FUN WHILE IT LASTED
Last week, for the first time since the 1970 merger, the Jets
and the Giants, both at 6-3, held undisputed possession of first
place in their divisions at the same time. Here's a look at
their week alone atop the NFL world.
Monday. In New Jersey, as the Giants prepare to play the Oilers
in Memphis, they have one eye on the Jets. "We want to stay
ahead of the Jets," says rookie strong safety Sam Garnes.
"Everybody in this locker room knows how well they're doing."
Before practice, coach Jim Fassel senses the potential
distraction, telling his staff, "You guys stay positive. I'm
going to ride their butts." At the workout Fassel blisters ears.
About 30 miles to the east, at the Jets' practice site at
Hofstra University on Long Island, something strange is
happening. Coach Bill Parcells, who leads the league in
decisiveness, can't make up his mind whether incumbent Neil
O'Donnell or spunky backup Glenn Foley will start at quarterback
against the Dolphins in Miami.
The Big Apple is abuzz. The Rangers are slumping, the Knicks
have lost their home opener, and the Yankees are in a salary
brouhaha with Bernie Williams. But of the first 19 callers to
WFAN's popular Mike and the Mad Dog talk-radio show, 18 opine on
Tuesday. It's an off day for players on both teams. Giants
quarterback Danny Kanell, fullback Charles Way and cornerbacks
Jason Sehorn and Phillippi Sparks go to Times Square for a
taping of HBO's Inside the NFL and soon realize they're not
exactly Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor walking down Broadway. As
Sehorn, who looks more Malibu surfer than receiver-draper, wades
through the masses, somebody says, "Who are these guys?"
Upon returning to the town house that he shares with Sehorn,
Kanell takes a two-hour nap. Feeling the pressure of an NFL
starting role, Danny? Later, as he lounges on a Naugahyde couch,
Kanell stifles a yawn and says to Sehorn, "See where we're
underdogs again this week?"
"Yeah, by 4 1/2," Sehorn replies. "Hey, it's fair. You get three
for playing at home, right? We've still got to prove ourselves.
The papers say we're doing it with smoke and mirrors."
Wednesday. First thing, Parcells meets with each of his
quarterbacks separately to tell them that Foley will start
against Miami. Foley calls his wife, Jen. She screams in glee.
O'Donnell thinks he's getting shafted but won't say so as he
does interviews for the noon newscasts.
About two hours later Fassel announces that Kanell, who stepped
in for the injured Dave Brown on Oct. 5, will be the starter for
the rest of the season. "Never thought about what the Jets were
doing," Fassel says with a shrug.
Thursday. The tabloids have a heyday with the Jets' quarterback
story. Post: FOLEY COW! TUNA GOES WITH GLENN. Daily News: FOLEY
SMOKES! GLENN GETS NOD. In both papers Fassel's decision gets a
little less attention.
Friday. Fassel has the flu, and his wife's Land Cruiser, which
was stolen the previous day, has still not been located.
Nevertheless he is at his desk at 5:55 a.m., warily loving life
in first place. "I've got the greatest job in America, the dream
job I've always wanted," he says. "But we haven't accomplished
anything yet. That's what this team has to believe."
At 7:17 a.m. 32 players on this tightly knit team are already in
the locker room, eating cereal, danish and bagels and reading
the papers, all courtesy of the club. Bonding time, the coaches
hope. Such closeness was rarely seen on past Giants teams.
In Jetsville wideout Keyshawn Johnson drops an overstuffed bag
from McDonald's in Foley's locker. "Role reversal?" someone says
to the smiling Foley, who seems entirely underwhelmed by the
weight of taking a first-place team into Miami. "If Keyshawn
wants me to throw him the damn ball, he had better get me the
damn McDonald's," Foley deadpans. "Anything for you, Glenn,"
Saturday. At 1 p.m. the Jets take off in a cold, driving
rainstorm and, about three hours later, touch down in sunny,
71[degree] Fort Lauderdale. Upon arrival Foley says the biggest
game of his life has not made him nervous. "Just fired up."
Memphis hotels are filled with out-of-towners attending a
religious conference, so the Giants stay at a Holiday Inn in
Olive Branch, Miss., 15 miles away. At a meeting, the players
listen as Fassel rails about how the football world doesn't
respect them. That's understandable. The Giants have faced one
team that has a winning record, the Jaguars, and they lost that
game by 27 points.
Why is Fassel so popular with his players? Here's an example. He
knew they wanted to watch the Holyfield-Moorer fight, so he made
room on the charter for a satellite-TV specialist [and his dish]
and had the bout piped into a ballroom so the players could
watch the fight. By 11 p.m., about 35 Giants had transformed the
site into a rec-room sleepover. They cheered unabashedly for
Holyfield. When they left after the fight, they were happy Giants.
Sunday. It is a bad day down south. As time runs out on a
crushing 24-17 loss to the Dolphins, Parcells steams toward
field judge John Robison to protest the call that may have
crippled the Jets' season. Actually it was back judge Tom
Sifferman who ruled that a late-fourth-quarter, fourth-down pass
that wideout Wayne Chrebet appeared to catch was incomplete,
sending Parcells into postgame apoplexy. Parcells is shielded
from Robison by side judge Mike Pereira, and, neck veins
bulging, he leans on Pereira, trying to get at Robison. "You
cost me the game!" is one of Parcells's printable rantings.
Well, the call cost the Jets a chance to at least tie. The game
was vital. The Jets could be in a fight for a playoff spot with
the Dolphins, and by virtue of Miami's two-game sweep, can't win
a two-way tiebreaker with them.
The Giants lose a 10-6 clunker at Tennessee. Seeing that the
theme of the day was The Lost Opportunity: New York Football,
it's fitting that the in-flight movie on the way home is The
Lost World: Jurassic Park. Somewhere over West Virginia,
defensive end Michael Strahan stretches out in his seat and
says, "No one believes in us still, but we believe we're for real.
"Heartbreaking day for both of us, wasn't it?" Strahan adds.
"But look at it this way: It's November, and we're both
representing New York pretty well."
TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF
The first pick in next April's draft will almost certainly be a
quarterback, but there's growing sentiment in NFL scouting
circles that it might not be Tennessee's Peyton Manning. Once
considered a shoo-in as the top pick, Manning might slip behind
Washington State junior Ryan Leaf, who is likely to declare for
the draft after the college season. While Manning has had a good
season, Leaf has made meteoric progress. A 55% passer with a
better touchdown-to-interception margin (29-8) than
Heisman-favorite Manning (23-7), Leaf has the stronger arm of
the two but isn't as polished.
One scout on a team looking to select a quarterback high in the
draft thinks Leaf has better tools than Manning but needs to
learn to control his emotions. What if his team had to pick
between the two today? "Leaf has a much stronger arm than
Manning does," he says. "Leaf can throw the passes you have to
throw to be successful in the NFL--the comeback, the deep
out--and he's got tremendous upside."
Former Colts linebacker Trev Alberts, now a CNN/SI analyst,
criticizes Manning, saying the Tennessee quarterback "has happy
feet, like [the Saints'] Heath Shuler." Broncos director of
college scouting Ted Sundquist adds, "All the tools are there.
Manning sees the field and is smart. But for whatever reason, he
has a tendency to force things. At times he may get a little
flustered by pressure. Has Leaf passed Peyton? No. Will it
create some debate? Yeah."
NICE INVESTMENT, AL
Raiders owner Al Davis was so eager to sign Super Bowl MVP
Desmond Howard that he agreed to the biggest contract ever for
an NFL return man--four years, $6 million, including $2.2
million in signing bonus and salary this year--hoping that
Howard would also develop into the quality receiver that he had
failed to become with the Redskins, the Jaguars and the Packers.
The results? Brutal. Howard is 20th in the league in kickoff
returns (22.8-yard average) and 20th in punt returns (8.8
yards). "We're two blocks away [from breaking it] or sometimes
one," Howard says. Of course, two blocks on returns are a lot.
As a receiver? Howard is the team's fifth wideout and didn't
catch his first pass until a Nov. 2 game against the Panthers.
For the Packers last year, Howard returned 58 punts for a
league-record 875 yards (a 15.1 average) and had only 16 fair
catches. This season, through 10 games, he has returned 21 punts
for 185 yards, with 16 fair catches.
The numbers aren't so much an indictment of Howard's ability as
they are of the Raiders' special teams, of Davis's foolish
spending and of the organization's scouting reports, which said
Howard could be a threat as a receiver even though
offensive-minded coaches Joe Gibbs, Norv Turner, Tom Coughlin
and Mike Holmgren had failed to make him one.
Though Jerry Rice is hoping to return on Dec. 15, the 49ers
think it's virtually impossible that their star wideout, who
underwent reconstructive knee surgery on Sept. 2, will play this
season. But as club president Carmen Policy says, "Jerry Rice is
not of this earth, so we don't judge him by mortal or earthly
With their initiative for a new stadium crushed by a 58% to 42%
margin in their home county, the Steelers may trigger a clause
in their Three Rivers Stadium contract that allows them to break
the lease two years after giving notice.
THE END ZONE
The name of the New Jersey judge who will preside over a hearing
for Eagles center Steve Everitt, who faces charges of speeding,
drunken driving and possession of drug paraphernalia, is John
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. The Jets lost a chance to catch the Dolphins when Chrebet's apparent reception was ruled incomplete. [Wayne Chrebet attempting to catch football in game]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Antonio Freeman and the rest of the Pack get a lift at home. [Robert Brooks lifting up Antonio Freeman]
COLOR PHOTO: GABE PALACIO Seeman makes his points in the control room. [Jerry Seeman looking at television screen]
THE INNER GAME
Upon Further Review
Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday during the season, in a
15th-floor room at NFL headquarters, seven officiating
supervisors sit in front of 29-inch video monitors, with
sophisticated VCR equipment at their fingertips. "It's our
mission control," NFL director of officiating Jerry Seeman says.
It is Nov. 4, and as Seeman speaks, games are being analyzed all
around him. Supervisors review every snap, making notes on a
copy of the official play-by-play. After completing his
analysis, each supervisor pulls out a sheet that lists those
plays on which a team disputes calls that were, or weren't,
made. When such plays are given a second look, the supervisor
often asks Seeman for his opinion, and the video is switched
from the monitor to a huge video screen.
"Here's one, Jerry," supervisor Jack Reader says, queuing up a
play from the Nov. 2 Broncos-Seahawks game. "The Denver coach
[Mike Shanahan] wants this play sent to [the league's director
of football development] Gene Washington for discipline review."
The tape shows Broncos quarterback John Elway running from the
pocket, then throwing a pass. After the ball is released,
Seattle defensive end Michael Sinclair takes a step and a half
before blasting Elway in the chest. "He doesn't hit Elway in the
head," Reader says.
"He's a runner, because he's not in the pocket," Seeman adds.
"That's no foul."
"That's how I see it," Reader says.
By Wednesday each referee has the review of his crew's
performance, which he shares with the six other members of his
team. The league grades each of its 112 officials weekly and
keeps a record of those ratings by position. The ratings carry
added significance because they help determine playoff
assignments, which go to the top-ranked officials at each
position. Another supervisor, Al Hynes, tracks 180 college
officials. Due to retirement and the weeding out of subpar
officials, the NFL replaced 12 men after last season. "We'll
never be perfect," Seeman says. "But if you make too many
mistakes, you won't be working here long." Seeman won't estimate
how many calls officials have missed in '97, but he admits that
of the seven calls one team disputed in a Nov. 2 game, three
were judged to indeed be incorrect.
"I just did Tampa Bay-Indianapolis," Reader says, "and our guys
made one mistake [in 172 plays]. That's pretty good." --P.K.
1. GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS Warren Moon, who turns 41 next week, is
on pace for his fifth 4,000-yard passing season. He rallied the
Seahawks from a 17-3 deficit in San Diego on Sunday, as Seattle
improved to 6-4 with a 37-31 win. The victory, however, was
overshadowed by word that Pro Bowl defensive tackle Cortez
Kennedy will probably be lost for the year with a broken leg.
2. MEN IN BLACK It was not a good day for the officials. In
Miami back judge Tom Sifferman blew a critical call on an
apparent late-game catch by Jets wideout Wayne Chrebet. In
Dallas side judge Tommy Moore did the same near the goal line on
a throw to the Cardinals' Rob Moore. Replay, anyone?
3. STARK RAVEN MAD Eleven penalties, five fumbles (three of them
lost), four interceptions. This all happened to the Ravens in
their latest nightmare at Three Rivers Stadium, a 37-0 loss to
the Steelers. The Browns/Ravens are 0-9 in the '90s in Pittsburgh.
4. BOOMER LIVES When Jeff Blake began hobbling like Walter
Brennan on Sunday in Indianapolis, Boomer Esiason came off the
bench to throw two touchdown passes. Bengals win! Bengals win!
Boomer: "This isn't 1988. I'm still 100 years old. I'm just
happy I was able to play."
5. RED-HOT TUNDRA The Packers, looking forward to Nov. 23 when
they finally get the hated Cowboys at Lambeau, won their 21st
straight at home, a 17-7 victory over the Rams. The only other
contenders for home field advantage in the NFC playoffs, the
Vikings and the 49ers, are good at home. Green Bay is gold. --P.K.