He Won't Let It Buffalo Him
Last summer, when quarterback Jim Kelly of the Bills bumped into his Bronco counterpart, John Elway, Kelly said, "Now I know how you feel." This summer, when the two met again, Kelly said, "Now I'm starting to catch you."
What a curse the Super Bowl has been for some of the AFC's best quarterbacks. Elway is winless in three Super Bowl appearances, and now here comes Kelly, who's 0-2 in the Big One and has a good shot at a third straight trip to the title game. Last January, Kelly got mugged by the Redskin pass rush and threw three interceptions in the first 31 minutes to help put Buffalo in a 24-0 hole.
Nevertheless, Kelly's lousy showing in Minneapolis doesn't haunt him. He's too confident and too resilient to be spooked by one of his worst days as a pro. But that hasn't always been the case. Kelly needs to have team and individual success, or he slips into a funk and begins to lose his commanding edge.
It last happened in 1989. Kelly played poorly in three consecutive losses late in the year, and the Bills almost blew the AFC East title. His agent/brother, Dan, convened a meeting of the six Kelly brothers at Jim's Orchard Park, N.Y., house to cheer up the slumping quarterback. And that's the last pep talk Jim has needed. In the past two seasons combined, he completed 63.8% of his passes and threw for 57 touchdowns, with 26 interceptions.
Even with Buffalo planning to use the running game a bit more this year (big back Carwell Gardner will be joining Thurman Thomas in two-back sets), Kelly could have a big year—as long as he avoids memories of those two Super Bowl defeats. "Nobody knows, except maybe John, what it's like to lose two Super Bowls in a row," says Kelly, forgetting for a minute that one NFC quarterback, Fran Tarkenton of the Vikings, lost three Super Bowls, including two straight in the mid-'70s. "You can't feel it in baseball, or basketball, or hockey, where there's a best-of-seven championship. In the NFL it's one game, winner take all, to be the king of kings. You have an off day, and it's all over. The low is pretty low.
"But all during the off-season, I'd see people and they'd say, 'You guys'll get your chance again.' And what encourages me is I know they're right. How many teams in the NFL right now can say they definitely have a chance to be in the Super Bowl this year? Eight, maybe 10. But everybody knows we're one of them."
Don't Touch That Dial
The Olympic TripleCast was a pay-per-view disaster, but that hasn't scared off the NFL. The league has plans to experiment with pay-per-view in 1994, probably in two test markets—one NFL and one non-NFL city. All the games not scheduled to be shown on free channels in those two cities will be made available to cable subscribers on a pay-per-view basis at a cost of $12 to $15 a game.
Art Modell, the owner of the Browns and the chairman of the NFL's television committee, foresees no radical change in how the league televises its games on free TV for the balance of the decade. That's a wise move, because certain members of Congress have said they will jump all over the league if it starts making fans pay for any of the games they now see on free TV.
According to Modell, the league wants to include the pay-per-view experiment in the next TV contract it negotiates with the networks, after the '93 season. He thinks pay-per-view football will work, unlike the pay-per-view Olympics. "The TripleCast taught me that pay-per-view will work for only special events," Modell says. "You can't charge people for something they get a load of on regular TV."
But isn't that just what the NFL plans to do? Most weeks, five games are available on free TV. "But if you want to see your favorite team, it may not be on locally," says Modell. "You only have 16 chances to see your team in a year."
But That Team Was Awful
Fifteen years ago Eddie DeBartolo Jr. paid $17 million for the 49ers. Last week DeBartolo paid $7.8 million to have Jerry Rice play wide receiver in San Francisco for the next three seasons.
The early line on the 1993 draft is that it will be mediocre. On one team's draft board only two players are rated 7.0 or higher (immediately helpful as rookies, on a scale of 9): Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer and Washington tackle Lincoln Kennedy.... With all the attention paid to the Astros' 26-game road trip, consider this: The Oilers racked up even more mileage playing five preseason away games in August. The total was 19,468 miles—from Houston to Tokyo to Houston to Detroit to Houston to Dallas to Houston to New Orleans to Houston to Los Angeles to Houston.... The Aug. 26 trade that sent sack artist Charles Haley from the 49ers to the Cowboys looks like a good one for Dallas. Haley is 28 and in reasonably good health, and here's what he cost the Cowboys: a second-round pick in 1993 and San Francisco's choice of either a swap of first- and third-round picks with Dallas in '93 or a third-round pick in '94. The Cowboys got assurances from their doctors that Haley has recovered from shoulder and knee injuries, both of which required surgery in the off-season. And Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson may be the only coach east of Al Davis who can handle Haley's mood swings.
Game of the Week
Washington at Dallas, Monday. The Rivalry is back. In February players from the Redskins and the Cowboys barnstormed through Texas together, playing charity basketball games. There wasn't much mingling, though, between the Cowboys and the Skins. "We'd be in the back of the bus, playing cards, listening to loud music, having a few beers," says Dallas wideout Michael Irvin. "They'd be in front, being quiet, reading. We're like, 'What is this, a library?' Strange dudes."
The End Zone
Lamar Hunt owns the Kansas City Chiefs and is one of the 29 partners who own the Chicago Bulls. In the final round of last April's NFL draft, K.C. took a flier on Oklahoma State basketball guard Corey Williams, who hasn't played football since he was a defensive back in the ninth grade. In June's NBA draft the Bulls chose Williams in the second round. Thus Hunt could be spending money to pay Williams both in basketball (the Bulls have signed him, and he'll give basketball a shot first) and in football. "I guess it's one step beyond the Bo Jackson thing," says Hunt, "although I don't see how it's possible to play both sports."
MANY UNHAPPY RETURNS
Looking for the most startling stat of last season? Try this one: On 54 punts in 1991, the Bills yielded a total of 53 return yards. The league average was 310 yards per team, and there were 11 punt returns longer than 53 yards. Since the NFL changed the rules in 1973, allowing only two members of the punting team to release downfield before the ball is kicked, no team has slammed the door on punt returns the way Buffalo did last year. The Bills gave up an average of 3.5 yards on the 15 punts that were run back. Here are the five best punt-coverage teams since the rules changed.
Ret. Yds. Allowed