With crowd noise a bigger problem than ever in the NFL this season, Tex Schramm, the head of the league's competition committee, says there is a new movement to adopt the space-age transmitter helmets that were tested in two preseason games.
The transmitters, operated on the sideline by a representative of the Telex Communications Inc. helmet company, are used only by the offensive unit and are turned on from the point the team breaks the huddle until the ball is snapped. The quarterback talks through a microphone in his face mask and his on-field teammates hear him on receivers in their helmets. However, the helmets are currently back on the drawing board because the signals in the Dallas-Houston exhibition were interrupted by reports from local hospital and police radios.
Art Modell, the Cleveland Browns' owner, was once against the helmets because, he said, they took away the human element of the game. But his Browns—especially rookie quarterback Bernie Kosar—have been flustered by crowd noise in Dallas, Pittsburgh and their own Cleveland Stadium.
"Crowd noise is the worst I've ever heard," Modell says. "Fans are not entitled to affect the outcome of the game; they're entitled to watch it. There has been a lack of consistency with how the officials deal with the noise problem. We may have to adopt college rules and charge the home team with a timeout if it doesn't quiet the crowd. Or we'll have to adopt the helmets." The total cost, leaguewide, is estimated at $750,000.
Modell sees another plus for the helmets: "I believe they'd save as much as 12 minutes a game."
SI asked 224 NFL players if collegians should be paid to play football. The responses favored pay for play: 129 said college athletes should be paid; 91 said they shouldn't; the rest were undecided.
Why should college players be paid?
•The Lions' Billy Sims, who has testified in court that he accepted a $10,000 loan from agent Mike Trope while still an undergrad: "I was hurting. It's still a business, no way around it." Sims says recruitment of undergrads by agents would stop if the NCAA allowed athletes to be paid.
•The Eagles' Steve Kenney: "College football players are slave labor. College administrators are a bunch of hypocrites. If it's really amateur athletics, let everybody in the gate free. When I get out [of the NFL], I'm forming a union for college athletes."
How much should college athletes be paid? Says Detroit's Doug English, "The hourly minimum wage." The Redskins' George Rogers says, "Maybe $600 to $700 a week, if you're living off campus."
The Patriots' Derrick Ramsey proposes a graduated scale. "A guy should be able to enter one of three programs. One, he could just go as an athlete to prepare for pro sports. That would be his major, and he'd be paid. The second guy could go for both an education and to try to prepare for the pros. He'd get less money. Last would be the real student-athlete. He wouldn't be paid."
Why shouldn't college players be paid?
•The Bears' Gary Fencik, a Yale grad: "A lot of players are not going to come out of the game millionaires. They'll have many more years of employment. The fact that they don't recognize the value of a free education is incredible."
•The Bengals' Steve Kreider, an electrical engineer who has an M.B.A. and is working on a Ph.D. in finance: "Football practice at Lehigh went from 4:45 to 6 p.m. On weeks when we had hourly exams at 4 p.m., we practiced between seven and eight. When we went out to play, it was almost like recess. We really had fun. I think college football should be part of the educational process."
It's a traditional Thanksgiving prank in the NFL. Veterans post signs in the locker room, saying a local grocery store has kindly agreed to donate a turkey to any member of the team, provided he comes to the store to pick it up. Of course, when the players show up, the store doesn't know anything about the offer.
This year the Browns seemed to be the most gullible team in the league. Six rookies and two wives of assistant coaches fell for the prank. Dan Fike, a guard formerly with the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits, tells this story: "I drove all the way out past Garrettsville [an hour's drive east of the Browns' practice complex in Berea, Ohio]. There wasn't anything there. So I walked into this gas station and asked two ol' boys if they'd ever heard of the J. Jones Poultry Farm. Never heard of it. I called back to camp and was told to go to Hiram College and ask for Joe Osaga in Information.
"When I got there, there was no such person. But the lady at the information desk told me of a poultry farm not far from there, and she gave me directions. I went over, walked in and said, 'My name's Dan Fike. I'm here to pick up the turkeys for the guys.' The lady started laughing and said, 'They do this every year. You've just had a joke played on you.' I almost collapsed. But I did get a free turkey out of the deal."
Fike wasn't the only player to get the last laugh. Gale Gilbert, the Seahawks' backup quarterback, showed up at the Totem Lake (Wash.) Safeway to claim his bird, and the store manager had no idea what Gilbert was talking about. But he gave him a turkey anyhow.
Norman Braman, the Eagles' new owner, is big on having his players do community work. In fact, he has written 12 free-of-charge appearances into all new contracts. The Eagles have also "adopted" two schools that Braman attended as a child—West Philadelphia High and Taggart Elementary—and the players make periodic speeches there as well as at other schools in Philadelphia and in nearby New Jersey, lauding the value of education and encouraging students to get high school diplomas and college degrees.
Says linebacker Anthony Griggs, who tutors children of South Jersey migrant workers, "Kids see athletes and their fancy cars and big wallets. They see a glamorous life. And then they find out that 65 percent of the guys in the NFL don't have their degrees. We have to get out there and tell them athletes are exceptions—that they have to set educational goals to make it in life."
. I thought I was clear, but right at the last minute, Gene Upshaw moved over to pick me up. It's true what they say. With impending doom, your life does flash right before your eyes. I just put my head down and rammed into him. At that point, the brain cells started dying, and I started making the conversion to nosetackle."
•On playing Mike Webster, Pittsburgh's All-Pro center: "He beats me up, abuses me, throws me around, then comes up to me afterward and tells me I played a great game. He always says, 'Good job, good job' while he's peeling you off the turf."
•On being a seasoned player: "You can tell the veterans in this league—they have the bad bodies. When I was a rookie, I was 6'3", 230 pounds. Now, I'm 6'2", 270. Something's very wrong."
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: Backup QB Wade Wilson, yanked in the third period, returned with 11:43 left in the game and threw three TD passes to rally Minnesota, down 23-0, to a 28-23 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
DEFENSE: End Karl Mecklenburg had four sacks—he has 12 for the season—and six tackles as the Broncos remained tied for the lead in the AFC West with a 31-23 victory over slumping Pittsburgh.