the night before? And was Marino being benched by coach Don Shula?
In Las Vegas, meanwhile, the betting line on the Patriots-Dolphins game began to change. At most sports books, Miami had opened Sunday as a 1- or 1½-point favorite. But when the Marino rumors hit, the spread began to fluctuate, reaching 2½ Patriots at one Las Vegas book. The spread varied at other books, ranging from Miami by 1 to New England by 1 or 1½. Some books took the game off the board.
Chip Namias, the Dolphins' public relations director, informed Shula of the stories 40 minutes before kickoff; the coach said Marino had been exactly where he should have been the night before—at a team meeting from 8:30 to 9:30 and at the team snack that began at 9:30. Marino stayed until 10:40. He also made bed check at 11.
Miami lost 17-13, and Marino said, referring to the rumors, "It's ridiculous. How do things like this get started?"
The NFL would like to know, too. Warren Welsh, the director of security, said Monday, "We are looking into it."
Says Gary Austin, who runs a race and sports book in Las Vegas, "The Marino story was unusual. In the end, though, it didn't make much difference to us. Our total write on the game was even. Almost the same amount was bet on both sides."
But Art Manteris, sports book manager for Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, said that after he learned about the rumor at 7 a.m. (P.D.T.), he lowered the betting limit on the game from $20,000 to $5,000 because "of the significant question in a player of that status." He also said word around town was "money was coming in on New England from both in and out of town."
Quarterback Jim Kelly has been told by USFL officials that "he'll be the one player who'll go down with the ship," according to his agent, Greg Lustig. Yet, Lustig says, nobody seems willing to pay Kelly to play next season for the Trumped-up Dream Team formed by the proposed New Jersey-Houston merger. "I can't say he'll definitely be in the USFL," says Lustig, who's demanding Kelly's '86 salary—$500,000—up front. Buffalo has Kelly's NFL rights and desperately needs someone of his caliber to get the Bills out of AFC East basement.
At last week's USFL meetings in Memphis, it was announced that nine of last season's 14 teams—New Jersey (now semi-merged with Kelly's Houston Gamblers), Arizona, Jacksonville, Birmingham, Memphis, Baltimore, Orlando, Tampa Bay and Denver—will play in '86. The Denver franchise will move to Portland, Ore., but Doug Allen, the executive director of the USFL Players Association, says he'll fight that move legally. "I don't want to see another USFL team in Portland until the Portland players who were there in '85 are paid," Allen says. The Breakers' franchise, which started in Boston in '83, played in New Orleans in '84 and then moved to Portland, is about $5 million in debt, with $1.4 million of that amount owed to 50 players. Says coach Dick Coury, who recently reached a settlement on his contract, "Players have lost their cars. One lost his home. Guys are working on the docks or driving cement trucks to make ends meet. I'm hoping to get a job in the NFL. I'm not bumming food off the streets. I'm just hitting up some of the pretty girls for a cup of coffee."
It used to be that pregame meals in the NFL consisted mainly of steak and eggs. Not anymore. Players have some crazy ways of stoking up for games:
•Mike Pagel, Colts quarterback, eats precisely eight slices of toast smeared with sour cream. Says roommate Pat Beach, "Mike thinks it soaks up acid and settles his stomach."
•Jamie Williams, Oilers tight end, devours a couple of bowls of Cocoa Kris-pies and Cracker Jack cereal.
•Jim Haslett, Bills linebacker, has one piece of cantaloupe and a glass of Coke.
•The Saints are offered a Bum's Special—a BLT made with French toast.
•The Chargers have bananas. Loads of them.
•The Broncos have a smorgasbord—10 to 12 different entrées.
•Wesley Walker, Jets receiver, eats a piece of broiled fish, then sends someone out for a stadium hamburger.
•Phil McConkey, Giants receiver, has spaghetti, a couple of baked potatoes, and maybe cereal and fruit.
•Steelers receiver John Stallworth longs for grits but, he complains, "No one in Pennsylvania knows how to cook them."
•Those tough guys Howie Long and Dave Butz are too nervous to eat food. Long gobbles vitamins; Butz drinks two milk shakes.
One of the strangest pregame meals was served before Super Bowl XV in New Orleans. The Raiders were playing the Eagles and Ken LaRue, the Raiders' business manager, remembers: "I came into the dining room and there was all this Cajun food, those big fat hot sausages, spicy red beans, lots of creole-type cooking. I told the waitress there must be some mistake, but she said one of the coaches ordered it."
The coach was Earl Leggett, who handles the defensive line. The Raiders had their Cajun cooking that day in addition to more regular fare and beat the Eagles 27-10. "If we're back in the Super Bowl this year in New Orleans," LaRue says, "I'm sure cajun food will be part of the pregame meal."
San Diego rookie tackle Jim Lachey had a premonition his team would be in for a long night against the Raiders Oct. 28. When Lachey checked in to his Los Angeles hotel room the day before the 34-21 Charger loss, he opened the drapes. Outside the window, larger than life, was Lyle Alzado in a three-point stance—and staring right at Lachey. Alzado wasn't really doing a King Kong number, but was pictured on a nearby billboard promoting the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.
Crawford Ker was placed on injured reserve two weeks ago with back spasms. And the Cowboys rookie guard, who spent several days in traction, knows the culprit responsible for the injury. "I hurt it sitting in those chairs," he says.
While in the process of moving to their new multimillion-dollar headquarters at Valley Ranch, the Cowboys rented bargain-basement plastic folding chairs for the players to use in meetings and in front of their lockers. But, says Ker, "It's hard for a guy like me who weighs 280 pounds to sit on those chairs." Not only were the chairs uncomfortable, but also one of them collapsed underneath Ker.
"This makes us look silly," says Joe Bailey, Cowboys vice-president. Nevertheless, the team has brought in 100 cushioned chairs.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: Eric Schubert, a New Jersey high school coach who was signed two days before the game, kicked five field goals in the New York Giants' 22-20 victory over the winless Tampa Bay Bucs.
DEFENSE: Cornerback Terry Taylor returned an interception for a 75-yard TD and blocked a field goal that led to another Seattle touchdown as the Seahawks defeated the Los Angeles Raiders 33-3.