Every day the newspapers set forth in agate type news of immense consequence to the subjects named therein. These are records of sports transactions, and they may signify any of a number of things: a heartbreaking dismissal; a terrific new affiliation; a move to a city the player and his spouse can't stand or, conversely, admire; a transfer from starting lineup to disabled list. In these pages we put flesh on the agate bones of five men whose names (circled at left) recently appeared on the lists.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: Acquired center Mike Bullard from ST. LOUIS BLUES for center Peter Zezel.
Mike Bullard was still feeling the lingering effects of the flu that had slowed him down for 10 days. On Nov. 29 his team, the St. Louis Blues, was in Landover, Md., to play the Washington Capitals, and Bullard was hoping to break out of a slump. He had scored only four goals in his first 20 games with the Blues. He got to the Capital Centre early, about 8:30 a.m., so that he would have time for a whirlpool treatment before the morning skate.
At 10 a.m., Brian Sutter, the Blues' first-year coach, phoned him in the training room. Bullard didn't think anything about it at first. Sutter was probably calling to find out if he was feeling well enough to play. Then came the kick in the ribs. "We made a deal, Bully," Sutter told the 27-year-old center. "We traded you."
For Bullard it was the third time in the last two years that he had heard those words; the second time in the last three months. Sutter told him he had been dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers for 23-year-old center Peter Zezel. At least it was to a good organization, Bullard thought. A good organization that was off to a 9-16-1 start. The Flyers lacked scoring punch, particularly at center, and Bullard had averaged better than a goal every two games in his seven-year NHL career.
Still Bullard was anything but thrilled with the news. His wife, Linda, was back in St. Louis, house hunting, and she is expecting their first child in February. She had an ultrasound test scheduled for Nov. 30. Bullard liked the Blues' coaching staff, and he had already made some good friends on the team.
Besides he had wanted to stay in one place for a while. Early in his career, Bullard had a reputation for being a bad apple. He had a 1986 DWI conviction dropped after completing an Alcoholics Anonymous program. He also had a well-publicized altercation with former Pittsburgh coach Bob Berry, which led to his being traded to the Calgary Flames in '86. In Calgary, Bullard was anxious to show he now had his priorities in order. "Calgary brought me back to life," he says. "I became a more mature man in that organization. They taught me the game—not just offense, but defense. It was heartbreaking to be traded from there. I'd built a home. I thought I was going to live there the rest of my life."
Bullard scored 51 goals for the Penguins in 1983-84, but playing for the Flames last season, he was even more productive, scoring 48 goals and 103 points and finishing plus-25 in the league's plus-minus statistics, fifth-best on the Flames. But a poor playoff performance against Calgary's archrivals, the Edmonton Oilers, lowered Bullard's stock, and two days before training camp opened he learned he had been traded to St. Louis as part of a seven-player deal that sent two of the Blues' best players, Doug Gilmour and Mark Hunter, to the Flames. "It was too good a deal for Calgary to pass up," admits Bullard.
His brief stint with the Blues was frustrating. Bullard pressed, determined to show that he was worth what St. Louis had given up for him. He had lots of chances—52 shots on goal—but scored on just 7.7% of them, down from a 20.9% goals-per-shot average the year before. And the Blues' system was not exactly tailor-made for the freewheeling Bullard. "St. Louis plays for a 2-1 score," he says. "Their game plan is to throw the puck in every chance they get, and that took away my game."
Bullard was able to brood about all this on the way to Philadelphia. The Flyers had a home game that night against the Boston Bruins, and they arranged for a limousine to meet him at his hotel in Washington. Bullard didn't even have a chance to say goodbye to his Blues teammates. He packed, called his wife—Linda, predictably, was upset—grabbed his skates and sticks and hopped into the limo at 11:30 a.m.
On the way up Interstate 95, Bullard fantasized that he was a big-time businessman, calling his own shots, traveling in luxury. When the fantasy faded, the anger set in. How could St. Louis give up on him after just 20 games? Nobody could be expected to turn a club around in such a ridiculously short period of time. Traded. It wasn't so bad for him. He could live anywhere. But this was going to be hard on Linda, who had expected to be in her own house in St. Louis by the new year.
By 3 p.m. he was in Philly. He just had time to get something to eat before heading over to the Spectrum to meet Paul Holmgren, his new coach. They started going over the system that the Flyers were playing. "Hey, I know that system," Bullard said, brightening. For here, at last, was a silver lining to the cloud of being well traveled. The Flyers were using the same setup Bullard had played under in '86-87, when Bob Johnson was coach of the Flames.
Bullard centered for Rick Tocchet and Brian Propp, two of the Flyers' top wingers. "I was very nervous," he says. "I had the grenade hands there for a while." But in the third period, with the Flyers leading 3-1, Bullard picked up a drop pass from Propp, cut past Bruin defenseman Glen Wesley and put a forehand into the top shelf over sprawling goalie Andy Moog.
The Spectrum, which was packed as usual, erupted. Bullard was now the recipient of a standing ovation. Chills ran up his back as his new teammates mobbed him, and he thought, Now this is hockey. The Flyers won 5-1.
Two nights later the honeymoon took on the air of a lasting love affair. The Flyers fell behind a strong Montreal Canadiens club 2-0, but Bullard started a second-period comeback by swatting his sixth goal of the season, past goalie Patrick Roy. The fans rose again to give Bullard an ovation. A few minutes later he set up Propp for the tying goal with a pretty feed on a two-on-one break. Then with 47 seconds left in the game Bullard took a high stick in the face, receiving a two-stitch cut from Bob Gainey, which left the Canadiens shorthanded for nearly all the five-minute overtime. The Flyers couldn't score, and settled for the tie—the first time they had gone two games without a loss since Nov. 4 and 6—but every time Bullard touched the puck, a roar went up from the stands.
"In not too many places do you hear music like the fans play here," said Bullard, who was named the game's first star. "It's great. Everything's happened so fast. I'm playing with confidence again. It's like a new life."
HOUSTON ASTROS: Named Rick Sweet manager of Osceola of the Florida State League.
Rick Sweet was a catcher. He was an uncommonly aggressive player, blessed with intelligence and what baseball scouts call "desire," but he was definitely not Hall of Fame material. He made the most of what he had, though, and by 1983, when his playing time was up, he had spent three of his nine seasons in the big leagues, 1978 with San Diego, the beginning of 1982 with the New York Mets and the rest of '82 and '83 with Seattle.
Sweet loved baseball, and admitting that he was finished as a player was painful. In fact, two years passed before he accepted the truth in his own mind: He would never play again. Winding up his career in Seattle made his passage a little smoother than it might have been elsewhere. He had grown up in Longview, Wash., a paper mill town near the mouth of the Columbia River, and the Northwest was always his home, wherever else he roamed in order to play ball. Rather than leave Seattle when he was released during spring training in 1984, Sweet went to work for the Mariners, first as a bullpen coach, then for two years as their major league advance scout, a job that paid fairly well but kept him on the road for a month at a time and, worse than that, kept him sitting in the stands.
In 1987, with the approval of his wife, Molly, Sweet returned to the minors, this time as a manager. It was starting over, but being on the field again made the economic hardships and the separations from Molly and his then three-year-old daughter, Mary, worthwhile. His first managing assignment was the Mariners' rookie league team in Bellingham. Wash. Last season he was sent to an A club in Wausau, Wis. Neither team won much, Bellingham finishing 30-46 and Wausau 52-88, but Sweet's job was teaching and developing young players for advancement to AA ball, and he did that job pretty well. Furthermore, he was an organization man who bled Mariner blue; he took a $6,000 pay cut, to $30,000, to manage. For seven years, as a player and a front-office man, he had committed himself to the club, working in ticket sales and public relations in the off-season, speaking to community groups without pay whenever he was asked.
Then, on Sept. 7 of this year, his 36th birthday, Sweet was fired—because of personality differences, he said, with Jeff Malinoff the Mariners' former director of player development. "I expected to finish my career with Seattle," Sweet said. "It was a blow, and I was hurt, but for some reason I wasn't angry. Normally I'm not the kind of person who gets hit and takes it very easily, and basically that was a knockout blow, but I wasn't mad. Molly was a lot madder than I was."
It took Sweet a week to get going again, but he began sending out resumes. "At first I had a lot of people call me and say, 'You'll be back in baseball,' but there were no bona fide offers," he says. He talked to the Red Sox and the A's, but they had no openings for a manager. He talked to the Angels three times, but the Angels wanted an advance scout. As more weeks passed and his hopes for a managing job dimmed, Sweet began preparing to start his own business outside the game. His plan was to hold clinics, give private lessons to promising high school players and buy a few batting cages and a small sporting goods store.
Meanwhile, Rick and Molly settled down to a winter together. Even before being fired, Rick had promised there would be no winter ball in Puerto Rico this year. They needed the extra money as much as ever, but their house also needed work. The previous spring, the day before Rick left for spring training, he had moved the family from Seattle to Vancouver, Wash., across the river from Portland, Molly's hometown. Vancouver's proximity to both their families and to the Portland airport made it a good base. However, the house was 30 years old, and there were things, such as painting, pulling up carpets and installing lighting, that Molly couldn't do by herself, self-sufficient though she is. (The first winter of their marriage, 1975-76, Molly and Rick had a 130-house paper route. They would rise at 3 a.m. to deliver the papers; then Molly would go on to a 9-to-5 office job.)
On the morning of Nov. 10, the phone rang while Rick was still in bed. It was Fred Nelson, the director of minor league operations for the Houston Astros. Nelson had a managing job to fill with the Class A Osceola Astros in the Florida State League. (The ballpark is in Kissimmee, near Orlando, but the team is named after the county, because calling a team the Kissimmee Astros is asking for trouble.) Nelson was not offering the job yet. First, he had a lot of questions, which ranged the baseball and personal spectra. The questions took two hours that morning and several more phone calls in the days that followed, but finally Sweet's contract was in the mail.
Outwardly, Sweet was a normal suburban householder after his hiring was announced last week. He went Christmas shopping with Molly and puttered about in the house and yard, but his brain was working three months ahead.
"I want to make sure I know what the Houston way of playing baseball is, the cutoffs and relays, bunt plays, how they turn the double play, how they like their outfielders to back up. I want to learn their policies—how high the socks, how low the pants, how big the mustache. The way the Houston Astros do it will be the way Rick Sweet does it. It's that simple. Also, I have no white shoes. I have 20 pairs of blue shoes. They're worthless now, but I'll pack them away, because who knows?—in two years I might need them."
To be perfectly truthful, Rick Sweet, the Osceola Astro, was as excited as a rookie reporting to the big leagues. "There's no better feeling than a ball game," he said. "Getting out there and competing against that other guy. Before, it was physical. Now it's 95 percent mental. Sometimes you look over there in the other dugout, and you know you've got the manager right where you want him. I love it."
TEMPLE: Fired football coach Bruce Arians.
The cornerstone of Temple University's philosophy was put in place in 1884 by the institution's founder, Dr. Russell H. Conwell: "Great deeds with little means." Bruce Arians, the football coach at the Philadelphia school for the past six years, confessed last week, "It took me a while to learn to live with that. When I started here, was asking for buildings. Pretty soon I was only asking for pants and jerseys." He didn't get buildings, but he got the pants and jerseys. He also got fired.
The announcement by Temple said that Arians "has relinquished his duties in a mutual agreement with school officials." In fact, Arians relinquished his duties during a 45-minute meeting in which the university's executive vice-president, H. Patrick Swygert, told him he was no longer employed. The only mutual agreement was that the school would pay Arians for the remaining year of his three-year contract—slightly more than $100,000—and in return he would not talk ugly about his dismissal. Arians later met with president Peter J. Liacouras—once such a fan of Arians and his program that he broke a finger catching a kickoff at a practice—and they told each other what a great guy the other one was. A very civil divorce.
At Arians's Marlton, N.J., home, the phone rang constantly, signaling condolence calls—from Akron's Gerry Faust. Tennessee's Johnny Majors, Mississippi State's Rockey Felker, Texas Tech's Spike Dykes.
Arians, 36, whose record was 27-39, said simply, "I got fired because I didn't win enough games. The way for Temple to win is to make a Miami-style commitment." In the mid-'70s, Miami was either going to give it up or get good by pouring big bucks into football. The pouring worked. What Arians wanted for Temple was an indoor practice facility for bad-weather days, more practice fields, a bigger weight room and a football dorm. Lack of money, he said, torpedoed his hopes.
Athletic director Charlie Theokas said a lack of space in an urban setting—Temple's campus is in North Philadelphia—was a more difficult problem than lack of money. "We have adequate facilities, but we don't have great facilities," Theokas said. "I do admit it could hurt recruiting." He said Temple's football budget "puts us about in the middle of the pack." He would not, however, disclose budgetary figures. In any case, Theokas said, it was time to "resell, remarket, reenergize." Translation: win.
Arians, a former assistant to Bear Bryant at Alabama, said the first time it occurred to him he might be fired "was the day I got the job." The second time was after the Owls lost their last seven games in '87 to finish with a 3-8 record. The third occasion was this year's Oct. 22 game at California. The Owls were up 14-10 at half, then blew it in the second half with fumbles on the Cal six- and 19-yard lines and lost 31-14, leaving Temple 1-5. Says Arians, "We turned it over, and I turned my job over that day."
Through the turmoil last week, Arians—who says the high point of his stay at Temple was beating Pitt three times, the low point never beating Penn State—was surprisingly upbeat. At his farewell press conference he thanked everyone, including—honest—the unrelenting Philadelphia press. Then he went back to his now all-but-bare office, closed the door and philosophized: "This is just a new beginning. I don't feel one ounce of failure. I'm just thankful to have another day. I know I'll land on my feet. You never know what will be the next opportunity or the best opportunity. But I'll be coaching somewhere next year. If you lose trying, that's O.K." And with that, he put his football office in his rear-view mirror; stopped off at the Casa Lupita restaurant in Marlton for a beer: went home to his wife, Christine, a lawyer, for warmed-up pot roast; called his best friend. Chris Courtney, and learned Courtney had just resigned as coach at Garfield Senior High School in Woodbridge, Va.; watched two plays of Monday Night Football; and went to sleep.
Arians's essential problem was that Temple—under the legendary Pop Warner—had played in the first Sugar Bowl, on Jan. 1, 1935. The school desperately wants to return some day, and every year the Owls don't is considered another failure. But Temple has never even been close to getting back to New Orleans, because it's far too ambitious a dream. The Owls, 4-7 in '88, keep tilting at windmills, scheduling teams like Syracuse, Alabama, Penn State and Pitt. They lost to each this season.
In fact, Arians did a creditable job at Temple. In '85 the Owls lost their first three games, to nationally ranked Boston College, Penn State and BYU, by a total of seven points. In '86, Temple went 6-5 playing the 10th-hardest schedule in the nation—the Owls saw five of their opponents go to bowls. "I knew the schedule when I came here," says Arians. "You keep your job by winning, but that's not how you coach. You don't coach to win at all costs. I'm a counselor, a teacher, a father, a brother—and a coach. I helped some kids."
Arians, who went to Temple in 1983 after two years as running back coach at Alabama, says he was lucky to be hired. "In no way was I prepared for this job when Temple gave it to me," he says. "I don't know why they did, but I'm glad they did." Liacouras said then that it was because Arians was the "most promising football coach in the country."
He wasn't quite as promising last week, but his two children—Jake, 10, and Kristi, 8—were not upset. Said a sanguine Jake, "Oh, Dad's on TV again." And as the coaching roulette wheel spins, Arians will be back on the transactions wire and back on TV again and again, perhaps even performing great deeds—although, in truth, it might help if he is provided with slightly greater means.
—DOUGLAS S. LOONEY
BOWLING GREEN: Named Steve Barr assistant sports information director.
Who is Steve Barr? And what is an assistant sports information director? "Nobody knows," said Barr, 27, after his job at Bowling Green State University was annnounced last week. "I tell people what I do and I get funny looks. Even after I tell them, they still don't know. Like people from my hometown. They don't have any idea what a sports information director is. I try to explain, but they just shake their heads. They hear the words, but I guess they don't see the picture. It's a helping business. We are here to help the media do the job."
Actually, the qualifications of an S.I.D.—and an assistant—aren't all that much. All you have to be is a cross between a writer, a public relations expert, a statistician, an idea man and a researcher, with an absence of ego, the patience of a saint and the willingness to work 12 hour days, six—and often seven—days a week. The S.I.D.'s main function is to generate as much publicity as he can for his school, but he works in anonymity, and not for any extraordinary amount of money. The average salary for an S.I.D. at a Division I school is between $25,000 and $35,000, although a few major schools, e.g., Alabama, have begun calling S.I.D.'s assistant athletic directors for media relations, which has bumped them into the $50,000 range. An assistant S.I.D. can figure on pulling down $16,000 to $25,000.
"First of all, you have to love sports to do this," says Barr, who was a two-year starter in football, basketball and baseball at Clyde (Ohio) High, near Toledo. "There is too much involved, and you are never going to be a millionaire. You just have to love doing what you do, and I really do."
After he was graduated from Bowling Green in 1983, Barr took his first S.I.D. job at Cal State-Dominguez Hills in Carson, Calif. "It was four years of frustration," he says. "We couldn't get anything in the papers." There were two local papers. The Daily Breeze in Torrance, which was 10 minutes from the school, and the Long Beach Press-Telegram, just 20 minutes away. During Barr's stay, The Daily Breeze seldom sent a sportswriter to Carson; the Press-Telegram never came, he said.
The low point came in Barr's last year at Dominguez Hills. The basketball team needed a win in its final regular-season game against UC Riverside to tie for the California Collegiate Athletic Association championship. Dominguez Hills won, but without media witnesses. The next day it was just another three paragraph story.
"When you go in on Saturday and Sunday and you know what you are writing is going to wind up in a trash basket, it is pretty discouraging," says Barr. "I'd ask myself, Why am I doing this? I'm just wasting my time. Nobody cares. Nobody is going to print it, or read it."
When he left Dominguez Hills he was making $26,000. He took the S.I.D. job at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.—for $22,000. Now, 15 months later, he has moved to Bowling Green to work as S.I.D. Chris Sherk's assistant, for $18,300. "I guess you can say I'm going backward financially," he says, grinning. "I told my wife, Cindy, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news was I was taking another pay cut. The good news was we were going home. She just said, 'Great. I'll start packing.' "
Careerwise, it was a move he had to make, even though Cindy is expecting the couple's second child in February and will not go back to work (she had been working in the graphics department at Lake Superior State). His first two jobs were with Division II schools—Lake Superior, the defending NCAA champion, however, plays a Division I men's hockey schedule; Bowling Green is Division I. "Sure, I'd like to wind up at an Oklahoma or an Ohio State someday," he says. "But right now I'm just happy being in Bowling Green. It's home. Cindy's family lives in Findlay, which is just 20 minutes away. And I'm learning. I've got a lot to learn. For the first time I'm with a school that has a football program. I never had that. I need that experience. And I need the experience of working in Division I. I could tell another school that I didn't have any football experience or Division I experience, but I know I can handle it—and they might think I'm lying."
There's another pleasant side benefit: The telephones in the Bowling Green S.I.D. office ring constantly. "I love the sound," says Barr. "Sometimes at Lake Superior I would go whole weeks without the telephone ringing. I really enjoy having people call up asking for help. That's what I do; I help people."
When it was learned that the position at Bowling Green had opened, there were about 20 candidates, although most were unqualified. "That was kind of par for the course," says Sherk. "You get all kinds of people. You get those who have been in the field, students who are about to graduate and want to get started, a lot of whom are just sports fans and the title of sports information director just appeals to them. In hiring Steve, I felt like I was not only getting someone who was experienced, but someone who would fit in very well. That's important because we spend so much time together. It's a seven-day-a-week job, and it can wear you down. You need someone who has a pleasant personality."
History certainly is on Barr's side. He is the fifth assistant S.I.D. to work at Bowling Green. The first, Bob Boxell, is now the S.I.D. at the University of Evansville in Indiana. Steve Shutt, who followed Boxell, is the S.I.D. at New Mexico State. Sherk, Barr's current boss, was the third. And John Farina, the one Barr replaced, has moved on to become the assistant S.I.D. at Michigan State. Now all Barr has to do is find a way to move on without taking a pay cut.
CHICAGO BEARS: Signed quarterback Ben Bennett.
At about seven o'clock on Monday night, Nov. 28, Ben Bennett returned to his apartment in Durham, N.C., and noticed that the red light on his answering machine was flashing. The first message, from a woman he had been seeing in Durham, was routine—"Call me if you want to do something tonight," she said—but the next voice he heard so stunned him that he could feel his hands begin to sweat:
"Ben, this is Bill Tobin of the Chicago Bears. Please call me. I need to talk to you tonight." Tobin is the director of player personnel for the Bears, and Bennett knew the call could mean only one thing. The third message that night strengthened his feeling. It was from Perry Moss, the head coach of the Chicago Bruisers of the Arena Football League. Last summer, playing quarterback for the Bruisers, Bennett threw 49 touchdown passes, led the Bruisers to a 10-1-1 regular-season record and at season's end was voted the league's most valuable player.
Just the day before, Bennett had been watching the Cincinnati-Buffalo game on television when one of the commentators mentioned that Mike Tomczak—the Bears' second-string quarterback, who was playing for the injured Jim McMahon—had suffered a possible shoulder separation in a game against Green Bay and that Chicago's third-string quarterback, Jim Harbaugh, was now running the show. "The wheels started turning in my mind," Bennett says. "I knew McMahon was banged up. Now Tomczak gets banged up. I wondered if I had a shot to play."
So Bennett called Moss, an old friend of Tobin's, in Chicago, and asked him to call Tobin for him. Moss did, telling Tobin that Bennett was available. On Monday, Tobin decided to sign Bennett, and just that quickly—literally overnight—Bennett's whole life began to change. Moss knew the decision had been made, and when Bennett returned his call, the coach simply told him, "You've got a job. The Bears want you."
Bennett, 26, went limp. "I sat there for a second," he said. "I couldn't believe it. I was ecstatic. I was nervous. I was numb." Driven by a need to share the moment, he knocked on the door of a neighbor, a longtime friend, but no one was home. Looking around, he saw a woman walking down the street, a total stranger.
"I ain't got anybody to tell all this good news to," he told her, "but I just got called to play for the Chicago Bears."
"Really?" the dumbfounded woman said. "Congratulations."
Bennett didn't sleep all night. One day he was an unemployed former college football star with some very big stats who had never made it in the NFL, and the next day he was a Chicago Bear. Lying in bed on Monday night, he kept thinking. This can't be true; something bad is going to happen; it always does.
Bennett had been a football star at Peterson High School in Sunnyvale, Calif., a drop-back gunner with an accurate arm who was recruited by 127 colleges before he settled on Duke. At Durham, playing four years, he completed 820 of 1,375 passes for 9,614 yards, breaking McMahon's NCAA record for most yards passing in a career. He was cocky, glib and colorful. He had a yellow-orange sun, the size of a quarter, tatooed on his fanny. "It signifies California," he would say. While many expected him to shine in the pros, he never got close.
After being drafted by Atlanta of the NFL in the sixth round in 1984, Bennett signed instead with Jacksonville of the USFL, at $175,000 a year, but was cut in 1985 when the team signed Brian Sipe. "They told me I was too expensive to be a backup quarterback." he says. The Falcons signed him two weeks later, but at times he appeared more determined to embroider his reputation as a playboy than to be a football player. "I made the mistake of having too much fun in Atlanta," he says. So the Falcons let him go. The next year, he made a run to be a backup quarterback in Houston, but he was cut there, too.
Out of the game for a year—he ran a health club in Houston for a living—Bennett surfaced briefly last year during the strike. He had a cup of coffee with Dallas and Cincinnati, but when the strike was over, he was gone. His experience as a replacement player did do one thing for him, though. "It rekindled an old flame," he says. "I said, I love this game too much not to be playing it.' "
He had seen Arena Football—eight men on a side playing indoors on a 50-yard field—and figured he would try it. "I thought, Maybe this is my niche," he says. When he was not among the 200 or so players invited to try out for Arenaball last spring, he had to plead with league officials for an invitation.
It was his performance in Arenaball that led to Tobin's call. The timing was perfect. The week before, Bennett had finished his first full season as a color man on the Atlantic Coast Conference's game-of-the-week telecast, and he was doing nothing when Tomczak got hurt. When Tobin reached him later that Monday night and raised the issue of money, Bennett said, "Just offer me something, I'll sign."
He had no illusions when he arrived at the Bears' training complex on Nov. 29. The Bears were preparing for a Monday-night game against the Rams. "All they want me to do is bail them out in case of an emergency. I am a worst-case scenario—me on the field, actually playing, would only happen if Harbaugh went down."
Last Thursday, his first full day of practice, he warmed up in the cold by himself. He drifted toward McMahon and Harbaugh, who were playing catch, but they said nothing to him. It seemed an awkward moment. To a group of players, he said at last, "Hey, anybody want to play catch with the new kid in town?"
"I will," said linebacker Jim Morrissey. Linebacker Ron Rivera soon joined Morrissey, and Bennett began firing bullets to them. There was much good-natured needling, some directed at his having played Arenaball. At one point, guard Tom Thayer said to him, "If you get in, we're going to turn the teams sideways and play the width of the field." He was in a tough spot, and the Bears were sympathetic. Tomczak offered him shoes: "I'm the same size as you. Need some, let me know."
Of course, Bennett doesn't know how long he will be around. McMahon reportedly was almost ready, which would drop Bennett to third string, and Tomczak could be back by Dec. 19, the last game of the season, or at least by the start of the playoffs. If all three quarterbacks are healthy, Bennett will be gone. But for the moment this was the break he had been waiting for.
"All of a sudden," he said, "I'm on the fifth floor and on my way up.... I can't put into words how happy I am to be here."