IT'S NEVER REALLY OVER
A few hours after Al Davis announced last March that he was moving his Raiders from Los Angeles back to Oakland, he was congratulated on the prospective shift. "Not yet," he said. "It's not over yet." That's worth remembering in assessing Davis's announcement last week that the Raiders would stay in L.A. after all and play at the soon-to-be-renovated Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the next 20 years. It ain't over till the fat steam shovel digs.
You have to wonder about Davis's latest announcement, because in the past decade he has said he was staying in Oakland, said he was moving to Los Angeles, did move to Los Angeles, flirted with moving to Irwindale, Calif., toyed with moving to Sacramento, said he was moving back to Oakland and, now, said he's staying in L.A. The gut feeling here? This will be the deal that ties Davis to a city for the rest of his life. It makes too much sense for him not to go through with it.
Here's what Davis has been promised: $150 million worth of renovations to the Coliseum, including up to 250 luxury boxes; $10 million up front and another $10 million when renovations begin; and the L.A. Coliseum Commission will drop its $58 million breach of contract suit against the Raiders. "The fundamental facts of why Davis came to Los Angeles are the facts of why he's staying," says Mark Fabiani, chief deputy mayor of Los Angeles and one of the city's negotiators. "Los Angeles is an incredibly wealthy area, and it's potentially far more profitable to be here than almost anywhere else."
He's right. But Los Angeles and its new football godfather, Ed Snider, head of Spectacor, the Philadelphia-based management and development company, who will raise private funds for the Coliseum renovation, know they have to uphold their end of the deal or risk another threat by Davis to hit the road. After Davis had said he was returning to Oakland, L.A. mayor Tom Bradley gave Davis a reason to think twice when he told Davis that the Coliseum would soon be turned over to Spectacor, thereby eliminating the battles over promised renovations that Davis had fought through the years with the L.A. Coliseum Commission. "Mayor," Davis said, "I'll believe it when I see it."
"It's easy to make promises," says Fabiani, "but at this point in Raider history, it's obvious that Davis wants to see performance." Now it's up to Snider to perform. If he does, the Raiders will remain in L.A. Here's how the decision would affect various NFL interests:
Television—NBC, which televises AFC games, supposedly wanted the Raiders back in San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, the fifth-largest TV market in America. The feeling was that by playing in the Oakland Coliseum, which they were expected to sell out, the Raiders would boost NBC's ratings in the Bay Area and would open the L.A. market to more NBC games. Because the Raiders don't sell out the L.A. Coliseum, their home games are blacked out in Los Angeles, and a game that is less attractive to the local market is shown instead.
Not so fast. NBC actually isn't upset by Davis's decision to stay put. Here's why: As part of the renovations, the L.A. Coliseum will be reconfigured in 1993 from its current seating capacity of 92,488 to about 70,000 for NFL games, and then the Raiders may well sell out. Whenever they do, the blackout will be lifted; and televising Raider games into the nation's No. 2 market is much more valuable than doing so into the No. 5 market.
Expansion—While there's sentiment among many NFL owners to award one of the two proposed expansion teams to Oakland, look for the presentation to be made by Sacramento, located 90 miles northeast of the Bay Area, to blow away Oakland's bid. This could develop into another old-guard-versus-new-guard fight among the owners, if, as expected, they choose to put one team in the East and the other in the West. The old guard still feels a loyalty to Oakland.
Players—Coach Art Shell has hammered home the point that where the Raiders are based will be no excuse for the way the team plays, so it doesn't matter to the players where they end up. The Raiders are 7-0 at the L.A. Coliseum under Shell, and they have the nucleus to win anywhere. "You hear we're going to Irwindale, Sacramento, Oakland," says center Don Mosebar, "but as a player, all you can think about is football."
LOW-IMPACT FREE AGENCY
Any thought that Plan B free agency has affected the balance of power in the NFL is false. While Plan B has shored up team depth in places like Green Bay, Kansas City and Dallas, it didn't make the Chiefs and Packers playoff contenders in 1989. The play of Christian Okoye in K.C. and Don Majkowski in Green Bay had the most to do with the success of those teams.
Of the 924 players who were left unprotected in one or both of the years Plan B has been in effect—teams protect 37 roster players and turn the rest loose—394 signed with new teams, but only 38 were starters in Week 1 of this season. That means 4.1% of the Plan B crop are good enough to be regulars. And we're not talking about franchise-makers. The best of the crop are Kansas City nosetackle Dan Saleaumua, Raider linebacker Tom Benson, Detroit wideout Robert Clark and Cleveland defensive ends Robert Banks and Al Baker. No quarterbacks. No running backs.
"Next year," says Packer general manager Tom Braatz, whose team starts three of the 33 Plan B players it has signed, "we'll be a lot choosier than we were the first two."
Get this: The NFC West might be the strongest division in the NFL. Its four teams signed a total of 16 Plan B free agents this year. None are starters.
BACK AMONG THE LIVING
After 50 hours of floating in and out of consciousness, the patient in the intensive-care unit at Lake Forest (Ill.) Hospital came to for good on Aug. 22. Greg Landry immediately realized that he must be in bad shape. He recognized the room as being the one used by Bears coach Mike Ditka when Ditka was treated for a heart attack in 1988. Landry found the call button and pushed it.
"What am I doing in Mike Ditka's room?" were Landry's first words to the nurse.
"Mr. Landry," she said, "you've been a very sick man."
Landry, Chicago's 43-year-old offensive coordinator, had been perilously close to slipping into a coma that he might not have been able to shake. Doctors told his wife, Jeannine, that the viral encephalitis that Landry had contracted might kill him. The Landrys have five children. She was scared, to say the least.
Here's what happened. Landry started running a high fever in the days leading up to the Bears' Aug. 11 preseason game with Miami. On Aug. 14, assistant coaches Johnny Roland and Steve Kazor found Landry passed out in his bed at the Bears' training camp. He was taken to Lake Forest Hospital, where he was treated for viral pneumonia and hepatitis for four days. He was sent home, but had the shakes and vomited sporadically overnight. Jean-nine took him back to the hospital the next day, Aug. 19, where an infectious-disease specialist diagnosed the encephalitis. Next came Landry's 50 hours of drifting in and out of consciousness.
Landry spent five days in intensive care and a total of two weeks in the hospital. But three days after he was released, in the week leading up to Chicago's regular-season opener, against Seattle on Sept. 9, Landry put a mattress in his office, and now he naps for at least a couple of hours each day.
His landmark day came on Sunday in Green Bay, where he coached in a game for the first time in five weeks. "Believe me," said Landry the night before Chicago's 31-13 victory against the Packers, "I'm very happy to be here."
AULD LANG SYNE
When the Dolphins play the Giants on Sunday at Giants Stadium, Lawrence Taylor will get to chase Dan Marino for the first time in a game that counts. But that doesn't give this game enough historical perspective. The two teams haven't met in the regular season since Dec. 10, 1972, when the Dolphins, 13 games into their perfect season, beat the Giants 23-13 on a misty day at Yankee Stadium.
"I know what I was doing that day," says Miami linebacker John Offerdahl, who was a third-grader in Fort Atkinson, Wis., at the time. "I was building forts, fantasy castles and igloos in the snow."
New York was scheduled to play its third game of the 1987 season in Miami, but that week the players went on strike. Eventually, a 15-game schedule was played, but the game that was dropped from every team's schedule was the one scheduled for Week 3.
When the teams played in 1972, the Giants turned the ball over six times and flubbed a fake field goal. "I don't think we'll need to look at the film from that one," says Miami coach Don Shula.
NBC analyst Bill Walsh was ripped by the Bears for saying on the air what many of them think privately: that defensive tackle Dan Hampton should retire before he ends up in a wheelchair. Although he has been playing well, Hampton is coming off his 10th knee operation—five on each knee. "It's almost as though people are watching with an indifferent fascination, and no one will speak out," says Walsh. "I had to say something. To me, it's almost like a boxer who gets most of his brain damage in his last two or three fights because he's so vulnerable."
...Ray Perkins, stone-faced coach of the Bucs, after being caught smiling on the sidelines by CBS cameras during a season-opening 38-21 victory against Detroit: "I apologize."
...Falcon coach Jerry Glanville seems intent on alienating every human being on the planet. After watching Atlanta nosetackle Tony Casillas working out last week following a long holdout, Glanville said, "I think guys who don't come to camp should be tied to a trailer hitch and drug around Fulton County."
THE END ZONE
Which player is drawing the lowest salary in the NFL this year? Easy. Miami wide receiver Jim Jensen. His salary: $0. After signing a two-year, $800,000 deal with the Dolphins last week, he told the team that he wanted all his money deferred to 1991 and '92.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
FIRE UP THE COALS
That was some early showdown at Candlestick Park. At least that's what Sunday's game between the 49ers and Redskins was supposed to be. But Joe Montana (29 completions in 44 attempts, 390 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) and Mark Rypien (17 of 37,241 yards, one TD, no interceptions) had an unfair fight. The Niners played like Super Bowl champs, which they are. The Skins played like a good team trying to find its rhythm, which they are.
"I think the way we played today was close to the way we played at the end of last season," said Montana after San Francisco had improved its record to 2-0 with the 26-13 victory.
Montana, who was sacked six times by the Saints in Week 1, wasn't sacked at all against Washington thanks to first-rate protection provided by his offensive line. The Niner offense controlled the ball for 34:36, and the defense had a good day harassing Rypien. "The quarterback is always going to get barbecued, along with the coach," said Redskin coach Joe Gibbs afterward. "Get the fire ready."
JUST SPRINT, BABY
AI Davis always talks about the importance of team speed, and the homestretch of the Raiders' 17-13 victory at Seattle proved his point. L.A., which trailed 13-10 with six minutes left, got three big plays from former Olympic speedsters. Ron Brown started the winning drive with a 34-yard kickoff return. On third-and-eight at the Raiders' 37-yard line, Willie Gault caught a 22-yard pass over the middle. Then, after the Raiders had gone ahead on a touchdown with 1:26 remaining, Sam Graddy raced downfield on the ensuing kickoff and hemmed in Seattle return man Chris Warren and tackled him on the Seahawk nine. Ball game.
STATS OF THE WEEK
•It was 102° inside Texas Stadium and 122° in the sun on the artificial turf. Three Cowboys were treated for heat exhaustion during their 28-7 loss to the Giants, although the team had trained in broiling Austin, Texas, for the first time to improve its conditioning.
•The player who has led the Vikings in average yards per catch in each of the last four years is wide receiver Hassan Jones, who doesn't want you to know that about him. "Keep me hidden, and throw me the ball," says Jones, who in two games has averaged 19 yards per catch (nine receptions for 171 yards). He had four receptions for 103 yards in Sunday's 32-3 defeat of the Saints.
•Donald Igwebuike, who converted 41 of 41 field goal attempts for the Bucs from 34 yards or closer from 1985 through '89, was a popular player in Tampa. But he was cut before the season because the Bucs decided to keep free-agent kicker Steve Christie instead. In his first attempt in his first home game, a 35-14 loss to the Rams, Christie missed a 32-yard field goal try.
THE FISH CAN RUN
Miami hasn't had a running back gain as many as 900 yards in a season since 1980, but the 2-0 Dolphins have added beef to the left side of the line—rookies Keith Sims and Richmond Webb—and are emphasizing the rushing game. During one stretch of its 30-7 win over Buffalo, Miami used a no-huddle offense for six consecutive running plays and picked up 30 yards. Here's how much Miami has depended on the run in recent years:
OH, NO, NOT AGAIN
The season is only two weeks old, and the Bills have already begun to snipe at one another. Last week defensive end Bruce Smith was angry that quarterback Jim Kelly left the game against the Dolphins with 7:54 remaining and Buffalo trailing 30-7. "We just gave up," Smith said. Coach Marv Levy, who pulled Kelly for Frank Reich, said, "We figured we would be exposing Jim [to possible injury] for a minuscule opportunity to win at that time."
THE WEEK AHEAD
Chargers at Browns. Beginning with this game, San Diego will play in the Eastern time zone three times in 22 days. Coach Dan Henning puts the Chargers on Eastern time for workouts and meetings every week they play a game on the East Coast to help his players adapt. Still, linebacker Billy Ray Smith likes his schedule. "I don't think I've ever seen a team with seven of its last eight games against division teams, which we have," he says. "I like it because we ought to have all our adjustments made by then."
Eagles at Rams. It's a big game for Philly, which gave up 409 yards and 21 points to L.A. and couldn't sustain its own offense in a playoff loss at home last year. "It was a weird game," says Eagle center David Alexander. "It was rainy, cold, foggy. We did some good things, but that last game of the year sticks with you."
Bills at Jets. When Buffalo met New York in a night game at Giants Stadium in 1988, a new low in NFL crowd behavior was set. A huge inflatable naked doll was tossed around the stands. Intoxicated fans set fire to their Jet caps and put out the flames by urinating on them. There were 15 arrests, and 56 people were ejected from the stadium. "We all thought it was the end of the world," says former Bills nosetackle Fred Smerlas, who is now a 49er. Since that night, the sale of beer at Giants Stadium has been banned at all night games.
Buc Quarterback Vinny Testaverde entered 1990 as one of the NFL's most perplexing performers. He was a Heisman Trophy winner and the first player chosen in the '87 draft, but the most discussed aspects of his three years as a pro have been his inconsistency and his periods of horrible play.
SI asked the Elias Sports Bureau to find the quarterbacks whose early careers were most similar to Testaverde's. The answer was stunning. Of the six signal callers whose numbers were the closest to Testaverde's, three of them—Jim Plunkett (1971), Steve Bartkowski ('75) and John Elway ('83)—were the first players chosen in their respective drafts.
"They [Plunkett, Bartkowski, Elway] went to teams that had problems, and we had problems, too," says Testaverde. "But this year, because people around me are better, I'll be better."
Elias compared Testaverde's numbers in seven passing categories with those of every quarterback ever to play in the NFL. Here are the six quarterbacks, listed in order of how closely their careers resembled Vinny's:
Rush. Yds. Per Game
Leading Rusher (Avg. yds. per game)
Lorenzo Hampton (51.9)
Troy Stradford (51.6)
Lorenzo Hampton (25.9)
Sammie Smith (50.7)
Sammie Smith (107.5)
AVG. YDS. PER ATT.
VINNY TESTAVERDE, Buce
JIM ZORN, Seahawks
MIKE PAGEL, Colts
STEVE BARTKOWSKI, Falcons
ROMAN GABRIEL, Rams
JIM PLUNKETT, Patriots
JOHN ELWAY, Broncos