GREEN BAY PACKERS
The ghost of Vince Lombardi showed up at the Packers' training quarters on Lombardi Avenue and wanted to know what was going on. The receptionist told him to sign the guest book and have a seat, please; the next tour leaves in 15 minutes. The tour leader showed him the expanded facilities, which cost $2 million—the kitchen, the 12-man Jacuzzi, the handball courts, the players' lounge, complete with video games, the conference room with the football-shaped table that weighs 1,950 pounds—"or six Louie Kelchers," the tour guide said. "Six whats?" the ghost of Lombardi asked. But by now they were in the expanded 60-man locker room with the green carpeting dotted with thousands of little gold Packer helmet emblems. "Mike Douglass, our right linebacker, said he'll have to keep his sunglasses on in the locker room," the tour guide said, smiling. "Sunglasses in the locker room?" the ghost muttered.
He noticed a picture on the wall: J.J. Jefferson and James Lofton skying for a high five. "What the hell is that?" he said. "Oh, they do that after each touchdown," he was told. "They're our two All-Pro receivers." "And how many touchdowns did they score last year?" he asked. "Four," was the answer. "Hummph," he said. He saw another picture, of a portly gentleman wearing No. 79. "Who's that?" he asked. "Our starting left tackle, Angelo Fields. His weight is down to 283 this year." "Down from what?" asked the ghost. "About 340," was the answer. The ghost shook his head. "How'd you do last year?" he asked. "Oh, very well," he was told. "We lost to Dallas in the playoffs 37-26, and we're favored to win the division this year." "Lost to Dallas?" he said. "Thirty-seven points? What the hell, don't you control the ball anymore? Don't you run it?" "Oh, yes," he was told. "Our first four running backs were very consistent. They averaged between 3.0 and 3.8 yards per carry." "Three point eight?" said the ghost. "Why, on my last Super Bowl team I had five runners do better than that.... I had...." But by now he was fading...fading....
You say Lombardi wouldn't recognize this team? Well, sure he would. They still wear the green and gold. They're heavy favorites to win the division again, even though the old Lombardi basics—great offensive and defensive lines—are missing. Sacking and being sacked were Green Bay problems last year. End Mike Butler's defection to the USFL will not help the defense, which is carried by a fine linebacking corps led by Douglass, who has been strangely neglected by the Pro Bowl voters for two years. Quarterback Lynn Dickey needs time to find his receivers, but his line is still a shifting spectrum. Maybe it'll get better when second-round draft choice Dave Drechsler is ready to step in at guard. And maybe the insertion of No. 1 pick Tim Lewis at right cornerback will help a defense that gave up 492 yards to Seattle in the second exhibition game. But the draft doesn't offer much more immediate help.
Still the Packers seem a logical choice to shade Minnesota in the division, if only because they've beaten the Vikes in five of their last six meetings, each time by 12 points or more. Even Lombardi would be satisfied with that.
Who says the Vikings are cheapskates? Just because their top draft choice, Safety Joey Browner of USC, got the lowest first-round package on the board doesn't mean they won't spend money. They hired Krazy George, didn't they? Who's Krazy George? Well, he's one of those assembly-line cheerleader crazies that clubs occasionally import when they can't think of anything else to turn the fans' boos to cheers. The off-season booing centered around the notion that in 1982 the Vikings had drafted Darrin Nelson instead of Marcus Allen because of economics, but let's be fair. At the time, most scouts and writers, even fans, rated Nelson the better prospect. So he had trouble shaking loose last year. I have a feeling he'll have a real impact on the Tommy Kramer pass-catch game this season—and they'll need him, what with Ahmad Rashad retired and Tight End Joe Senser out with a bad knee.
Over the last five years the Vikings have been the closest thing to true mediocrity in the NFL. Their aggregate won-lost is 36-36-1, and in none of those five seasons did more than two games separate the wins from the losses. They failed to finish in the Top 10 in the league defensively in any of those years, and here's another interesting thing—they've stunk in December. Bud Grant's whole training camp approach has been to take it easy on the vets so their legs would be fresh in December. In the five-year span from 1973 to 1977 the December record was 18-4, but the last five seasons their December record was 6-11. I sort of like them this year, though, because their defensive line is a very competent unit, capable of putting on a big league pass rush when aroused. But their predicted 9-7 record could just as easily be 7-9, or 8-8, or something like that.
Growls from the Lions' cage. They started the first day back from the strike last November. Well, not actually started...became public is more like it. The Lions stayed out an extra day to show their dissatisfaction. With what? Oh, the usual culprits—General Manager Russ Thomas and all the contract hassles and general insensitivity. Coach Monte Clark seethed. The team lost its next two and went in the tank against the Jets on Monday night TV. Then they sneaked into the Mickey Mouse Tourney with a 4-5 record and got blown away by the Skins. The fans and press got on Clark. He got on the players. This summer Bubba Baker wanted to renegotiate his contract. He weighed 280. Looked like a bubba and zeida, both. Bye-bye Bubba. Shipped to St. Louie for Defensive Tackle Mike Dawson.
On the defensive line only Tackle Doug English is manning the same spot he was in the good days of the Silver Rush. Halfback Billy Sims is playing out his option while waiting for his agent, Jerry Argovitz, to summon him to the USFL. The Lions publicly disclosed their contract offer to Sims, five years at $500,000 per and a $1 million bonus. Forget it, said Billy. Two offensive linemen were traded, as was Tight End Dave Hill. Defensive End Dave Pureifory flunked his physical. Two guys went to the USFL, and the Michigan Panthers, the USFL's entry in the same town, won a title. What's worse, they lowered prices for a playoff game. The Lions would never do that, said Detroit's blue-collar fans. Nor would anybody else, folks. Eric Hippie, the starting quarterback, lost his job to Gary Danielson last year, who lost it back to Hippie, who now looks like he might lose it back to Danielson, who signed a new contract but was almost traded to the Packers.
There's talent on this club. No. 1 draft choice James Jones, a 236-pound fullback, will knock people down for Sims, if Billy goes all out. Sims's first 20 carries in the preseason netted 14 yards. Mark Nichols, 6'2", 208 pounds and fa-a-ast, can catch. Ulysses Norris, last year's so-so tight end, has been outfitted with glasses, and he's grabbing pigskins. Rich Strenger, the club's second-round draft pick, is a battleship-sized tackle (6'7", 280) who, they say, can play. On the other side is a Pro Bowler, Keith Dorney. Defense will be crucial. Isn't it always?
On Monday, Aug. 15, the club announced that its deadline for signing Olympic-bound high-hurdler Willie Gault, a first-round draft choice, had run out. It's tough, but patriotism comes first. America will have another gold medal. On Tuesday Bear General Manager Jim Finks flew back from Knoxville with Gault and...let Finks describe it: "He was still undecided. He's a fine young man. But as we were flying into O'Hare we saw a rainbow engulfing the airplane. At that moment he knew Chicago was the place for him. 'Willie,' I said, 'you're gonna own this town.' "
Music please, soft humming from the Norman Luboff Choir. Cut to Soldier Field, Dec. 18, the Bears' final game, against the Packers. Snow rings the field, a slushy mess. Close-up of Quarterback Jim McMahon in the huddle. Last year McMahon was a baby, a rookie. Now he's a man. "Time for one last pass, fellas," he says. "Just gimme some time." Cut to Left Tackle Jimbo Covert, Chicago's top draft pick, a tough guy, a bruiser. "Yeah," Covert says. Down the field streaks Gault, 40 yards, 50. He goes through defenders like a rabbit through a cornfield. Touchdown. Bears win. Final record? Uh, 7-9.
Yes, yes, we know, they've got some talent. Walter Payton has bigger holes to run through, thanks to Covert ("When he blocks," Finks says, "it's like a guy delivering a punch"). There are two good rookie defensive backs, Mike Richardson and Dave Duerson, and a nasty, aggressive defense led by All-Pro Tackle Dan Hampton. But they need more, another couple of offensive linemen, a tight end. And for all his whoosh, Gault will need lots of time to figure out how the pros do things. It will be exciting to watch him run kicks back, though, if the Bears decide that such valuable merchandise is suited to that kind of work.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
For years John McKay was Doug Williams' strongest defender. "You say his percentage isn't high enough," McKay would argue. "Well, that's tough. I wouldn't trade him for anyone." With Williams at quarterback the Bucs were 34-34-1, including three playoff appearances in the last four years. Without him, in the early days, they were 3-33. And yet, when it was time to pay the price the Bucs lost him. His salary was $125,000 last year, 46th best among NFL quarterbacks. It should have been upgraded long ago. So now they've lost him to the Oklahoma Outlaws of the USFL, and to cover their loss they gave up next year's No. 1 draft choice for Cincinnati's Jack Thompson. He'll be backed up by Jerry Golsteyn, who has thrown 10 NFL passes in four years. No knock on these fellows, but things just won't be the same. The contract holdout of Pro Bowl Tight End Jimmie Giles didn't help matters, either.
The defense, led by a pair of incomparables, Right End Lee Roy Selmon and Right Linebacker Hugh Green, could generally be counted on to hold the enemy at bay until Williams started connecting, but this year it might crack under the pressure. Losing Williams because of dollars he should have gotten long ago is a wound that will not easily heal.
Green Bay 9-7
Tampa Bay 5-11
OPPONENT YARDS PER GAME PASSING