SO FAR, SO GOOD
Six plays. Three points. Big deal. It's early, but after three weeks the measures taken by the NFL to shorten games have achieved their purpose without shortchanging the players or the fans. Compared with 1989, this year's games have averaged six fewer plays and three fewer points, but 11 minutes and 23 seconds have been shaved off the playing time.
These numbers are welcome news to league officials, who, critics have charged, sacrificed the quality of the game in the name of making it a compact, three-hour, made-for-TV product. "I don't think the game is missing anything," says Saints president Jim Finks, who heads the NFL Competition Committee, which proposes all rule changes. "Had we not told anybody that we were making these changes, I bet 99.5 percent of the people would not have been aware of them. How many people watch a play go out of bounds and then watch the clock to see when it starts?"
After three weeks of play (not including Monday's game), total plays per game are down from 154.3 in 1989 to 148.2, and points have decreased from 41.2 to 38.4. But the time needed to complete a game also has fallen, from 3:11:19 to 2:59:56.
Last March the Competition Committee, with the support of all 28 teams, mandated several changes to shorten games, including reducing halftime from 15 to 13 minutes, putting a two-minute limit on the time a replay official has to review a play and, in most cases after it has been stopped, starting the clock when the ball is spotted, instead of when it's snapped.
"People thought every team would go to a no-huddle offense and things like that," says Patriots defensive coordinator Charlie Sumner, "but all it did was force teams to hurry up a bit."
The loss of 50 or so plays from a team's offense over the course of a season will affect individual statistics and could cost a player in two ways—prestige and money. For example, a running back who rushes for 990 yards could argue that he probably would have broken the 1,000-yard barrier, and possibly earned an incentive bonus, had not the rule changes cost him another 10 chances to carry the ball.
In 1988, Falcon running back John Settle picked up an extra $10,000 by gaining 1,024 yards. "It's still every running back's dream," says Settle of rushing for 1,000 yards. "If it hadn't happened because I was 10 or 20 yards short, well, '980-yard rusher' just doesn't have the same ring."
SHAME ON THE PATRIOTS
Amazing, isn't it, that in 1990 women sportswriters are still being sexually harassed in the locker rooms of pro teams? The latest offenders are the Patriots, who on Sunday continued their shameful treatment of Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson following a 41-7 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati. New England owner Victor Kiam was overheard calling Olson "a classic bitch" in the locker room.
Olson, 26, was assigned by her paper to the Patriots beat this summer. On Sept. 17, a day after New England had beat the Colts in their second game of the season, she was interviewing defensive back Maurice Hurst in the Pats' locker room in Foxboro, Mass.—with her back to the adjacent shower room—when she started hearing shouts of "Make her look! Make her look!" Then, says Olson, tight end Zeke Mowatt, who was naked, interrupted her interview with Hurst, made a lewd gesture and said, "Is this what you want?"
According to Olson, Mowatt made more obscene comments, and four other players, all naked, approached her, making similar remarks. But she refused to look up. Olson believes this harassment came about because several Patriots had seen her waiting in the locker room the day before in Indianapolis, and they apparently thought she was lingering to see naked men. "I didn't want to be in there any longer than I had to," she says. "I was in there...with three members of the p.r. staff, waiting to interview players."
On Sept. 19 she received an apology from New England general manager Pat Sullivan for the Sept. 17 incident, and on the 20th, coach Rod Rust condemned the incident in a team meeting. But all wasn't forgotten on Sunday. "I can't disagree with the players' actions," Kiam told another Herald writer, Kevin Mannix. "Your paper is asking for trouble by sending a female reporter to cover the team. Freedom of speech is fine, but letting a woman in the locker room goes beyond that."
League policy states that, following a waiting period of no more than five to seven minutes after a game, the home and visiting locker rooms must be opened to all accredited members of the press, and that the press is to have immediate access to all players and coaches. Olson said that three front-office employees followed her through the New England locker room in Cincinnati, so she went to Kiam to ask if he would like to shadow her, too. He said no. After she walked away, two male sportswriters overheard Kiam tell club officials, "What a classic bitch. No wonder none of the players like her."
Sullivan said in a statement released Monday night that he had conducted an investigation of the Sept. 17 incident and had fined one unnamed player for "conduct detrimental to the club." No statement was made by Kiam.
There were indications on Monday that it would take a terrific offer—two first-round draft picks plus a player or another pick-to pry quarterback Steve Walsh from the suddenly stubborn Cowboys, who spent the weekend agonizing over whether to trade a player some members of the organization think has the potential to be better than starter Troy Aikman. "We're honestly torn," said one Cowboy executive early Monday.
According to one line of thinking, Dallas should trade Walsh because a quarterback controversy is inevitable as long as he is Aikman's backup. Another says that the Cowboys should keep Walsh because a jillion quarterbacks get hurt every year, and a quality backup is a necessity.
The guess here? Walsh will be gone before the Oct. 16 trading deadline. And New Orleans will get its quarterback of the 1990s.
THE END ZONE
Running back Alonzo Highsmith, acquired by the Cowboys from the Oilers on Sept. 3, has been pestered with questions about the condition of his left knee, which has been subjected to arthroscopic surgery five times. In his 1990 debut, a 19-15 loss to the Redskins on Sunday, he rushed for 15 yards on six carries and said the knee felt fine. "Like Mark Twain," said Highsmith, "the demise of my death has been greatly overexaggerated."
THE WEEK THAT WAS
SAILOR OF THE WEEK
Charger coach Dan Henning met America's Cup champion Dennis Conner this summer, and Henning was so impressed with Conner's confidence that he bought Conner's book, No Excuse to Lose. Last Saturday, Henning gave his team a pep talk, quoting extensively from Conner's book, which stresses tireless preparation. "Everybody thinks Dennis has a big ego," says Henning. "Even he says he has a big ego. But he says, 'I have a big ego because I'm good, and if I have a big ego, I have to live up to it.' A lot of these players have big egos, but if they want to have big egos and not be losers, they have to live up to it, too." The final on Sunday from the Dawg Pound: San Diego 24, Cleveland 14.
STAT OF THE WEEK
•Derrick Fenner, who was Seattle's 10th-round draft pick in 1989, had rushed for 82 yards in his pro career before Sunday's game at Denver. In the Seahawks' 34-31 loss, he gained 144 yards on 22 attempts. "Fenner didn't look very good on film, but he looked real good on the field," said Bronco linebacker Karl Mecklenburg.
STUFFING THE FISH
Former Giants linebacker Harry Carson watched from the sideline as his old team defeated the Dolphins 20-3 at Giants Stadium. "I'm standing there about halfway through the game," said Carson later, "and I'm saying, 'What a boring game!' "
Ahhh, the essence of pro football as coached by New York's Bill Parcells: Smash the ball into the defensive line (45 times on Sunday), hold on to it as long as possible (40 minutes, 18 seconds), establish supremacy early (the Giants ran 23 first-quarter plays to the Dolphins' four), intimidate the opponent with special teams (Reyna Thompson made several big plays on coverages) and shut down the opposition's key skill players (in this case, running back Sammie Smith and quarterback Dan Marino).
Smith, the NFL's rushing leader after two games, was held to nine yards on five carries. As for Marino, he threw for only 115 yards, the fourth-lowest total of his eight-year career. "That is the best 3-4 defense I've ever played against," said Marino to Giants safety Dave Duerson as they walked off the held.
Part of the legend of Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor is that he sneaks into games to take part in meaningless final plays and goal-line stands. That's what happened against the Dolphins. He inserted himself on the last drive of the game and strained his left hamstring chasing substitute quarterback Scott Secules. After he limped to the locker room, Taylor apologized to Parcells. The Giants are lucky that they have Dallas at home on Sunday and a bye the next week.
LET THE SLAUGHTER BEING
"Entering the season, it's like quarterbacks are going on a death march," says former NFL signal caller Gary Danielson. "Five or six will survive the season and play 16 games, but you never know who they'll be."
On Sunday, Mark Rypien (sprained knee) of the Redskins, Wade Wilson (torn thumb ligament) of the Vikings and all three Colt quarterbacks were knocked out of their games with injuries. In a 24-10 loss at Houston, Indianapolis starter Jeff George played with a pulled stomach muscle, but the pain forced him to give way in the second quarter to Jack Trudeau. Late in the fourth quarter Trudeau left the game with a sprained thumb after being sacked by Doug Smith. Enter Mark Herrmann, who injured his throwing shoulder two plays later when he was tackled by Sean Jones. George had to return to finish the game.
This is the fifth straight year in which the Colts have had their starting quarterback injured in September.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Bears at Raiders. In 1984, Chicago, which hadn't won a playoff game in 21 years, was off to a 6-3 start when the defending Super Bowl champion Raiders came to Soldier Field. Nine sacks later, the Bears were 17-6 winners. "I think when we won that game, it went a long way toward convincing ourselves we could be a really good team," says Chicago center Jay Hilgenberg. From that point through the '86 playoffs, the Bears went 37-8, including a Super Bowl victory. And how does this game rate, with both teams on the rise after recent downslides? "Again, it's a good game to measure both franchises," says Hilgenberg. Indeed, they're both 3-0.
Falcons, 49ers, Rams, and Saints idle. This is the first of seven Sundays on the schedule that are designated as open dates for four teams, the result of the league's decision to stretch the 16-game season over 17 weeks. That makes TV programmers happy. It also makes coaches happy. "This comes in handy because we've suffered through more injuries at an early stage than we have in the past," says 49er coach George Seifert.
Bengals at Seahawks. Cincinnati will begin the longest run of road games in its history on Monday night, if its fellow tenants at Riverfront Stadium—the Reds-win the National League West. The Reds would host a playoff game on Oct. 14, forcing the Bengals to move their scheduled home date with the Oilers to Houston. As a result, the Bengals would go 41 days between home games, playing five in a row on the road in three time zones. "Like joining the Army, isn't it?" says Cincinnati center Bruce Kozerski. Only one team in the last 40 years—the 1973 Jets, who played six straight away games—has had a longer run on the road.