The Top 10 college seniors as rated last week by the National Football Scouting combine:
Bruce Smith, defensive lineman, Virginia Tech; Eddie Brown, wide receiver, Miami; Bill Fralic, offensive tackle, Pittsburgh; Ray Childress, defensive lineman, Texas A & M; Lomax Brown, offensive tackle, Florida; George Adams, running back, Kentucky; Chris Doleman, linebacker, Pittsburgh; Ethan Horton, running back, North Carolina; Rich Johnson, cornerback, Wisconsin; Kevin Allen, offensive tackle, Indiana.
What about Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie? Look for the Boston College quarterback to go to the Bills, who'll pick No. 1, or the Falcons, who'll pick third. Both teams were box-office flops this season, and could use some Flutie magic to hype ticket sales.
While Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson drools about Flutie, Bills general manager Terry Bledsoe would prefer to spend the team's bucks on Jim Kelly, who threw 44 TD passes for the USFL's Houston Gamblers last season. The Bills own Kelly's NFL rights. Says Kelly's agent, Greg Lustig, "They'd have to pay Kelly seven figures a year."
Flutie seems to be No. 1 in the Falcons' hearts. Coach Dan Henning dismisses doubts about the 5'9¾" Flutie being tall enough to play in the NFL, saying: "Anybody who throws 11,000 yards in four years of college and plays a major-college schedule can play in the NFL."
Al Davis is keeping his Raiders happy. Two of his favorite players got new contracts last week. Defensive end Howie Long, who walked out of training camp demanding "Gastineau money," got it: a reported $3 million over four years. Linebacker Matt Millen, who was said to be ready to leave the team, had his salary tripled to $350,000 per year. With fat pay hikes projected for Marcus Allen and Mike Haynes as well, the Raiders' payroll will exceed $15 million for '85, roughly two times what it was three years ago. Says one NFL exec, "Of course, they're spending the NFL's money." By that, he means the still-undetermined millions that the Raiders will collect from their successful antitrust suit against the league.
John Bassett, owner of the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits, has come up with an unusual marketing scheme. In exchange for a stub from Sunday's Buccaneers-Jets game, Bassett will give one free Bandits ticket. "This is an investment," he says. "Say we get 10,000 stubs. Half of those people probably feel the USFL is baloney. So we'll let them see a game. Hey, they'll come back."
Here's a sampling of what the Colts were saying privately before coach Frank Kush departed last week to become coach of the USFL's Arizona Outlaws:
"We are led by fear and humiliation tactics."... "We battle Frank Kush, we don't battle other teams."... "[Kush ordered] chicken-crap fines, like $10 for grass on our shoes. We're not in high school."... "He'll never have to write an acceptance speech for Coach of the Year."
Little wonder the Colts popped champagne corks in the locker room after Kush announced he had accepted Arizona's offer, a reported five-year, $1 million contract—$700,000 of which is guaranteed.
One question remains: Did Kush resign or was he forced out as the result of a locker-room squabble with owner Bob Irsay on Nov. 25? Kush's wife, Fran, said, "I hate to leave before the end of the season. It wasn't planned that way. I don't think Frank had any choice. You must remember Bob Irsay is unpredictable."
The NFL's wedding of the year for 1985 involves not a player but Leigh Steinberg, the 35-year-old superagent-hunk, who will tie the knot in April with Lucy Semeniuk, a Newport Beach (Calif.) lawyer who was the 1972 University of California homecoming queen. The list of ushers—all Steinberg clients—reads like a Who's Who of Young Millionaires: the L.A. Express's Steve Young, Houston's Warren Moon, Atlanta's Steve Bartkowski, San Diego's Rolf Benirschke, Seattle's Kenny Easley, the Baltimore Stars' Irv Eatman and St. Louis's Neil Lomax. Says the groom, "They ought to take out a Lloyd's of London insurance policy for the church."
The Classless Play of the Year Trophy goes—hands down—to lame duck Tampa Bay coach John McKay. With the Bucs in front 41-7, McKay instructed his defense to let the Jets score so that the Bucs' James Wilder could get some more cracks at Eric Dickerson's single-season all-purpose rushing record of 2,234 yards. Johnny Hector of the Jets walked in a TD with 56 seconds left and Wilder got three additional shots, but came up 16 yards short. Jets coach Joe Walton called it right: "A total embarrassment to the NFL."
By showing up in a Chicago Bears uniform for two games, quarterback Greg Landry became eligible for a nice little nest egg—$70,000 in NFL "severance pay." That's what the league calls a certain lump sum payable on retirement. It was a feature of the players' contract negotiated in 1982, a year after Landry had retired from the NFL. The longer you've played, the more you get. Landry had put in 11 seasons with the Lions, three with the Colts. He spent the springs of '83 and '84 in the USFL but became eligible for NFL severance only when he signed with the Bears. Chicago is responsible for $17,500 of it, Detroit $48,125 and the Colts $4,375. Landry dragged down approximately $22,500 in salary for his two Bears games and will get a full share of the team's playoff payoff.
Ah, yes—he started Sunday and beat the Lions 30-13.
A.J. Duhe, the Miami linebacker, suffered through the worst season of his career. Off-season knee and shoulder surgery kept him out of the Dolphins' first four regular-season games, and two weeks ago his lack of mobility and generally subpar play caused him to be benched. Yet he was selected as a Pro Bowl starter. "I can't even make the starting unit on my own team," Duhe says.
Cowboy free safety Michael Downs is having his best season. He leads the team in tackles (131), blocked an extra point and a field goal, and had 3½ sacks—but he wasn't even picked as an alternate. One starting safety for the NFC is 49er Dwight Hicks, who played cornerback most of the year. Says Downs, "It's just a popularity contest." But Cowboy corner-back Everson Walls thinks it's a conspiracy. "We need to send one of [Dallas security director] Larry Wansley's boys to San Francisco," kids Walls. "I think they stuffed the ballot box."
The big mystery in Detroit: Will Monte Clark stay on after his 4-11-1 season? Reportedly Clark has three years left on his five-year contract, and the payoff to get rid of him would be about $1 million. Meanwhile, talk has surfaced in Seattle that the Seahawks' Chuck Knox is a candidate for the Lions' head coaching job. Knox, Detroit's offensive line coach from '67 to '72, had the Lions job dangled in front of him in '77. Miffed that the Lions were courting his coach, L.A. owner Carroll Rosenbloom made the move impossible. For openers, he wanted 12 Lions players in return.
Knox denies he wants to leave Seattle for Detroit. However, NFL sources insist that, where Knox is concerned, money talks. Then, there's this: The four-year pact Knox recently signed with the Sea-hawks reportedly has a clause allowing him to break the pact if he got a promotion—say, general manager/coach—with another team.
The Vikings gave coach/Lieut. Colonel Les Steckel and his staff the boot Monday. And according to eight-year veteran nose tackle Charlie Johnson, Minnesota's 3-13 record—worst in club history—wasn't the only reason for the dismissal. "Les pushed [religion] a lot," Johnson says. "A lot of guys felt he was trying to make them too much like him. We're here to win football games. Hell, leave us alone and let us play football."
Raider tight end Todd Christensen ended his season-long silent treatment of the media last week, saying, "If I were a reporter, I'd want to talk to me." He said he had decided to clam up after holding out in training camp, because "I didn't want to complicate things with the glib and witty Christensen at that point. I didn't want my celebrity to exceed my playing ability."
DREAMING OF A BROWNS CHRISTMAS
"We aim to spread a little cheer," says Bob Golic, a 6'2", 260-pound Cleveland nose tackle and a mighty big elf. Says Doug Dieken, the Browns' left tackle and an equally outsized (6'5", 252-pound) Santa's helper, " 'Tis the season to be jolly."
Three weeks ago, Golic and Dieken began their annual I'm Dreaming of a Browns Christmas duel to come up with the tackiest locker decorations. Golic showed up with a giant Santa Claus head, a plastic wreath and yards of garland. "I shopped the K mart blue-light specials," he said. Dieken hung stockings and set up a three-foot artificial tree. "It's tastefully adorned with $1.99-a-strand lights that blink with the tones from a music box," he says. "It sounds like a dentist's office." A photo of coach Marty Schottenheimer's mug is affixed to the angel on top, and owner Art Modell's picture is pasted to the Santa ornament. "I know who pays my bills," says hands-down winner Dieken.
HE DOES HIS KICKING BY THE NUMBERS
Ray Wersching, the 49ers' kicker, is racking up the numbers. His 131 points make him the leading scorer in the NFL for '84, and he has been No. 1 on the team in scoring in all but the first of his eight seasons with them. He has kicked game-winning field goals 11 times and has converted 107 consecutive extra points.
Wersching works in the off-season as a senior partner in the tax department of the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse in San Diego. "I get the best of both worlds," says the 12-year NFL veteran whom the 49ers picked up as a free agent in 1977 after he had been cut by the Chargers. "I wear a three-piece suit and work from nine to five from February through May. Then, just when I've touched enough of reality, it's time again for football." Several of his teammates have tried to get Wersching to prepare their tax returns, going so far as to offer to pay him, but he declines. "I refuse to mix my two professions."
Not that Wersching can ever forget his "real" job. "Last year I was out on an audit, and everybody suddenly discovered what I did," he says. "The client's people were dropping in for an hour at a time. I finally went to a partner at Price Waterhouse and said, 'We're really going to be over budget on this job. All they want to do is talk football.' He said, 'Don't worry about it.' "
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: Washington's Art Monk finished the season with an NFL-record 106 receptions as he caught 11 for 136 yards and two TDs as the Redskins beat St. Louis 29-27 to clinch the NFC East title.
DEFENSE: The Chicago Bears defensive unit sacked Detroit quarterbacks 12 times, tying the NFL single-game record, and inflicted 100 yards in losses as the NFC Central champs crushed Detroit 30-13.