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Original Issue

Inside The NFL

Where Did Love Go?

When asked about his future on numerous occasions during the
1997 season, Packers coach Mike Holmgren invariably said that
someday, somewhere, he would like to be a general manager- coach
with authority over all football operations. And so Holmgren
hoped--and expected--that after the season Green Bay might get a
phone call from a team asking for permission to interview him
for just such a post, a job he knew he probably would never be
offered in Green Bay, where state-of-the-art general manager Ron
Wolf is signed through 2002. But three days after the Super
Bowl, Packers president Bob Harlan told Holmgren that if a team
called to ask permission to speak to Holmgren, whose contract
runs through the end of the 1999 season, the request would be
denied. "A contract is a contract," Harlan said on Monday, "and
I don't like people jumping contracts. It's not right."

Harlan's right. And the NFL should slam the door on this kind of
thing for good. Right now. In 1987, then commissioner Pete
Rozelle stopped Bill Parcells from breaking his contract as
Giants coach to go to the Falcons after New York had won Super
Bowl XXI. But Parcells seemed to loosen the legal and ethical
restraints last year when, without permission but with much
public unpleasantness, he muscled his way out of his Patriots
contract in an attempt to take over the Jets. It was an ugly
situation that eventually was settled by commissioner Paul
Tagliabue, who awarded New England four draft picks. When a
coach signs a contract, he shouldn't be allowed to coach for
another team--unless he's fired--before the end of that
contract. No ifs, ands or buts.

Even Holmgren concedes that he's troubled by the notion that the
hot coach of the postseason should be free to walk out on his
club. But this isn't a dead issue with him. "This isn't
Watergate," Holmgren said, smiling wryly, at the NFL Scouting
Combine in Indianapolis last Saturday. "I'm just a football
coach. But I come out of this looking like a greedy schmuck, and
this has never been about money. It's just the challenge of
professionally pushing yourself to the limit and seeing if you
can do something. That's why I'd like to be a coach and general
manager. Someday. I never had a timetable that it had to be this
year. Maybe it never will happen. But to have even a chance at
it denied--I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed."

There's no need to feel sorry for Holmgren, who makes about $1.5
million a year; works with one of the game's best general
managers, Wolf, and arguably its best player, Brett Favre; and
will have to settle for coaching the Super Bowl favorite next
season. He's even got a Rogaine commercial. A very good life
rolls on, although perhaps not as blissfully as before.

During their rise to the top of the NFL, the Packers have
practiced a good-ol'-days harmony seldom seen in these greedy
times. Harlan and Holmgren both say they'll get over this. But
it's never good--on the field or off--when a coach's faith in
his organization has been shaken.

Combine Ennui

As usual, the very top prospects opted for only physicals and
mental tests at the Indianapolis combine, preferring to work out
for scouts closer to the draft when they've had time to get into
top shape. This gave some lesser-knowns, such as Eastern
Michigan quarterback Charlie Batch and Utah receiver Kevin
Dyson, a chance to shine.

As always, most of the players shook their heads at the Giants'
intelligence test, an annual 480-question rite of torture, and
laughed about some of the other tests. "The Redskins asked me to
put on funny glasses and throw beanbags into buckets," said
309-pound San Diego State tackle Kyle Turley. "They also had me
work with building blocks. Seems like a funny way to pick a
football player."

One of the few hot players to work out at the combine, Turley
solidified his first-round standing by improving his
40-yard-dash time from 5.2 seconds to 4.97. He credits improved
training techniques and better nutrition, courtesy of two months
at the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, Fla.,
for his greater speed. Another major plus is Turley's feisty
attitude. "If you're not a violent person when you put the
helmet on, you lose," he says.

Raising Arizona

The best defensive player in the upcoming draft--maybe in the
last few drafts--says he would love to be picked in the first
round by the sorry Cardinals. When's the last time you heard a
player say he longed to play for owner Bill Bidwill's team? But
that's how Florida State defensive end Andre Wadsworth feels.
"They've got a great front, with Simeon Rice and Eric Swann, and
I think I'd fit in well there," the 6'5", 278-pound Wadsworth,
who plays like Bruce Smith, said in Indianapolis. "Plus, I'd
love to play for [line coach] Joe Greene."

After the Colts take Peyton Manning with the top pick in the
draft, the Cards, who are happy with Jake Plummer at
quarterback, might be able to trade the second pick (Ryan Leaf)
to the quarterback-starved Chargers for a No. 3 choice and other
compensation. Then they could use that pick on Wadsworth, the
one-time walk-on who had 16 sacks last year for the Seminoles.

It's Not a Dream

Just over two years ago Packers receivers coach Gil Haskell
emerged from two days of semiconsciousness in a Dallas hospital
room, found himself surrounded by an ocean of flowers and
thought, I'm supposed to be dead. Maybe I'm in a funeral home.
He had a fractured skull, a brain contusion and swelling, and
was suffering severe disorientation after being knocked over by
Green Bay's Robert Brooks in a terrifying sideline collision at
Texas Stadium during the NFC Championship Game. Friends worried
that he'd never regain all his faculties, let alone coach again.

But in early February he returned to work in Green Bay, and last
week he got the thrill of his 33-year coaching life when the
Panthers hired him as offensive coordinator. "I'm ecstatic, and
not just because of what I've been through," said Haskell, who
will take the West Coast rhythm passing game to Carolina and, if
restricted free-agent quarterback Kerry Collins stays, try to
revive the troubled Collins's career. "When you coach a long
time, you want the chance to show you can run an offense too.
Now I've got it."

What Free Market?

When the free-agent signing period begins this weekend, look for
teams to virtually lock up most of their marquee names by
putting franchise- or transition-player tags on them. By
designating running back Dorsey Levens a franchise player, for
instance, the Packers could elect to give him the average salary
of the top five players at his position, $2.742 million, instead
of the $4 million or so he probably could get on the
TV-revenue-inflated open market this year.

With the salary cap rising from $41.4 million in 1997 to about
$50 million in '98, and a lot of stars being taken out of the
mix, you'll see the football equivalent of .213-hitting catchers
becoming $3 million men.


It would be stunning if Indianapolis, with the first pick of the
April 18 draft, failed to choose the maturity and drawing power
of Peyton Manning. With all the pressure a quarterback is
subjected to, a level head is vital, and Manning's poise
impressed scouts and coaches at the combine. "I've played 45
games of pressure football," he said. "I've been under the
microscope pretty much all the time. I have a good jump on
handling the pressure." ... Brett Favre won't ask to renegotiate
his seven-year, $47 million contract with the Pack. "Both sides
knew the TV deal would push other guys past me," he says.
"That's just the way it goes." ... The Bears are on the verge of
re-signing Erik Kramer (he'll probably be their starter), thus
further diluting the already weak quarterback free-agent
market.... Boomer Esiason has moved on to TV, and the Bengals
have no confidence in former starting quarterback Jeff Blake.
"We have the option of moving up in the draft [from 13th in the
first round to a spot high enough to select a quality
quarterback] or looking at free agency," says Cincinnati
president Mike Brown. "If not, Jeff will be thrust back into the
position." There's a ringing endorsement.

The End Zone

Some names found among the 850 agents listed by the NFL Players
Association: Johnnie Cochran and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Top
prospect Randy Moss, the Marshall wideout, was wooed by Cochran
but chose veteran agent Bus Cook, who represents Favre. "My
agent's got the Man," Moss said. "Who's Johnnie Cochran got?"

For all the off-season NFL news and notes, read Peter King's
weekly column at

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER LEAP OF HOPE Only lesser lights, like BYU rusher Brian McKenzie, jumped at the chance to shine at the combine. [Brian McKenzie jumping to touch height-measuring instrument]

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO DESERT STORM Wadsworth, here tackling Nealon Greene of Clemson, actually wants to be drafted by woeful Arizona. [Nealon Greene and Andre Wadsworth in game]