WHAT A WAY TO GO
Giants quarterback Phil Simms sat in his den in Franklin Lakes, N.J., last Thursday night and watched the Ram defense chase Oiler quarterback Warren Moon all over Memphis in their preseason finale. "Jeez, Jeff Fisher has these guys all jacked up," Simms said of L.A.'s new defensive coordinator. "Look at 'em dogging Moon!"
For Simms, it was the first day of the rest of his (NFL) life—the day after new Giants coach Ray Handley had decided that Jeff Hostetler, not Simms, would start the season opener against the 49ers. Simms is going to be a backup for the first time since 1983, but he is taking the demotion rather well.
He's still into it, still into football. Just two months before his 36th birthday, Simms swears we haven't heard the last of him. "Listen," he says, a trace of his native Kentucky still in his voice after 13 years in New Jersey, "I might not take a snap this year. If I don't, I guarantee it's not the end of me. I know I'm not going to start here again, unless something happens to Jeff, and I accept that. I'll have to have breaks to ever start anywhere again, because of my age. But if anybody thinks I'm going to fade into oblivion...that's not going to happen. I'll play again."
Four of Simms's first five seasons in the league ended prematurely because of injury, and New York fans booed him mercilessly when he did play, because he didn't win. But then he threw for 4,044 yards in 1984, was MVP of the Pro Bowl in '86 and was the Super Bowl MVP in '87.
Ten games into the 1990 season, the Giants were unbeaten, and Simms's 108.0 quarterback rating led the NFL by a dozen points. Then, in Week 15 against Buffalo, Simms suffered a severely sprained ligament in his right arch, and Hostetler took the Giants the rest of the way—all the way to victory against the Bills in Super Bowl XXV.
New York coach Bill Parcells decided to go out on top and was replaced by Handley, a Giants offensive assistant. Handley was enticed by Hostetler's mobility and overall terrific play, especially given that Hoss had thrown a total of only 93 passes in seven NFL seasons before taking over for Simms in December. After having his best year statistically, Simms had lost his job.
New York City's annual preseason luncheon for the Giants was held the day after Handley's stunning decision, and a crowd of 1,400 stood to cheer Simms, their former whipping boy, for 45 seconds. It might have been his last ovation in New York. Although Simms would not talk specifically about his plans, those close to him (and even Simms's own words) suggest that he would like one last chance to start—off Broadway. Far off Broadway.
STILL IN LABOR
The NFL's executive vice-president for labor relations, Harold Henderson, plans to present a proposal for a collective bargaining agreement to the players this month. It would be the first solid CBA offer to be tendered by the owners since the players' strike of October 1987, and it would come in the wake of management's recent setbacks in federal court regarding the NFL's exemption from U.S. antitrust laws.
Henderson, a former Amtrak executive who replaced Jack Donlan as the head of the owners' Management Council in April, recently visited nine teams at their training camps in hopes of creating an atmosphere of reconciliation between the players and management. According to Henderson, the players and NFL Players Association executive director Gene Up-shaw have asked him to submit a proposal. Three major points likely would be included in such an offer:
•Free agency for players after six or seven years in the league. Some owners want to exclude players who earn $1 million or more per year.
•A salary cap that would vary from team to team based on annual gross revenue. Small-market Cincinnati, for instance, would have a smaller cap by a few million dollars than the Rams or Raiders in Los Angeles. Also, each team would have to spend about 55% of its gross revenues on salaries.
•Major improvements in benefit and pension plans, which haven't been upgraded since 1982. Players with families currently have a $2,800 annual deductible on their medical coverage.
Henderson will deliver his proposal to Jim Quinn, the NFLPA's lead attorney in the players' two free-agency suits pending against the league. Henderson, however, wants to make sure the specifics of the proposal are communicated accurately to all of the players, instead of being lost in the rhetoric that usually bogs down labor-management disputes. And what if Henderson thinks management's message isn't getting to the players? "Then," Henderson says, "I intend to go right to the players."
PUT UP OR SHUT UP
Three years ago, the Packers made Michigan State offensive tackle Tony Mandarich the second overall pick in the draft, thinking he would fill a big pothole in their line. When they selected the 315-pounder, Green Bay bypassed running back Barry Sanders and linebacker Derrick Thomas, who became All-Pros for the Lions and Chiefs, respectively. Mandarich, on the other hand, has been an abject failure.
Packer quarterbacks were sacked a league-high 62 times last season, with the right tackle, Mandarich, earning a meal share of the blame. In Game 10, Phoenix linebacker Freddie Joe Nunn evaded a block by Mandarich and flattened quarterback Don Majkowski, who missed the rest of the season with a torn rotator cuff. In Game 14, Reggie White and the rest of Philadelphia's defensive front so badly outplayed Mandarich that Eagle defensive tackle Mike Golic said, "It was hard maneuvering in there, because you had to watch you didn't step on Mandarich. Reggie was throwing him all around."
Now that Majkowski is apparently healthy again, Green Bay has no larger concern than Mandarich. "One of the big ifs of our season is whether we'll see the real Tony Mandarich," says Packer general manager Tom Braatz. Mandarich, who lost 25 pounds between his senior year at Michigan State and his rookie season in 1989, will never live up to his pre-NFL hype. But with a solid year he can at least quiet some of the innuendo that his success in college was due mainly to anabolic steroids.
Although he has not tested positive in the NFL for steroid use, Mandarich's repeated claims that he has never used the drug were severely tested by a 1990 Detroit News series that placed him at the center of widespread steroid use in the Michigan State football program. Even Braatz, who's paying Mandarich $1.03 million a year, is uneasy with Mandarich's past. "I'm a little, uncomfortable with his lag in conditioning from college to pro football," says Braatz. "But until he's proven guilty, I'll believe he's innocent."
The Packers went out and hired a full-time strength and conditioning coach, Russell Riederer from Purdue, who Green Bay hoped could persuade Mandarich to join the club's off-season conditioning program. When Riederer joined the Pack in February, he went straight to Mandarich's home, 16 miles outside Green Bay, took a look at the NFL-caliber weight room in the basement and urged Mandarich to join the team for workouts in Green Bay.
The result: Mandarich made nearly every off-season workout, and he added a daily 90-minute racquetball session to improve his foot speed. In training camp, Mandarich was quicker and a more formidable player at a solid 300 pounds than he was last season at 295. "He's so much better," Majkowski says. "It's critical that the offensive line play better. It's probably the key to our success this season."
Skewered by beat writers and columnists who have seen his inept play for two seasons, Mandarich isn't talking to the press. Fair enough. His play will have to speak for him anyway.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Detroit at Washington, Sunday night. It's the debut of the Lions' semiconservative Silver Stretch offense, which features the occasional use of a tight end and of a fullback. The Lions ended their association with offensive coordinator Mouse Davis and the pure run-and-shoot at the conclusion of last season. But the true beginning of the end came against the Redskins in November, when the Lions, ahead by 21 with 25 minutes to go, handed off to Barry Sanders only twice more and lost 41-38 in overtime. "We were in for 107 plays [109, but who's counting?] that day," says Detroit linebacker Chris Spielman. "That's almost 2½ football games. That game took a toll on us for the rest of the season."
THE END ZONE
Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville and his wife, Brenda, were touring the paddock area at Belmont Park before the Belmont Stakes last June. Brenda went to pet favored Strike the Gold, and the horse bit her on the forearm. Brenda, who wasn't hurt, looks on the bright side of things. "At least I got bit by a millionaire." she says. "I sure don't sleep with one."
Glanville says the incident was scary. "Sure was," he says. "But she's fine now, as long as she has her bucket of oats in the morning."
PROJECTING RICE FUTURES
Forty-niner wideout Jerry Rice tells SI he wants to play eight more years—until 1998, when he will be 36 and would have played 14 seasons. "I'm in the best shape of my life now," says Rice. "I think I'd still feel great then." Convinced that he needed some extra armor, though, Rice added 12 pounds of muscle in the off-season.
No receiver in history has more receptions (446), receiving yards (7,866) or touchdown catches (79) in his first six NFL seasons than Rice. The Elias Sports Bureau projected his career numbers through 14 seasons, and the new figures indicated that Rice would clearly become the most productive receiver in history.
"I can't believe what I'm seeing," Rice said when he saw Elias's projections. "As I play longer, I want my play to improve. This is a good incentive."
Here is how the Elias stats compare with those of the alltime leaders in each category:
CAREER RECEIVING YARDAGE
CAREER TO RECEPTIONS