So, what's the secret behind Denver's 8-1 record? According to cornerback Louis Wright and coach Dan Reeves, it's a meeting the two had last July.
"We were at a crossroads as a team," says Wright, the player rep. "This is a team that could have split terribly apart at that time. It's a team that had problems with Coach Reeves."
Says Reeves, "That meeting was probably the single most important thing that happened to this team. It certainly got my attention."
When they got together, a nervous but determined Wright told Reeves that the players felt he was unapproachable, insensitive, too demanding and prone to outbursts on the sideline. "No one was happy," Wright says. "Everyone was saying he was a players' coach, but he wasn't. It was, 'This is the way it's going to be and that's it.' "
"I was shocked," says Reeves, who's in his fourth season as the Broncos' coach. "Gosh. What I thought I was accomplishing, and I was apparently missing the boat. You perceive yourself one way, and it's not necessarily how everyone else sees you. I felt I had great rapport with the players, but after talking to Louis, I realized I didn't."
So Reeves toned down his sideline behavior, eliminated wind sprints in practice, scheduled meetings later and shortened them by an hour, and ended practices earlier. He also let the players know his door was "always open" if they had a problem.
Says Paul Howard, Denver's veteran guard, "He's listening to us now."
Quarterback Joe Theismann sounded unhappy with his coaches after the Redskins were blown out by the Giants Sunday, 37-13. "The Giants gave us a five- or six-man front and let Lawrence Taylor free-lance," said Theismann, who threw 10 straight incompletions in the first half. "They haven't used that before. Last week St. Louis blitzed on nearly every play, and that was a look we hadn't seen before. Each week teams are throwing new defenses at us. We're going to have to start changing our offense on the fly." Asked if the Skins should have revised their attack Sunday, Theismann said, "I can't answer that question."
New Orleans owner John Mecom denies that he has discussed the sale of his Saints with Jacksonville investors who, of course, would house the team at the Gator Bowl. But Jacksonville Mayor Jake Godbold insists otherwise. "John Mecom is a liar," he says. "He talked to our people, and he denied he did. He wants to sell the team for $75 million, and we have people in Jacksonville who are willing to pay $70 million. That extra five is more than it's worth."
Fred Williams, the Saints' vice president of administration, says that no one with the club's authority had made contact with Godbold about selling the team. "The mayor of Jacksonville is a liar," Williams says. "He used the term liar, so I will use it, too. Mayor Godbold is a guy that runneth over at the mouth."
Cleveland's new coach, Marty Schottenheimer, whose debut Sunday ended in a 16-14 loss to New Orleans, was telling Terry Bradshaw, the Steeler-quarterback-turned-CBS-analyst, about his NFL playing days.
"I was a linebacker with the Steelers from '62 to '65," said Schottenheimer. "Then from '65 to '68, I played with the Bills. I was with the Boston Patriots in '69 and '70, and in '71 I was traded back to the Steelers. Jack Ham was a rookie. You were in your second year. Chuck Noll was my tutor. My career ended six weeks later, when I was cut."
Bradshaw nodded intently.
"Tell me, Terry," Schottenheimer said, "do you remember me?"
"Well, Marty, now that you mention it," Bradshaw said, "I don't remember you at all."
Schottenheimer shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, well," he said, "I didn't do anything memorable anyway."
This week's Foot-in-the-Mouth Award goes to Reggie Rucker, the former Cleveland receiver who is now an NBC analyst.
During the Browns-Bengals game on Oct. 21, Rucker mentioned on the air that he'd had dinner with Cincinnati coach Sam Wyche the night before and that Wyche had given him the inside scoop on what's wrong with the Bengals.
Rucker said Wyche had revealed that Bengal running back James Brooks, acquired in an off-season trade with San Diego, was having trouble learning the offense. He said the coach also admitted that he had greatly overestimated the Bengals' talent.
When told of Rucker's comments, Wyche blew his stack. "I never had dinner with him," Wyche said. "In fact, I've spoken to him maybe twice in my whole life." One of those conversations, Wyche said, took place shortly before the Browns game and lasted about 90 seconds because Rucker left in midsentence to approach Sam Rutigliano, then the Cleveland coach.
Wyche says he told Rucker that Brooks's problems were the result of blocking breakdowns, and that his only comment on the Bengals' talent was that he had anticipated doing better than 2-6.
Rucker later admitted making up the dinner.
Though Seattle's star running back. Curt Warner, injured his right knee in the opening game and is out for the season, and Franco Harris has been a bust, the Seahawks' running game has barely suffered. Through their first eight games last year, with Warner on his way to a 1,449-yard season, the Seahawks rushed 287 times for 1,041 yards—an average of 3.6 yards per carry and 130 yards per game. They were 4-4.
For the same period in '84, without Warner, Seattle has rushed 273 times for 909 yards—3.3 yards per carry and 113.6 yards per game. And the team is 6-2.
Coach Chuck Knox is spreading the groundwork among five runners, led by Eric Lane (278 yards) and including quarterback Dave Krieg, who has picked up 140 yards.
Says Ken Meyer, the Seahawks' quarterback coach, who calls the offensive plays, "The biggest thing we did was overcome the psychological part of losing Curt Warner. Chuck convinced the players that 'Hey. Curt Warner never made a tackle or an interception or returned a kickoff.' Last year we relied on Curt too much. Now everybody pitches in. We're much more productive.
"The other thing that keeps us going? Curt Warner. He's around all the time, always smiling and upbeat."
Eddie DeBartolo Jr. wants to sell the 49ers—to the DeBartolo Corp.—and then perhaps add the San Francisco Giants to the family and create a Bay Area sports package for cable TV. There's a problem, however. The NFL prohibits companies from owning franchises unless a firm's primary business is NFL football. The $1 billion DeBartolo Corp., of which DeBartolo has a 30% interest, owns more than 50 enclosed shopping malls, as well as the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, that city's NHL Penguins and MISL Spirit and three racetracks.
The 49ers, says DeBartolo, are draining his personal coffers. Since buying the club in 1977 for $17 million, it has spent $101.4 million, he says, while taking in $82.2 million. "The losses I've incurred with the 49ers, I can't use them as an individual owner," he says. "As a corporation I think I'd be better able to use all of the 19-some million as a tax loss."
With the NFL projecting that only five teams will make a profit in 1986, other owners are thinking along the same lines. Reportedly, Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill, for one, wants to sell all or part of his team to Anheuser-Busch, which already owns the baseball Cardinals.
As for the cable TV business, DeBartolo says, "If you're in control of the major franchises, like the 49ers and the Giants, you have a hell of a good start at attracting TV audiences. If you go through Sacramento, Oakland and those areas, we're talking many millions of people."
Joe Douglas, the agent for Olympic hero Carl Lewis, who has never played organized football, says his client is willing to listen to NFL offers. Chances are, though, that Sir Carl will run track for another two years—unless the money is right.
"For Carl, it would take seven digits," says Douglas.
Over how many years?
"I'm talking per year—guaranteed," he says. "A good track athlete can make seven digits a year. Carl recently turned down a meet that offered $100,000. It would be difficult for him to take a cut in pay and also risk playing football."
'I HAVE NEVER KNOWN THIS MUCH PAIN'
Dr. Gary Losse, the orthopedist who performed a 2½-hour operation on Charger Kellen Winslow's right knee after it was damaged in a game with the Raiders on Oct. 21, says that it's a "very, very severe injury." Losse is a former University of Wisconsin quarterback who has undergone six knee operations himself. "I had a poor offensive line," he says.
Of Winslow's knee, Losse says, "The ligaments had almost an explosionlike appearance.... like spaghetti...mop ends."
The injury occurred as Winslow caught a pass from quarterback Dan Fouts, planted his right foot and was hit by Raider linebacker Jeff Barnes. The impact blew out the posterior cruciate ligament, which runs up the back of the knee. Winslow then twisted his right leg, severing the medial collateral ligament.
Winslow, who will be sidelined for at least six months, is expected to regain full mobility in the knee, according to Losse. Winslow has already begun rehabilitation, using a Continuous Passive Motion machine and leg exercises. He says he'll be running by training camp next July. The five-year, $3,175 million contract Winslow signed six weeks ago is fully guaranteed in the event of a career-ending injury.
Privately, he is scared. When he was released from Sharp Memorial Hospital on Oct. 24, one of his first calls was to Packer wide receiver John Jefferson, his former Charger teammate. "I've never known this much pain," he told Jefferson. Jefferson assured him that medication would mask the pain.
"J.J.," the 27-year-old Winslow said, "I'm not going to know for a year whether I'll ever play again."
"I didn't know what to say," Jefferson said later. "All I could tell him was not to worry, that it was a year away, and that worrying for a whole year would kill him."
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: Quarterback Joe Montana connected on 21 of his 31 pass attempts—including 13 in a row in the first half—for 365 yards and three touchdowns as the 49ers shut out the Rams 33-0.
DEFENSE: Safety Roger Jackson intercepted a Marc Wilson pass with 38 seconds remaining in overtime to set up Rich Karlis's winning 35-yard field goal as Denver beat the Raiders 22-19.
Special-teams coaches give kickers an "A" when they boot the ball into the end zone on a kickoff. Touchbacks eliminate the risk of a return man busting loose and also cut down on injuries. These are the NFL's best kickers:
Von Schamann, Miami
These men make kickoffs more fun:
Lansford, L.A. Rams
Ariri, Tampa Bay
B. Thomas, Chicago