The Lions should award a free turkey to anyone who can figure
out what coach Wayne Fontes was trying to say about Barry
Sanders in the wake of Detroit's 24-17 victory over the Bears on
Sunday at Soldier Field. "If he doesn't make the Hall of Fame,"
said Fontes, "then I won't either." Say what? Fontes will be
lucky if he makes it to next season, much less to Canton. But
that's Fontes. No matter what you might think of him as a coach,
you have to like a guy who can fire off such a line even as his
boss, Lion owner William Clay Ford, is standing by with
blindfold and cigarette.
Fontes can largely thank backup quarterback Dan Majkowski for
his latest stay of execution. You remember him. He's the former
Packer who was good enough to make the Pro Bowl in 1989. By
1992, however, Majik had lost his stuff and was replaced by
Brett Favre. He moved to the Colts in July 1993 and spent two
years in Indianapolis as a sometime starter before signing with
the Lions in April as an insurance policy for Scott Mitchell.
Before the Bear game Majkowski had been limited to mop-up
appearances in three of the Lions' 10 games. Yet when Mitchell
twisted an ankle with 5:40 left in the second quarter and the
score tied 7-7, Majkowski came off the bench and played as if it
were 1989 again. Taking advantage of a game plan that called for
a lot of quick drops and routes underneath the coverage, he
completed 15 of 19 passes for 161 yards and the game-winning
Majkowski made light of his performance, acting as if being
asked to run the Lions' offense was like being handed the keys
to a Rolls-Royce. "It was so comfortable," he said. "When you've
got guys like Herman Moore, Brett Perriman, Johnnie Morton and
Barry Sanders, you've got so many choices. At Green Bay, I was
always trying to get the ball to Sterling Sharpe."
Sanders was his usual balletic self, gaining 120 yards on 24
carries and joining Eric Dickerson as the only players who have
rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of their first seven
years in the league. Sanders also scored two touchdowns, one on
a lovely 29-yard burst in the third quarter that gave the Lions
a 17-10 lead.
Asked if the Lions were trying to win this one for Fontes,
Sanders said, "I don't think that had anything to do with it. We
played for our own pride. We've had some tough losses, and I
think all of us were playing for the team."
This may not be the most maddening team in Bear history, but it
has to rank right up there. Why can't Chicago find a punter who
can kick the ball 40 yards every now and then? Why does
quarterback Erik Kramer turn into Cosmo Kramer with the game on
the line? There's trouble, folks, in the Windy City. "We had as
many opportunities to score points and to do good things as
we've had all year," said coach Dave Wannstedt after the loss.
"I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do."
Even Kevin Butler, the normally automatic kicker, hit the skids.
After missing only one of 17 attempts in the Bears' first 10
games, Butler failed to connect in two of three attempts against
the Lions. In the fourth quarter his 25-yarder was blocked, and
he flat didn't get enough leg into a 52-yarder that would have
given the Bears a 20-17 lead with 3:46 remaining.
Can the Bears, who have lost three in a row to negate their 6-2
start, turn it around? "I wish I had an answer," Wannstedt said.
"I've exhausted everything I can think of to make us a better
Take the punting. In the Bears' first 10 games, rookie Todd
Sauerbrun (a second-round pick, no less) averaged an NFL-low
38.6 yards. So the Bears moved him to the inactive list and
brought in Pat O'Neill, who had been cut by the Patriots on Oct.
31 for--you guessed it--poor punting.
Alas for the Bears, O'Neill proved to be no more effective than
Sauerbrun. His first punt was partially blocked, giving Detroit
possession at its 44 and leading to a 25-yard Jason Hanson field
goal that gave the Lions a 10-7 halftime lead. For the day
O'Neill averaged 29.7 yards on three punts and earned a chorus
of boos every time he trudged off Soldier Field.
And then there's the failure of the Bears' red-zone offense. In
a virtual replay of their 35-28 loss to the Packers a week
earlier, the Bears had a chance to at least send the game into
overtime. With 1:55 remaining, Chicago had a first down at the
Detroit 11. But just as was the case at Green Bay, the Bears
"For some reason, it's just not happening," said running back
Robert Green. "It's put-up or shut-up time."
A BROWN AT HEART
The Packers' final game in Cleveland--against the Browns, at
least--was especially nostalgic for wideout Anthony Morgan, a
Cleveland native who grew up dreaming of playing for the Browns.
During the 1980s, Morgan avidly rooted for Brown teams, which
featured the likes of quarterback Brian Sipe, tight end Ozzie
Newsome and defensive backs Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield.
"I don't think I missed a game," says Morgan. "Usually I watched
them on TV because it was so cold. But I went to a couple of
games and sat in the Dawg Pound. Heck, I'm still a Browns' fan."
The Cleveland cold was one reason Morgan opted to play his
college ball at Tennessee, where his speed (he was a sprinter
and relay man on the Volunteers' track team) made him dangerous
as both a receiver and a return man. A fifth-round draft pick of
the Bears in 1991, Morgan spent 2 1/2 seasons in Chicago before
joining the Packers off the waiver wire midway through the 1993
season. Last year he caught 28 passes in 16 games, and this
season, with 20 catches for 232 yards and three scores, he has
given the Packers a capable deep threat to complement Robert
Brooks. On Sunday he made a memorable return to Cleveland,
catching a 13-yard touchdown pass in the Packers' 31-20 win.
As a former Dawg Pounder, Morgan has a special appreciation of
what it's like to be on the receiving end of the abuse that the
section's raucous denizens heap on opposing players. He views it
as good fun, but only to a point, and before Sunday's game he
admitted he was concerned that the ugliness might escalate
because of Brown owner Art Modell's recent decision to move the
franchise to Baltimore after this season.
"They throw bones, snowballs, dog food at you," Morgan said
before the game. "You don't know what's going to hit you, but
you don't want to get hurt, either. I got tickets for my mom, my
brothers, my friends, but I'm skeptical about them going down
for the game. You don't know what the fans are going to do. To
take the Browns from Cleveland is like a slap in the face to the
fans and to the league. It's tough."
When you reach Week 13 in the NFL schedule, better to walk under
a ladder than have a quarterback controversy cross your path.
Yet that is the Buccaneers' plight as they begin their stretch
drive for their first playoff appearance since 1982. Season-long
starter Trent Dilfer remains prone to screwing up at the wrong
time. But backup Casey Weldon hasn't exactly looked like the
second coming of Earl Morrall. The Bucs haven't thrown a
touchdown pass in their last seven games. And here's another
complicating factor: Buc coach Sam Wyche is on the hot seat,
which means the call at quarterback is crucial to his future in
The problem, simmering all season, boiled over in a 27-24 loss
to Detroit on Nov. 12 that left Tampa Bay with a 5-5 record and
a three-game losing streak. Wyche again became so exasperated
with Dilfer that he benched him in favor of Weldon. It marked
the third time in eight games that Wyche had pulled Dilfer.
Against the Lions the move was made after Dilfer failed to read
a blitz, resulting in a fumble that led to Detroit's go-ahead
"There was no excuse for it," says Dilfer, whose 59.8
quarterback rating is last among NFC starters. "I don't believe
it's a lack of concentration. I think I'm concentrating on the
wrong thing sometimes."
Whatever, this isn't what Tampa Bay expected when it made Dilfer
the sixth pick of the 1994 draft and rewarded him with a
franchise-record eight-year, $16.5 million contract. Weldon, who
has a rating of 63.6, is in the first year of a two-year
$810,920 deal. "We just want to go to the playoffs," says
Weldon, a fourth-year pro out of Florida State. "Of course, I'd
love to be the guy who helps us get there."
Wyche stuck with Dilfer in Sunday's 17-16 win over Jacksonville.
But nobody was buying his convoluted reasoning. "What we have
here is a good situation," he said in announcing his decision.
"Both Casey and Trent are playing well right now. There's no
need to disrupt our offense after our most productive game of
Earth to Sam: Call in from wherever you are orbiting. Sure, the
Bucs hammered the Lions for season highs in points (24), total
yards (411), rushing yards (190) and first downs (26). But they
did it against a Lion defense that ranks 29th in the league.
Against Jacksonville, Dilfer was his usual unspectacular self,
completing 9 of 20 passes. But at 6-5, the Bucs remain a game
behind the Packers in the NFC Central. The teams meet twice in
the next three weeks, starting with Sunday's game in Green Bay.
"If we win the rest of our games, I don't care if I throw a TD
pass," Dilfer said. "I've sort of given up on the stat thing
What's so strange about the marvelous job that the Vikings' Dave
Dixon has done in place of injured All-Pro offensive guard Chris
Hinton? Heck, doesn't everybody have a 6'5", 354-pound rugby
player from New Zealand waiting in the wings?
Dixon, a Maori, was born in Papakura, a town of 23,000 on North
Island of New Zealand. In 1986, when Dixon was hanging around
Auckland, a New Zealander and NFL bird dog named George
O'Scanlan approached him on the street and asked if he would be
interested in playing U.S. football. Considering that the
financial opportunities in rugby are virtually nonexistent, this
was a no-brainer. With the help of then Utah State coach Chris
Pella, who had visited New Zealand in search of talent, Dixon
enrolled at Ricks College, a junior college in Rexburg, Idaho.
He played rugby in 1988 and football the following year before
moving on to Arizona State, where as a senior defensive tackle
he had 34 tackles with two sacks and eight tackles for a loss.
The Patriots picked Dixon in the ninth round of the 1992 draft,
but he was released in training camp. He signed with the Viking
practice squad in October, and after being waived again before
the '93 season, he spent a year on the practice squad of the
Super Bowl champion Cowboys. While there, Dixon also played
rugby for the Dallas Harlequins. He returned to Minneapolis when
the Vikings re-signed him before the 1994 season.
Dixon, the biggest Viking since 318-pound Curtis (Boo Boo) Rouse
in the mid-1980s, backed up Hinton last season and again this
year, until the 13-year pro underwent arthroscopic surgery on
his right knee in Week 4. When Dixon moved into a starting role,
he joined 332-pound rookie Korey Stringer in giving the Vikings
the biggest--but also the most inexperienced--right side of an
offensive line in the league.
"David is still a raw player," says Viking offensive line coach
Keith Rowan, "but when he hits you, it's something."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Shane Bonham and the stingy Lions allowed Rashaan Salaam only 17 yards on 12 carries.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Majkowski didn't perform like a player who was seeing his first significant action in almost a year. [Dan Majkowski]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLEDilfer is still trying to put his best foot forward. [Trent Dilfer]