THE LONG GOODBYE
The most unpleasant thing about the end of the Pete Rozelle era is that it won't end. And even when the league's 28 owners get around to picking a successor to Rozelle, who announced his resignation as commissioner almost six months ago, the hangover could last for years. As the NFL begins its 70th season, permanent divisions are forming among owners that even the most diplomatic of new commissioners may not be able to bridge. Here's the status of the stalled search:
•The candidacy of New Orleans president and general manager Jim Finks is in grave danger, with one owner even saying the election of Finks is impossible. Several of the 11 dissident owners who blocked Finks's election in July seem convinced that a football executive can't run the league as profitably as a business executive can. Seahawk owner Ken Behring, one of the 11 and also a member of the search committee for a new commissioner, favors a business guy. "I'd like to get new candidates with fresh ideas," says Behring.
•Rozelle, who promised the owners he would stay on until a successor was found, has sold his New York home, rented a hotel room in Manhattan and is prepared to work through the season, if need be. But he's not happy about that prospect, and he hopes a new man is found by the league's next business session, Oct. 24 and 25 in Cleveland.
•Finks, NFL counsel Paul Tagliabue and two or three businessmen from outside the league will probably be the finalists when the six-man search committee makes its recommendations—possibly before the October meeting—to the club owners. The meeting could be a bloodbath because of the widespread support for Finks, who had the backing of 16 owners in July. Nineteen votes are needed for election.
Sides seem to be hardening. Most of the opposition to Finks comes from the newer owners, who have paid so much for their teams that they want to have a big say in league matters, especially financial ones. General manager George Young of the Giants calls it a conflict between the low-debt-service owners and the high-debt-service owners. What he means is this: Denver's Pat Bowlen and Dallas's Jerry Jones paid huge sums for their teams and need to make money to justify their investments; they want smaller training-camp rosters and bigger dividends from such off-field sources as NFL Properties. "The game doesn't seem to be a priority to these owners now," says one old-guard personnel director.
Behring says he thinks the recent division over the commissioner "is the best thing that could have happened to the league. It's brought about changes and new thinking." Maybe that's so, but can there be real peace after this civil war?
PLAN B FOR BUCKS
That was a pretty expensive practice the Oilers ran on July 28. It cost them $50,000. That's the amount they paid this spring to sign tight end Calvin Ma-gee. Magee had been left unprotected by Tampa Bay under this year's Plan B free-agent experiment—in which each team could protect only 37 players on its roster—and the Oilers got him for the 50-grand signing bonus. He practiced that one day in July, said his knee couldn't take the rigors of the NFL anymore, and quit, pocketing the bonus.
Green Bay cut four of its 20 Plan B free agents a week before the first preseason game, costing the Pack $87,500.
Everyone knows that the NFL tries to promote parity by scheduling strong teams from the previous season against other strong teams, and weak teams against weak teams. But less well known is that the league makes a special effort to get comparable-strength matchups early in the season to ensure that more teams are in the playoff race come November. "We work in that direction when we can." says the NFL's director of broadcasting, Val Pinchbeck, who helps make up the schedule. "But [because of the demands of television! our degree of control over that isn't what it once was."
Two marquee teams will especially feel the effects of front-loaded scheduling. The Raiders, who were 7-9 last season, will begin the season by playing six teams with a combined '88 record of 39-54-3. Chicago, which is coming off a 12-4 year, will face a 12-game winner, Cincinnati; an 11-game winner, Minnesota; and a 10-game winner, Philadelphia, in the first four weeks.
THE WILSON FALLOUT
The Bengals hope the Stanley Wilson story dies a natural death. In late May the story surfaced that Penthouse had paid Wilson a reported $250,000 for his account of his Super Bowl-eve cocaine binge. Penthouse is investigating Wilson's allegations that other Bengals joined him that night. A Penthouse spokesperson wouldn't comment on when, or even if, the article will run, but some of the players Wilson reportedly names have threatened legal action if their names appear. In May, Wilson, who had been suspended twice previously, was permanently banned from the league.
One player Wilson has reportedly implicated is running back Ickey Woods, who has angrily denied any involvement in the incident. Woods was bordering on being a hot commodity on Madison Avenue, but now he has become lukewarm. He was scheduled to make at least one commercial in the off-season, but it went instead to Cincinnati quarterback Boomer Esiason, who was paid $35,000. Woods's agent. Bruce Allen, says Woods's loss in potential endorsement fees "could conservatively be placed in six figures."
Timm Rosenbach, the Washington State University quarterback who became the Cardinals' first pick in July's supplemental draft, couldn't have asked for more bargaining power. Last year's starter, Neil Lomax, was struggling with degenerative arthritis in his hip, which has sidelined him for the year, and 31-year-old Gary Hogeboom, whom the Cards had signed as a Plan B free agent for $3.27 million over four years, was a short-term Band-Aid, if that. At camp one day, coach Gene Stallings turned to offensive coordinator Jim Shofner and said, "What the hell's wrong with Hogeboom?" Answer: arthritic elbow, bum shoulder—and expectations that were far too high. In his best season, at Dallas in '84, Hogeboom had seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions. That's why Phoenix agreed to pay Rosenbach $5.4 million over five years, including a $1.25 million signing bonus. According to one agent who has seen the NFL salary survey, Rosenbach's contract, unlike that of other rookie quarterbacks who signed rich deals, is payable over the life of the contract, with no deferrals. Not bad for a guy who last year at this time was just starting his junior season at college....
The Colts want to sign Eric Dickerson to a Bernie Kosar-length (six years) contract but not for Bernie Kosar money ($15 million). The negotiations on extending Dickerson's contract, which expires after the 1990 season, have been proceeding since June, but the Colts have reason to be encouraged. Dickerson recently bought a house that will be his first permanent home in Indianapolis. Coach Ron Meyer is especially heartened because he thinks Dickerson has seven years of effective football left in him....
When and if the World League of American Football is launched, league president Tex Schramm says, he wants a one-strike-and-you're-out drug-abuse policy. "It's my idea," says Schramm. "We've got to be squeaky clean, especially in Europe. Over there, if they find you with anything, you're in jail. No questions asked."...
The Vikings love the potential of their eighth-round pick, defensive end Alex Stewart of Cal State-Fuller-ton. "You win in the NFL with dominating defense," says head scout Ralph Kohl. "We're about one player away from being a dominating defense. This kid's got the tools to be the answer to our prayers."...
The Browns' defense is getting the message that new coach Bud Carson wants to mount an all-out, attacking D. The club record for sacks in a season is 44. Every day during training camp, defensive line coach John Teerlinck huddled with his players, and they all shouted "45!"...
With Cowboy owner Jerry Jones and coach Jimmy Johnson handling the duties of four former officials—owner Bum Bright, president Schramm, personnel director Gil Brandt and coach Tom Landry—one envious NFL coach says. "Jimmy's already the most powerful coach in the league, and he hasn't coached a game yet."...
Yes, it's an unfair comparison, but consider this: The Detroit Lions have won 54 games in the '80s; the Detroit Pistons won 63 games last season alone.
A SEASON AT THE BEACH
Look out at the Pacific Ocean from Bobby Beathard's porch, 28 miles north of San Diego, and you can see forever. You can also see why he's not having severe withdrawal pains four months after quitting his job as general manager of the Redskins. Beathard jogs and surfs every day he's at his new beachfront home in Leucadia.
"In a way," says the 52-year-old Beathard, "I feel kind of guilty because I haven't been doing anything, and here it is football season. But in another way, I say to myself, God, is this great."
Still, Beathard will probably be in the front office of a West Coast team in 1990. San Diego owner Alex Spanos has already said that he wants to talk to him after the season about joining the Chargers. "I love to run, surf and ride a bike," says Beathard. "But I also love having things to do."
To keep busy this fall—and to stay sharp in assessing talent—Beathard plans to make scouting trips on his own to colleges every week. He also will travel to New York on Saturday afternoons to do NBC's NFL Live pregame show on Sundays. NBC hired Beathard for his football expertise, which helped build Super Bowl teams in Miami and Washington. But for the network and its pro football audience the question is. Can a man who expects to return to the NFL rap his past and future peers and players? "He owes it to us and the viewers to be hard-hitting," says Bob Costas, who is the anchor of NFL Live. "I think he's coming into it with that attitude."
"You can be informative without ripping people," says Beathard. "I don't go into this job thinking I have to be nice to everyone to get a job in the NFL again." Beathard's strength is analyzing players, plays and trends, and he hopes that's how NBC will use him. A California native, Beathard is happy to be back in the land of futons—he and his wife, Christine, sleep on one—pastel T-shirts and surfboards. But Christine makes sure that he has a bit of Washington with him. Shopping recently in San Diego, she found a 6½-foot marble facsimile of the Washington Monument. Now it sits placidly in their house overlooking the ocean.
As, on most days, does Beathard.
AT 497 AND COUNTING
Since last Sept. 25, Miami quarterback Dan Marino has thrown 497 passes without being sacked. That is almost certainly an NFL record, though the league doesn't track sacks of individual quarterbacks. Marino's streak is due less to the strength of his offensive line—Miami finished 28th in rushing last year—than to his quick release. Then there are the guys who read and wait before passing. "With me, linemen have time because I'm going to hold on to the ball as long as I need to," says the Giants' Phil Simms, who has been the most frequently sacked signal caller over his last 497 attempts. "Sacks are overrated." SI looked at the last 497 regular-season pass attempts of starting NFL quarterbacks. Below is a list of those who have gone down most often during Marino's amazing streak.
THE WEEK AHEAD
San Francisco at Indianapolis: The Super Bowl champion 49ers, who played their last exhibition game on the road, begin the season with three games in the Eastern time zone. After traveling to Indy, which is 1,940 air miles from San Francisco (3,880 round-trip), they go to Tampa Bay (4,774 miles round-trip) and to Philadelphia (5,032 miles). "We lead A the league in traveling, I'm sure," says John McVay, general manager of the 49ers, who must play six of their first nine games or the road. For those first three they will log a total of 13,686 air miles. One of the Niners' chief competitors for the Super Bowl, Minnesota, will travel fewer miles 11,648, all season.
Cincinnati at Chicago In the fourth game of 1986 the Bears intercepted Boomer Esiason three times and beat the Bengals 44-7. "I car tell they don't respect us,' says Esiason.
A heavy matchup, to be sure, but there's more. The weightiest clash in NFL history should take place during this game. In the near corner in short-yardage situations weighing 320, will be backup Chicago defensive tackle William Perry. In the far corner, weighing 340, will be rookie Cincinnati guard Freddie Childress.
Houston at Minnesota: Some think this could be a Super Bowl preview. When these teams last met, on Dec. 14, 1986, both were mediocre, at best. Since then they've followed almost identical paths: Houston has gone 22-14; Minnesota, 23-14.
MOST-SACKED STARTING QUARTERBACKS
(in their last 497 pass attempts)
Sacks per 100 attempts
1. PHIL SIMMS
2. RANDALL CUNNINGHAM
4. KEN O'BRIEN
5. JOE MONTANA
5. BOOMER ESIASON
28. DAN MARINO