PUTTING IN FOR OVERTIME
Bears coach Mike Ditka may well be the league's early-bird workaholic, arriving at his Lake Forest (Ill.) office most days by 4:30 a.m. and heading home about 9 p.m. In the off-season, Ditka arrives at a more sensible hour—6:30 a.m. "He's always been this way," says Mary Albright, Ditka's secretary. "He's afraid he'll miss something. "A possible runner-up is Giants coach Bill Parcells, who is at his desk by about 6 a.m. "When I interviewed Bill for the job," says G.M. George Young, "he asked if he had to socialize or play golf. I told him, 'Absolutely not. 'I didn't want a scratch golfer."
THE NFL'S GRETA GARBO AWARD
Most elusive superstar: Marcus Allen.
BEST OFF-SEASON MOVE
The Browns new quarterback coach Greg Landry, a 14-year vet, will tutor rookie Bernie Kosar. Landry's first contact with Kosar was off the field: He visited the University of Miami with head coach Marty Schottenheimer to help persuade Kosar to sign.
GROWING UP THE HARD WAY
Bronco coach Dan Reeves now admits he expected too much from John Elway when Elway was a rookie in 1983. "I wish I'd waited to put him in, "Reeves says. "I'm sure there was damage that John has had to overcome." He also had to overcome the complicated Bronco offense. "It wasn't logical," says Elway, now beginning his third season. "There were too many rules. It was like, 'i before e, except after c...oh, but sometimes after m, and maybe in this situation....' " So, the past two years, Reeves and Elway have simplified things. "Now, we're teacher and assistant," says Elway. "A lot of people have this image of me as a brat. I've grown up a lot. And I've grown into this offense."
NEW ENGLAND'S SQUEEZE PLAY
When the New England Patriots were handed globs of bright red putty by coach Raymond Berry, cynical veterans rolled their eyes. Could Play-Doh be far behind? Why, the Patriots figured, they'd be labeled the kindergarten of the NFL. But Berry, a conditioning fanatic, assured them this wasn't kid stuff. Rather, it was just a form of isokinetic exercise—squeeze, release squeeze, release—a way to strengthen the hand and finger muscles by working against resistance. Berry became an All-Pro receiver with the Baltimore Colts (1955-67) using these methods. And who couldn't use a Ray Berry?
THE ALL-UNDERRATED TEAM
The scouts know them, the opponents fear them, but to the average fan they are not headliners.
Wide receivers: Steve Watson, Denver; Jeff Chadwick, Lions.
TE: Zeke Mowatt, Giants.
Tackles: Dave Studdard, Denver; Jim Covert, Chicago.
Guards: Brad Edelman, New Orleans; John Ayers, S.F.
Center: Doug Smith, Rams.
QB: Bill Kenney, K.C.
Running backs: Gerry Ellis, Green Bay; Hokie Gajan, N.O.
Defensive ends: Greg Townsend, Raiders; Rulon Jones, Denver.
Nose tackle: Jim Burt, Giants.
Linebackers: John Anderson, Green Bay; Bruce Scholtz, Seattle; Eugene Lockhart, Dallas; Jim Collins, Rams.
Cornerbacks: Elbert Foules, Philly; William Judson, Miami.
Safeties: Dennis Smith, Denver; Benny Perrin, St.L.
AMERICA'S NEW TEAM?
Nope, it's no longer the Dallas Cowboys—not this season, anyway. It's the San Francisco 49ers, thanks, in part, to CBS. To help bolster declining NFL ratings, the network is planning to give the reigning Super Bowl champs as much exposure as the Cowboys. Says Terry O'Neil, executive producer of CBS Sports, "Right now, the 49ers are the most watchable team. They have the most distinctive personalities both on the sidelines and on the field."
According to NFL Properties, which controls team paraphernalia and souvenirs, the Cowboys still sell the most items, but the 49ers, climbing rapidly, may soon surpass them. Who says winning isn't everything?
THE LITTLE BIG MEN
Because the Redskins and—Dolphins and don't forget Houston of the USFL—have had so much success with little speedsters, most every team brought a slew of Smurfs to training camp again this year. And if the NFL doesn't change the one-bump restriction, Mike Haynes, the Raiders' All-Pro cornerback, predicts, "Pretty soon, you'll start to see shorter defensive backs and linebackers—guys who are able to be just as quick."
SAN DIEGO'S NEWEST CHARGER
San Diego's Alex Spanos is a no-nonsense guy. He's a strict disciplinarian and a staunch believer in the work ethic. He's also great for the league: He's on a crusade to stamp out drugs in the NFL, and most important, he's one of few owners who can—and will—talk to the Raiders' Al Davis.
HELP WANTED? HIRE THIS MAN
Paul Hackett, the 49ers quarterbacks-receivers coach, is forever being considered for head-coaching jobs. Last winter, Hackett, 38, was in the running for the Tampa Bay Bucs and Arizona State positions. Before that, Stanford wanted him. A former assistant at UC-Davis and USC and ex-QB coach of the Browns (1981-82), Hackett is a passing-game wiz. In 1983 he was hand-picked by Bill Walsh to be his heir apparent. But coach Genius is having too much fun to retire. When will somebody get wise and hire assistant coach Genius?
NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST
The five nicest players: Archie Manning, Vikings; Rolf Benirschke, Chargers; Freeman McNeil, Jets; Rich Karlis, Broncos; Mike Haynes, Raiders.
PARAGONS OF PERFECTION
For a while, every team wanted a Kellen Winslow-like tight end. Then everybody wanted a Lawrence Taylor-like outside linebacker. Now NFL player-personnel heads are looking everywhere for strong safeties like Kenny Easley. They want someone who can do more than just play the run; they want someone who can be tough on pass receivers as well as attack the pocket.
MOTHERLY LOVE: IS IT A HELP OR A HINDRANCE?
"You can't measure heart" is a cliché in sports, but Carroll Hardy, the Broncos' veteran coordinator of combine scouting, believes he has come up with a reasonably accurate indicator: mothers and grandmothers. Not to take anything away from dad, but after thousands of visits with athletes' families and countless conversations with college coaches, Hardy believes that mom is the parent who actually shapes the mental side of the player. Hardy finds that a less aggressive player is often the product of an overly protective mother, while a mother who expects the best from her son, but is never satisfied, tends to produce a tougher, overachieving athlete.
BEARING UP NICELY
From his ever-present sandals and shorts to his flair for windsurfing and bellyflop catches, Ken Margerum, the Chicago Bears' wide receiver, has always seemed off-beat. But now Margerum has folks believing that maybe his way is the right way. Margerum, who had reconstructive knee surgery last May, has come up with an unconventional rehabilitation program. He rode his 10-speed bike over hills and played lots of Frisbee, simulating the cuts he'd make on a football field.
SHAKE WELL BEFORE USING
"I have no idea how they come up with quarterback ratings," says the Raiders' Jim Plunkett, who has a career rating of 65.6. He's not alone. Says George Young, the Giants' general manager, "To me, it's like crossword puzzles. A lot of busywork for nothing. "The QB ratings system is completion percentage plus interception percentage plus average pass yards per attempt plus percentage of touchdowns per passes attempted, then multiply, divide and shake well. So, how would quarterbacks rate quarterbacks? Says the San Diego Chargers' Dan Fouts, "Does the guy win?" Says the Saints' Richard Todd, "Factor in receivers' errors." Adds Dallas's Danny White, "Measure how the rest of the team is doing." But Archie Manning of the Minnesota Vikings has come up with his own equation: arm strength plus drop plus delivery plus ability to read defenses plus escapability plus number of injuries plus leadership plus experience plus heart.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN '85
You'll see a lot more of the no-huddle offense. With more defenses using situation substitutions, some coaches find that the easiest way to keep moving the ball—and hold onto the momentum—is to prevent the special-situation players from getting on the field in the first place.
Expect more teams to blitz and play man-to-man, moving away from the zone defenses that were so prevalent in the '70s. This ought to be a punishing year for quarterbacks: Look for teams to attack the pocket more.
JUST CALL HIM MR. INTENSITY
Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer is respected—and feared—by his players. He is bright, innovative, organized, disciplined and is an old-fashioned screamer. His pregame histrionics have even brought tears—sometimes his own.
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, J.J.?
Veteran scouts say they've never seen an outstanding player drop so far, so fast, as wide receiver John Jefferson. A Green Bay coach says it's mental, not physical, that J.J. can't motivate himself. But one of J.J.'s former San Diego coaches argues that it's physical: In his early years as a pro, Jefferson seldom worked out hard; that may have caught up with him.