After Seattle's Curt Warner had knee surgery Tuesday, Sept. 4, the first person at his bedside was his former Penn State roommate, Todd Blackledge, now the Kansas City Chiefs' quarterback.
"I just felt I had to take time out for a really close friend," said Blackledge, who used his day off to fly round trip between K.C. and Seattle. "He's like family to me, and I knew members of his family would have a hard time getting there very soon."
Blackledge was reluctant to talk about the trip, in part because he feared his K.C. teammates might think he wasn't preparing as well as he could for Sunday's game against Cincinnati. There was no cause for concern. Blackledge threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns in the Chiefs' 27-22 win.
John McKay, the Tampa Bay Bucs coach, is suffering from a cataract in his right eye and will undergo surgery Sept. 18 or 19 in Miami. McKay has little vision in that eye—his game-plan chart is printed in large type—and fears he may have cataracts in his left eye, too.
"I don't want any sympathy, but it has become a problem," said McKay. "It just got worse and worse. Now, I have to have something done."
McKay expects to be hospitalized briefly, then return to the team in time for its game against the Giants Sept. 23. Insiders say, however, that regardless of the cataract, McKay has looked extremely tired lately. He has erupted after both Buc losses, lashing out at highly-paid veterans. "He's very depressed right now," says a source close to the team. "He's doing an awful lot of soul searching."
At Southern Mississippi, his teammates called him "Sweet." In Pittsburgh, they're calling him "Hot." For Louis Lipps, the Steelers' sensational rookie receiver, the latest nickname rings true: In two games, Hot Lipps has had 10 catches for 260 yards and three touchdowns.
As a rookie NFL coach last season, John Robinson got the Rams into the playoffs largely on the running of rookie Eric Dickerson. This year he's varying his offense with a San Diego-style passing game built around rookie Ron Brown, the Olympic sprinter (gold medal in the 4X100 relay). L.A. receivers will be running stem routes, patterns they can change depending on how the defensive back plays them. The quarterback must, in turn, react to those changes.
But L.A.'s five receivers total just 25 career starts and have less than seven seasons of pro experience, and the New Look offense has been miserable. In a 20-13 opening-game loss to Dallas, Vince Ferragamo, whose career quarterback rating is 77.8, threw 22 incompletions and was intercepted four times, earning him what may be the lowest rating ever (2.5); Brown lined up wrong twice, leading to two penalties; and another wide receiver, Henry Ellard, made eight route mistakes (turned it out when he should have run a deep post, ran a fly pattern when he should have hooked). Against Cleveland on Sunday, though the Rams won 20-17, Ferragamo threw for just 101 yards and had two interceptions. His rating barely rose, to 13.8.
"We might have too many variations to our passing game," Robinson says. "Many of the routes can change based on sight adjustments. Some of our guys were adjusting to guys eating hot dogs in the fourth and fifth rows. If we return to the simplicity we had last year, though, we'll see those nine-man fronts again and Eric won't be able to run."
The $40 Million Scholar
Sherry Young knows The $40 Million Quarterback best. "Steve came home [to Greenwich, Conn.] in July with a pocketful of money, almost $500," she says of her son, who became the richest rookie in pro sports last season when he signed a $40 million deal with the USFL's Los Angeles Express. "He decided to take everybody in the family shopping for clothes and then bought us pizza for dinner. The next day he said, 'Mom, I need to borrow some money.'
"Steve's just a 22-year-old kid who's overwhelmed by the money he's making. He said last summer, 'Mom, is a million dollars a lot of money?' And I said, 'It has taken your father half his life to earn that.' "
For his part, Steve's father, LeGrande, made sure his son didn't lose perspective. He had him mow the lawn, clean out the garage, do the dishes and help his 14-year-old brother, Tommy, deliver the Greenwich Time.
Young's back at BYU now, completing work toward a degree in finance and international relations—he's taking Soviet-American relations, corporate finance, marketing management and French and writing a senior research paper—and hanging out with his old college buddies. "They knew me when I was a bum," says Young, who always wears Levi's, T shirts and untied tennies. "Hey, I'm still a bum. The money doesn't mean anything to them, and it hasn't changed me one bit."
Young cruises around Provo in The Cardinal, his 1965 Olds, which has 223,000 miles on it and fast-food wrappers in it. Bruce Springsteen blares from the tape deck.
"The car has a mystique," Young says.
Says Mom, "You can sit in the back and read letters that are three years old."
"When you're on the move," says Young, "you've got to be able to fire things into the backseat."
Young's waiting for a Sept. 15 payment from the Express of $1.5 million, the amount necessary to fund his $36.5 million annuity. "I'm not worried," says Young, who might negotiate with the NFL's Tampa Bay Bucs if the Express defaults on his contract. "But I'm discouraged by the discontinuity of the USFL. By the way, did Jack Thompson or Steve DeBerg throw all those interceptions for the Bucs in their opener?"
When Kenny Washington and Woody Strode joined the L.A. Rams in 1946, they were the only blacks in the NFL, and as late as 1961 there were no blacks on one of the league's teams, the Washington Redskins. By 1969, when the AFL and NFL merged, one-third of the league's players were black. As the numbers below indicate, blacks now make up the majority of NFL players:
1969: 33.7% black
1979: 48.8% black
1983: 52.2% black
1984: 52.0% black
The team with the most blacks on its opening-day 49-man roster this season was New England, with 33. The team with the least was the New York Jets, with 20.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: Chicago's Walter Payton rushed for 179 yards, including a 72-yard TD, and went ahead of Jim Brown's career combined-yardage record (15,517 to 15,459) in a 27-0 win over Denver.
DEFENSE: Giant linebacker Lawrence Taylor's three sacks forced two fumbles. One was returned for a TD, the other killed a Cowboy drive at the Giant 10, as New York beat Dallas 28-7 (page 22).
Rah, Rah, Sis Boom...Blah
Ever wonder what players do on the sidelines during timeouts? Look at the cheerleaders, of course. And in Green Bay, some of the Packers don't like what they see.
This year's "updated" Green Bay cheer-leading squad is aiming for the "adult crowd." As a group, they're downright, well, busty, but they're trying to be sophisticated in their garb and with-it in their choreography. That's a welcome turnaround from the '83 group's skirts-and-sweaters high school look.
Unfortunately, the Packer management allotted only $20 per "updated" outfit. (The Cowboys spend about $150 per woman.) So the Packer cheerleaders have scraped together a dark-green leotard crossed by a swatch of gold cloth topped off by a green-and-gold polyester overlay similar to those worn by marching bands. They're wearing white hand-me-down go-go boots.
Says one player, "If we go to the Super Bowl, I'm personally going to see to it that the team chips in to buy them better-looking outfits. No way can they go on national TV looking like that."
Max McGee, the ex-Packer receiver who's now color man on the team's radio broadcasts, has the last word. An expert commentator on women (he was fined several times by Vince Lombardi for missing curfew because he was, in his words, "chasing skirts," and he got married for the third time last week), he says, "There just aren't enough good-looking girls in Green Bay for the Dallas Cowboy cheerleader look."