Is Jim McMahon on the trading block? That was the word in Chicago last week before the Bears announced that McMahon's nagging shoulder injury was a torn rotator cuff. What seems certain is this: Several of McMahon's Bears teammates are fed up with the punky QB's me-me-me attitude.
The Bears' anger toward McMahon began during the off-season, when he failed to hit the weight room as regularly as had been his routine prior to the Super Bowl championship season. He was too busy running around the country making an estimated $1 million as a cult hero. Says one teammate, who asked to remain anonymous, "The guys know who's working and who isn't. He showed up overweight and out of shape. Why do you think he's hurt now? He only hurt the rest of the team."
When he criticized the Bears for acquiring the rights to Doug Flutie. McMahon further alienated himself from coach Mike Ditka. A source close to the club said Ditka considered suspending or fining McMahon for his outburst.
In the days following the Flutie Flap, McMahon didn't endear himself to his teammates. First, in their loss to Minnesota, McMahon knelt at the far end of the bench, failing to confer with Ditka or the other Bears quarterbacks while the offense was on the field. After that game, in a long team meeting, defensive end Dan Hampton asked if McMahon was ever going to practice again. All season several defensive players have resented the special kid-glove treatment McMahon has received. McMahon and Hampton haven't spoken since.
Last week McMahon told Bob Verdi, the Chicago Tribune columnist who helped write McMahon's autobiography, "I don't want to leave Chicago. We've got too good a thing going here, too good a team. Would I want to be building a house for our family if I wanted to get out?"
More quarterback bickering: In Cincinnati there's a feud going on between coach Sam Wyche and quarterback Boomer Esiason. The latest episode occurred Nov. 9 when Wyche yanked Esiason late in the first half of a 32-28 upset loss to Houston.
Wyche denies any problems, despite Esiason's tantrum on the sidelines that afternoon. But Esiason says a rift exists. "Sam and I are like husband and wife, and it's like we're separated right now," Boomer says. "But is that really such a big deal? We spend eight or nine hours a day together.... We're not always going to get along perfectly."
Things may be a bit more peaceful for the moment considering Esiason's 334-yard passing day Sunday. He was 22 for 33 in a 34-7 win over Seattle.
Bengals receiver Cris Collinsworth says it's time Boomer and Wyche put aside their differences.
"That relationship needs to develop for our football team to win," Collinsworth says. "I feel that way. Our team feels that way. They have to find a middle ground and work together.
"If Boomer would allow Sam to coach him without getting upset about every coaching point, and if Sam would back off on him sometimes when he needs some stroking....
"Sometimes I think Boomer should let Sam control him. But I don't want him to change.... He's a much better quarterback when he's mad. When Boomer's out there and he's throwing water around and kicking chairs, he's a great, great football player. When he's thinking about his technique or his play fakes—all that stuff—he loses his effectiveness."
There has been much speculation about the fate of Monday Night Football. With the NFL's $2.1 billion television contract expiring at the end of the season and the TV networks screaming about their losses ($75 million in '85 and a projected $100-120 million this year), Dennis Swanson, the head of ABC Sports, has been anything but hopeful about his network's continuing to host the 16-year-old show.
Until now, that is.
"We would like to keep Monday Night Football" Swanson says. "Monday Night Football is extremely important to our overall programming; last week [after the Nov. 3 Rams-Bears game] it ranked No. 9 overall. It is our hallmark show. It is so prominent, so visible, so successful. We've had terrific ratings this season. We'd like to reacquire the rights—at a price more consistent with the economic environment."
According to Dan Rooney, the Steelers' president, that's up to two people—Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, who heads the NFL's TV committee, and commissioner Pete Rozelle. The past two months they have been hearing pitches from network, cable and syndicated TV reps. Rozelle says he would be happy to get another $2.1 billion contract.
"I made it clear to the league office before they went into TV negotiations not to price us out of Monday Night Football," says Rooney. "Maybe we're getting too much money from TV. If we use the money we make from gate receipts—about $10 million a year—plus $16 million from TV—that's $26 or $27 million. For crying out loud, how much money do you need to operate successfully? That's more than enough.
"We don't use the money properly. If the owners aren't men enough—and they sure haven't shown they are—to say no, to not be afraid of being called cheap in the papers...if they can't tell coaches no, we aren't going to operate that way—there is a limit in the number of players on our roster....
"This idea that we all need huge raises, that we need TV to come in and bail us out, is not fair or realistic."
The Bad Taste Award of the Week goes to Rod Martin and linebacker coach Bob Zeman of the Los Angeles Raiders. Martin was spotted at the Raiders' practice facility wearing a KICK 'EM OF THE WEEK T-shirt in honor of his performance in a recent game.
The T-shirt award is named after Raider Ted Hendricks, whose distasteful nickname was Kick 'em in the Head, and is presented to the top defender by Zeman.
"We wanted to give [Raider defensive end] Greg Townsend a shirt," joked Martin, "but we figured a lot of people wouldn't understand."
Like Chiefs offensive tackle David Lutz, who wasn't wearing his helmet when Townsend kicked him in the head earlier this season.
Joe Montana is not the only NFL player to rebound from major back surgery this year. Another who has done so is Buffalo Bills linebacker Lucius Sanford.
Sanford, like Montana, had disc surgery; the operation was performed March 31, and Sanford was back on the field seven months later against Indianapolis on Oct. 19. He, too, had a superb first outing and has played well since then.
In some ways Sanford's comeback is even more surprising than Montana's. "They're two totally different positions," Sanford says of his responsibilities as an outside linebacker. "With mine, there's a lot more pounding, a lot more contact. I'm the aggressor. I'm definitely going out and trying to make things happen, cause a lot of conflict. In his position, he's trying to stay out of it."
Dwight Hicks, the former San Francisco 49ers defensive back, is doing his best to turn things around for Indianapolis, the struggling team he joined Oct. 23. The other day at practice Hicks held his own version of show-and-tell, bringing his two Super Bowl rings to the Colts' locker room before placing them in a safe-deposit box.
A number of players asked Hicks if they could try the rings on. Hicks then decided to make a little speech.
"This is what it's all about," he told his new teammates. "You work hard. You sweat. You hurt. But to wear a Super Bowl ring makes it all worthwhile."
Prior to Sunday's game against Detroit, Ron Jaworski, the Eagles' quarterback, had missed only four games in 10 years with Philadelphia. Now it seems likely that his era in Philly has come to an end because of a torn tendon in the pinkie of his throwing (right) hand. If Randall Cunningham, the Eagles' second-year quarterback, plays well in the remaining five games, the starting job will be his to lose next season.
"Hey, I'm young and I'm old," says Jaworski, 35. "I certainly want to play. There's no question about that. But I'm a realist, too. Going into the season, I knew there were going to be a lot of changes with a new coach coming in, and I knew for a guy my age to hang on to my job, we had to win.... I knew I was dodging the bullet all along."
That's something Jaws has gotten remarkably good at doing.
"I've broken fingers on my right hand," he says. "I've broken my wrist, my shoulder. I've broken my ribs and played. I've broken my leg. I had a steel plate put in. Now I can rub my hand across my leg and feel six screw heads.
"My daughters know that if Daddy isn't home for dinner that I'm in the training room getting treatment. They understand. I've sat down with them and explained what I have to go through to play. They know not to worry about me."
Don Shula, the Miami Dolphins' coach, is in the last year of a contract that pays him $750,000 this season. Several weeks ago a report in the Los Angeles Times said that Shula was unhappy in Miami and that he was considering leaving. About that same time, Joe Robbie, Miami's president, added fuel to that report by saying that he would first have to "evaluate" the entire team from top to bottom at the end of the season. Folks assumed Robbie also meant Shula.
Well, that started talk around the league that had Shula coaching next season in Buffalo, San Diego and Tampa Bay. The latest rumor floating around has Shula succeeding Tom Landry on the sideline in Dallas.
The Bills and Chargers recently named new head coaches. Tampa Bay owner Hugh Culverhouse has called the rumor concerning Shula and the Bucs "baseless." And Tex Schramm, the Cowboys' president, who is Shula's buddy on the NFL competition committee, just laughs about the possibility of his coming to Dallas. "Oh, sure," Schramm says. "That's something Don and I dreamed up in a hot tub in Maui, during the last competition committee meetings. Me with my J. & B., Don with his white wine."
"By everybody else talking about all this," says one NFC general manager, "it only helps Don negotiate himself a better contract."
There had been some speculation last year that Shula wanted his oldest son David, who is the Dolphins' assistant head coach, to take over as the team's No. 1 man when the elder Shula, 56, finally decides to retire. However, because of the iciness of Shula's relationship with Robbie—the two rarely talk—that may not turn out to be the case.
So where does this leave Shula? He remains tight-lipped. "I'm not going to respond to every rumor somebody prints," he says. "I don't have any comment on my contract."
Wyche (left) and Boomer don't see eye to eye.
RONALD C. MODRA
Jaworski, shown here being run down by Chicago's Wilber Marshall, faces an uncertain future.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: The Rams' rookie quarterback, Jim Everett, in his first NFL game, completed 12 of 19 pass attempts for 193 yards and 3 touchdowns in a last-second 30-28 loss to the New England Patriots.
DEFENSE: Charger rookie defensive end Leslie O'Neal, a No. 1 draft pick, had 5 sacks and 6 tackles—San Diego had 12 total sacks, tying an NFL record—during a 24-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.