Some NFL nerves are getting a bit frazzled as the season winds down:
•In New Orleans, several Saints players were under the impression that nosetackle Tony Elliott had been fired during the second half of their 27-3 loss to Seattle. According to linebacker Rickey Jackson, defensive line coach Willie Zapalac was dissatisfied with Elliott's play when, "All of a sudden Bum [Phillips] just told Tony his career was over." "There was a disagreement at the tail end of the ball game," the Saints' head coach says. "We were very frustrated. I just told Tony to go sit on the bench."
There were other signs of Phillips's frustration. As he left the field on Sunday after the team's fifth straight loss, he was hooted by angry fans. Phillips raised his right fist in a salute and said later, "I'm doing the best I can. If they don't like it, to hell with them."
•A one-day walkout—and talk of retirement—by 49er Keith Fahnhorst, the 33-year-old All-Pro tackle, caused trouble for coach Bill Walsh. Three incidents led to Fahnhorst's walkout: Walsh overruled his election as team captain before the season opener; after the Oct. 13 loss to the Bears, Walsh indirectly took a dig at Fahnhorst's age ("If some players are on the downside of their careers...only time will tell"); and in the Nov. 3 game against Philadelphia Fahnhorst was stopped as he headed to the field for the 49ers' first offensive series and told that Walsh had decided to replace him with guard Guy McIntyre.
Said one 49er, "That was just the straw that broke the camel's back. A lot of us don't like some of the treatment around here. We don't need childish threats about losing our jobs when we make mistakes. As a motivational tool, it's kind of sophomoric and demeaning. A more honest rapport from top to bottom would help, too."
•Kellen Winslow, the Chargers' tight end, walked out of camp for a day to protest not playing more on Nov. 3 against the Broncos—Winslow's first home game since his knee surgery last year. By doing so, Winslow only widened the gap between himself and his Charger teammates. Said guard Dennis McKnight, "Not everyone in the world wants to interview Kellen Winslow anymore, and that must be hard to live with."
Rumors circulated again last week that the Cardinals were packing up and heading to Phoenix. But officials at both the Phoenix mayor's office and Arizona State University—which currently has the only stadium suitable for pro football in the Phoenix area—say talks have not resumed with Cardinal owner Bill Bid-will. "Frankly," said an ASU spokesman, "we're suspicious of any NFL team talking about moving here. We're tired of feeling used to get a better deal in other cities."
Asked why the rumors have started again, the ASU spokesman said, "We're negotiating a lease with the USFL's Arizona Outlaws. NFL supporters in town don't like that. If the lease goes through...the Outlaws will have all the fall dates in the only stadium in the Phoenix area locked up."
Meanwhile, Bidwill insists he wants to stay in St. Louis. "The stadium
is the problem, not the city," Bid-will says. "We've got people here who say they want to solve the stadium problem, and I'm willing to wait and see."
Bidwill says that within the month he will hear from a group proposing a domed stadium for downtown St. Louis. To ready himself for that meeting, last week Bidwill was in Indianapolis studying the Hoosier Dome.
William (The Refrigerator) Perry, the Bears' wildly popular all-purpose player, has gone back to school to learn how to cope with the hundreds of requests he's receiving for interviews, speaking engagements and endorsements (the latest has to do with an inflatable refrigerator mover). Perry is taking a $2,400 speaking course from Communispond, Inc., which usually works with CEOs and other upper-level management folks at Fortune 500 companies.
Perry is being tutored in three mock settings: a studio talk-show setup, locker-room minicamera interviews and sports banquets. He watches himself on videotape playbacks.
Says Communispond's Jim Smith, "We're coaching him on how to remember funny stories or funny lines about himself and how to get rid of the non-words, like 'uh-huh.' William wants to create a favorable impression of himself, but we don't want him to appear too smooth."
Joe Fields, the Jets' center and team captain, is tickled to have his No. 65 jersey buried in a time capsule beneath the Marriott Marquis, a new hotel in Manhattan's Times Square area. The capsule contains artifacts depicting life in the United States in 1985, including a pair of Calvin Klein jeans, Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. album, a Lite beer commercial, a videotape of The Tonight Show and a football autographed by the New York Giants.
Says Fields, 32, "I wish I could hang around until then just to see the aliens' faces when they pull out my jersey. I bet the beings won't be as big in 100 years. And I wonder what football will have evolved to by then. Chess?"
Brian Holloway thinks colleges have missed the most important part of a football player's education: schooling him about agentry. "The public knows that agents take advantage of college kids," says Holloway, the Patriots' All-Pro tackle from Stanford and an NFL Players Association rep. "And who's to blame? The universities. They make the mistake of looking at their players as amateurs. As a result, agents fill the informational gap between college and the pros."
Last spring, Holloway talked to Nebraska's football players about how to select an agent; he's planning a 10-school tour this spring and also hopes to address the NCAA about reforms he proposes for educating athletes.
"Every school ought to have a seminar for athletes on how to select an agent," Holloway says. "And each college should put three or four pro alumni on retainer so that current players have someone to talk to about the NFL. The hardest part will be getting colleges to admit that some of their players will be pros. It's their responsibility to educate them."
Who was that masked man who sold the San Antonio Gunslingers' paraphernalia? And how can the USFL team get it back? Gunslinger owner Clinton Manges, who owes his players $600,000 in wages, swears he didn't sell the team's gear to pay his debts. (In fact, Manges claims he will fork over the cash so his franchise can play in the fall of '86.)
Fred Rugen, a sports collector in San Jose, Calif., says he bought the equipment—he won't divulge the price—from a friend, who told him he had purchased it from a Gunslinger assistant coach. But Rugen, who says he has since sold the gear, won't name anyone. The haul: 55 jerseys, five helmets, 14 jackets, one sweat suit, three T shirts, five jogging suits, one coach's shirt and one sweater. "There's no doubt the gear is authentic," Rugen says. "The jerseys were torn."
Here are the results of two recent newspaper polls:
•In Pittsburgh, 88% of the 640 readers polled by the Post-Gazette said they would name Scott Campbell the Steelers' starting quarterback for the Nov. 3 game against Cleveland. Only 9.5% chose David Woodley, who did start and led the Steelers to a 10-9 win. Says Woodley, "When people say they don't want you to play, you can't worry. And when they tell you that they do want you to play, you have to be careful about that, too. You have to play within yourself."
•Tom Benson, the Saints' rookie owner, said last month he wanted to change the team's colors—from black, gold and white to blue, gold and white. (One reason: Benson's wife thinks he looks good in blue.) So The Times-Picayune/The States-Item polled 1,100 readers and found 55% were against a change. One comment: "Don't do it. I'd have to repaint my van."
YOU CAN'T KEEP A GOOD MAN DOWN
So, who has the more dangerous job—a longshoreman or an NFL umpire who finds himself caught between onrushing blockers and flailing linebackers? "Every job has an occupational hazard," says Hendi Ancich, who, as an 18-year veteran of the Los Angeles docks, is the only blue-collar worker among the league's 107 officials. "Try to get an insurance policy working on the docks. I've had steel roll on me, a container fall on a vehicle I was driving and all sorts of cuts, bruises and broken fingers."
But until the Nov. 3 Lions-Vikings game at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Ancich, 48, had never been injured as an umpire. In the third quarter, Detroit linebacker August Curley ran into him. Ancich fell backward, his head slamming against the artificial turf. He suffered a concussion and lay unconscious for a minute and a half. Last Sunday, though, he was back at work in the Dallas-Washington game.
"I'm a laborer," Ancich says. "When I first applied to the NFL, I was intimidated. All the other refs were professional people—lawyers, doctors, teachers. But I passed the NFL's checks—including five hours of psychoanalysis. I've proved I'm good enough to be here, no matter what I do for a living. I'm a boon to the blue-collar guys."
The USFL lives—at least for the time being—in Baltimore. On Sunday, 10 months before the kickoff of the league's fourth season, 23 of the defending champion Stars, as well as a handful of free agents, turned out for a minicamp at Memorial Stadium. The two-hour session, billed as the first professional football in the city since the Colts sneaked out of town (last season the Stars played 30 miles south of Baltimore at Maryland's Byrd Stadium), was as much a season-ticket sales promotion as it was a checkup on the players' off-season work habits.
The Stars are the first USFL team to hold a minicamp this off-season. But coach Jim Mora doesn't believe his team is jumping the gun. "The time is going by pretty quickly," he says. "Each of our assistants is out scouting two college games a weekend. We're also going to pro games. And we've spent time breaking down last season's films. Come January, it'll be like a normal off-season. Things will slowly get hectic."
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: Lionel James, San Diego's 5'6", 172-pound running back, had 345 all-purpose yards (51 rushing, 168 receiving and 126 in kickoff returns) in the Chargers' 40-34 OT defeat of the Raiders.
DEFENSE: Cowboys defensive end Jim Jeffcoat, playing his second straight strong game, sacked Washington's Joe Theismann five times and also had six tackles as Dallas defeated the Redskins 13-7.