BACK TO BONKERS
In Chicago on Sunday, the Bears played as important a game as they've played in some time, and they came up with very broad shoulders indeed. On the verge of exile to the Land of the Wild Card after suffering three straight losses, Chicago beat a formerly good Rams team 20-10. "We haven't had this much intensity since 1984," said safety Dave Duerson.
The game was played only a few days short of the first anniversary of coach Mike Ditka's heart attack, but this game was so big that he abandoned his vow never to go bonkers again on the sideline ("You will never hear me screaming or yelling again," he said on Nov. 13, 1988): He blew up four or five times in what veteran Bears-watchers said was his most fiery game ever. By halftime Ditka had gotten into the face of Glen Kozlowski, a Chicago special teamer, after Kozlowski hit L.A.'s Clifford Hicks after Hicks went out of bounds, thereby costing the Bears 15 yards; had screamed and wind-milled his arms at side judge Merrill Douglas after Douglas failed to call pass interference on an unsuccessful Chicago pass play; had flown into a rage at free safety Markus Paul after he dropped a Ram pass that hit him in the chest; had yanked his slumping quarterback, Mike Tomczak; and had abruptly taken over the play-calling from offensive coordinator Greg Landry. "If the ship's sinking," said Kozlowski, "he wants to be in the driver's seat."
Behind Ditka's conservative play-calling for relief quarterback Jim Harbaugh, the Bears scored 17 second-half points to win going away. "You do whatever it takes," said Ditka. "This game, we couldn't lose. We had to have it. I've been through three weeks of hell."
Should he worry about his health? On Sunday, Ditka's wife, Diana, admitted "it does cross my mind" that he could keel over during one of his sideline fits. Ditka takes an aspirin a day and has given up egg salad and potato chips, former staples of his diet. His cardiologist, Jay Alexander, told Don Pierson of the Chicago Tribune that the probability of Ditka's suffering another heart attack is low. "I never told him he couldn't get mad," said Alexander.
"Getting mad ain't a bad thing," says Ditka. "But if I thought there was a chance [of collapsing in a game], I'd quit." And the Bears would never be the same.
THE UNKINDEST CUT
After four formal meetings in three cities over 16 weeks, a new commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, has been named (page 19). But the treatment the other candidate, Jim Finks, received in the owners' battle was inexcusable. Finks, the president of the Saints, is one of the NFL's classier guys, yet this snub will follow him the rest of his life, through no fault of his own. How could the old-guard members on the league's original search committee have been so out of touch with reality? How could they have been so sure Finks had the 19 votes needed for election at the league meetings in July that they actually negotiated a contract with him? That arrogance is what doomed Finks's chances. "Poor Jim Finks was hung out to dry," says New England owner Victor Kiam. "He was tarred and feathered because the process was flawed."
I DON'T HEAR ANYTHING
Remember how concerned the NFL was about crowd noise back in August? In September and October, however, the league's attitude was, Noise? What noise? Not once since the preseason has a defense had any timeouts taken away or been penalized for delay caused by crowd noise, as is permitted by a rule adopted in the off-season.
To be sure, crowd noise continues to disrupt signal calling by offenses. During the Bronco-Seahawk game two weeks ago at the Kingdome, the crowd was warned three times for excessive noise when Denver had the ball, but Seattle was not docked any timeouts. Immediately after referee Johnny Grier told Bronco quarterback John Elway to play on, Elway was sacked by linebacker Rufus Porter.
On Sunday, Kansas City quarterback Steve DeBerg faced third-and-goal from the one-foot line at Pittsburgh, with the Chiefs trailing 23-17. DeBerg turned to referee Tom Dooley to complain about the crowd noise, and Dooley told him to run the play. DeBerg remained standing in apparent frustration until the 45-second clock expired and he was tagged for delay of game. Instead of running the ball twice and possibly taking the lead in the game, the Chiefs were moved back to the five-yard line. From there, DeBerg threw an interception and the Chiefs never scored again. "He turned around and appealed to me," Dooley said later, "and I warned him to play."
This is what has happened: Worried that crowd-noise penalties had been called too quickly during the preseason, Rozelle instructed officials before the start of the regular season to be more conservative in calling the infractions. Now, the quarterbacks who had threatened to take advantage of the new rule—including the Bengals' Boomer Esiason and the Giants' Phil Simms—are playing through noise that's as loud as the noise that drew penalties in exhibition games. Because the league has put the onus on offenses to try to play on, the rule has become a nonfactor. "[Rozelle] had to make a change," says Rooney. "I think what he did was right by not giving carte blanche to the visiting team." But does that mean officials should ignore the disturbances that caused the league to adopt the rule in the first place?
In five years of coaching the Miami Hurricanes, Jimmy Johnson lost nine games. He could lose his ninth in two months with the Cowboys, on Sunday night against Washington....
Next spring, after the consulting firm of Booz Allen & Hamilton finishes its report on the league, many NFL people expect to see changes in how it is run. "That's the only worthwhile thing that's come out of [the wrangling that followed Rozelle's resignation]," says Redskins executive vice-president John Kent Cooke. "We're going to redo the league."
A year after his heart attack, Ditka is his old self.
L.A.'s vaunted ground game has hit a wall during its three-game swoon.
Testaverde (far left) and Kosar square off again after vying to start for the Hurricanes in '83.
[See caption above.]
THE WEEK THAT WAS
THE LAMBS LIE DOWN
"I don't have any answers," says Ram coach John Robinson about his team's 0-3 fade after its 5-0 start. But he surely knows what's wrong.
1) The running game has no rhythm. Back in early October, it seemed that no team could stop Greg Bell. Now Bell has slowed. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry during the 5-0 start; since then that stat has dropped to 2.7. The Rams may have to start giving the ball to rookie Cleveland Gary or versatile Robert Delpino in the second half of the season.
2) Jim Everett has happy feet. Everett was a confident 65% passer in the first five games. Now he's jittery; he's throwing off his back foot and is not seeing all his receivers. During the slump he has completed only 46% of his throws. The key to beating Everett is pressure, even if that means single coverage on wide receivers Henry Ellard and Flipper Anderson.
3) The Eagle has crashed. The Eagle is the Rams' defensive scheme of two linemen and five linebackers, but key linebackers Larry Kelm and Fred Strickland are out with injuries. So the defense has been playing traditional 3-4 and 4-3 fronts of late, and outside rushers Frank Stams and Mel Owens have had to play on the inside for the first time in their pro careers. The D has given up 83 points in the swoon.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
Pete Rozelle spent the final weekend of his exactly 29½ seasons as commissioner lying low, watching the Oilers-Browns and 49ers-Jets games on TV in his Manhattan hotel room because he wanted Paul Tagliabue to have the spotlight. Rozelle officially leaves office at 12:01 a.m. this Sunday. On Monday he introduced Tagliabue to the NFL staff. Rozelle planned to spend the rest of the week cleaning out his Park Avenue office. He hopes to be settled into his Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., home by Thanksgiving. He said his last weekend in power felt anticlimactic. "I have no strong feelings," he said. "You just think, Thank God it's over."
DEAD TO WRIGHT
How perfectly improper: After 759 straight pass attempts without being sacked, Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino was dropped by a backup nosetackle named Jeff Wright in the Bills' 31-17 victory over Miami. As he set up for the next play, Marino stared across the line at Wright and winked congratulations. "He's a class act," said Wright.
STAND BY, CANTON...
As San Diego quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver prepared to make the first start of his NFL career Sunday at Seattle, NBC announcer Charlie Jones said on the air: "I predict 15 years from now you'll remember this moment. I think he's Hall of Fame material." Tolliver led the Chargers through three quarters and nine series, completed six of 17 passes and never entered Seattle territory. The Chargers lost 10-7. "I fell flat on my face," said Tolliver, who nonetheless stayed around afterward to try to explain the loss.
STATS OF THE WEEK
•In the Jets' last five games, including Sunday's 23-10 loss to the 49ers, their offense has scored one touchdown. Over that same span, New York safety Erik McMillan has scored three TDs.
•In the Browns' 28-17 defeat of the Oilers, Cleveland wideout Webster Slaughter caught four passes for 184 yards and two TDs. He has 476 receiving yards, including TD catches of 97, 80 and 77 yards, in his past three games.
•Redskin Mark Rypien had four fumbles while being sacked five times in Washington's 37-24 loss to the Raiders. He now has 11 fumbles this year. The individual record for fumbles in a season is 17, shared by Oiler Warren Moon and former Oiler Dan Pastorini.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Browns at Bucs. This is the Howard Schnellenberger Bowl. In 1982, Schnellenberger recruited both of this game's starting quarterbacks, Cleveland's Bernie Kosar and Tampa Bay's Vinny Testaverde, while coaching at the University of Miami. Only 10 days before the start of the '83 season, Kosar and Testaverde were dead even in the race for the starting job. "I could have gone either way," says Schnellenberger. "The night before I had to announce my decision, I went to church and prayed about it. Finally, I picked Bernie, just because our opener was at Florida with 70,000 fans against us, and I figured Bernie would handle it better if we lost." The Hurricanes did lose, but Kosar went on to lead them to the '83 national championship. He turned pro after the '84 season, and Testaverde had two outstanding years at Miami. "God only knows what would have happened if I had picked Vinny to start [in '83]," says Schnellenberger.
Bears at Packers. This is pro football's angriest rivalry. Green Bay linebacker Brian Noble has one wish. "I've hunted bears, I've killed a bear, I've wrestled a bear," says Noble. "Now I want to beat the Bears." Good luck. Chicago has won eight in a row against the Pack.
Seahawks at Chiefs. Until Kansas City won 20-16 in the Kingdome on Oct. 8, the home team in the series had won all 12 games over the last six seasons. The Seahawks may have difficulty gaining revenge, however. The Chiefs have won seven straight games at home.
THE UNSENSATIONAL SIX
The most storied class of quarterbacks in NFL history, the six who were selected in the first round of the 1983 draft, has been downright mediocre in '89. In fact, as a group their season is so crummy it resembles the career of the prototypical journeyman signal caller Gary Hogeboom (fifth round, 1980), now of the Cardinals. John Elway of the Broncos (page 34) and Dan Marino of the Dolphins are playing erratically. Todd Blackledge of the Steelers flopped as a replacement for the injured Bubby Brister. Tony Eason of the Patriots is fourth string. Ken O'Brien of the Jets was benched for a start. Only Jim Kelly of the Bills, who has missed three games with a separated shoulder, has had a strong season. Collectively, the six have had about the same number of pass attempts (1,123) this year as Hogeboom has had in his 10 seasons (1,186). Here are how the six have performed statistically so far and how their '89 numbers compare with the career numbers of Hogeboom.