BYE, BYE, BERNIE
When one AFC coach heard Monday's stunning news from Cleveland—that the Browns had waived quarterback Bernie Kosar—he said, "I thought he was missing some passes this year that he should have hit. And he's slow. But I've got great regard for him, and in the right system, I think he can still be successful."
Cleveland owner Art Modell broke the news to the 29-year-old Kosar on Monday morning in what must have been an emotional meeting. Kosar once told Modell that Modell was like a surrogate father to him. Still, league observers had seen the split coming for some time. "This wasn't about ability and the ability to lead a team," says Marc Trestman, who was Kosar's quarterback coach at the University of Miami and with the Browns in 1988-89 and remains a friend. "This was about a personality conflict." Indeed, Kosar and Cleveland coach Bill Belichick, who took over the Browns three years ago, were not getting along, disagreeing about how the offense should be run.
Still, there was a growing consensus within the organization that Kosar, with his lack of speed and his bad elbow, was no longer effective. Belichick had planned to replace Kosar with Todd Philcox for this Sunday's game in Seattle, and, say the sources, Belichick didn't think it would be fair to the team or to Kosar to have him back up such an inexperienced kid. Philcox, four years out of Syracuse, has thrown all of 37 passes in the NFL.
Modell will be reviled by fans for releasing the hometown hero at the apparent behest of Belichick, the coach with an 18-22 record. During the Browns' 28-23 win over Pittsburgh three weeks ago, when Kosar was benched for Vinny Testaverde (who was subsequently injured), a sign fluttering in the Dawg Pound played off the initials of NBC, the network televising the game. It read NOBODY BENCHES COSAR.
BILLS, BILLS, BILLS
From coast to coast, the cry is heard: Oh, no, not the Bills; not again. You're probably saying it right now.
Says Mike Francesa of New York City's all-sports radio station, WFAN, "Without question, there's a cringe factor when you bring up the Bills." Yet here they are, 7-1 after a difficult, 13-10 overtime win in New England and the favorite to have the home field advantage through the AFC playoffs. The Bills are no lock to make an unprecedented fourth straight Super Bowl appearance after three losses there, but who else in the AFC really scares you?
The Bills love this us-against-the-world thing. "It's uniting us," says Pro Bowl special-teamer Steve Tasker. "Somebody sent us T-shirts that typify what our attitude is. They say LET'S PISS 'EM ALL OFF AND GO FOR FOUR. It's Our motto."
On Sunday the Bills trailed 10-0 after playing 47 minutes of horrendous offense. Running back Thurman Thomas was suffering from bruised ribs that made breathing difficult, and Jim Kelly was having no success at moving the ball. The Bills had no business even being in this game, but they did something that champions, and teams hoping to be champions, must do: They won on the road despite playing poorly for most of the game.
First they drove 80 yards to score a touchdown, and on the next series, the defense, led by inside linebackers Mark Maddox and Marvcus Patton, stuffed New England on downs. Thomas lost a fumble with 4:17 to go, but the defense held once more, forcing the Pats to punt from midfield. Only 64 seconds remained. Kelly hooked up with wideout Billy Brooks for 22 yards and rookie wideout Russell Copeland for 56. Four plays later Steve Christie kicked a 27-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.
New England had the first shot and made a first down, and then the Buffalo D stiffened. On third-and-one at the Bill 48, tailback Leonard Russell tried the right side, and nosetackle Jeff Wright hammered him for no gain. Russell tried again, and Patton and left end Phil Hansen stopped him cold. On Buffalo's possession Kelly completed a pass to tight end Pete Metzelaars, who was stripped of the ball at the Patriot 25. But the Bill defense forced a punt, and on first down Kelly threw a 46-yard completion to Andre Reed that put Buffalo on the New England 19.
Thomas, gasping because of his painful ribs, crashed the line for two yards, then for three. He left the field, doubled over after his 30-carry, 111-yard day, and Christie booted the winning field goal from 32 yards away.
Amid the postgame euphoria Kelly would brook no suggestion that the Bill offense was lacking. "I have zero concern about the offense," he said. But all season the attack has sputtered. Since their season-opening 38-14 rout of New England, the Bills have scored only 12 offensive touchdowns in 28 quarters. Still, Buffalo sits alone atop the AFC. "What helps us, in a game like this and coming off the Super Bowl disappointments, is the kind of guys we have in this locker room," said Maddox.
Indeed, the character of the players Buffalo drafts has a lot to do with the team's ability to come back. Most teams interview prospects, and some administer a personality test. The Bills do both. Their 120-question exam attempts to ascertain qualities of competitiveness and resilience. Says Wright, "We've got a bunch of guys who can come back from devastating losses, guys whom you never have to tell to lift weights or work out."
The Bills used the test to build the guts of their resurgent defense. "Maddox and Patton both scored superbly on the test," says general manager John Butler. Both were undersized college linebackers—the Bills drafted Patton out of UCLA at 218 pounds, Maddox out of Northern Michigan at 213—who were anything but prime prospects. In the off-season, when free-agent inside linebackers Shane Conlan and Carlton Bailey left for the Rams and the Giants, respectively, Buffalo wasn't concerned. Patton, who's second on the team in tackles, and Maddox added sideline-to-sideline speed to a solid front seven. The defense just might carry the Bills to Atlanta on the last Sunday in January. Yes, the Bills. Yes, again.
DON'T DO IT, BARRY
The Lions have a bye this week, and the persistent rumor around Detroit is that Barry Sanders may stage a job action by not showing up for a couple of light practices. You can't win this one, Barry. The Lions already ripped up one of your contracts to improve it a couple of years ago, and they've offered you more than either Emmitt Smith or Thurman Thomas makes. Walking out on your team would be inexcusable.
You may have seen the replays of Pittsburgh cornerback Rod Woodson trying to gel at Cincinnati wide receiver Carl Pickens late in Sunday's game. According to two of Woodson's teammates, he was enraged over a remark Pickens had made. The two Steelers say they heard Pickens shout "Jungle fever!" at Woodson. That slang term for interracial romance was especially stinging for Woodson, the son of a white mother and a black father, who is married to a white woman.
Of Pickens, who is black. Woodson would say only that he "went over the line." Woodson's teammates, however, were not as reticent. "If you want to talk basic football [trash] the whole game, fine," said cornerback D.J. Johnson. "That personal stuff is uncalled for, and it's rare."
Jet coach Bruce Coslet is 7-3 against Don Shula, Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson, three coaches who have five Super Bowl wins among them. He is 3-7 against Dick MacPherson, Dan Henning, Ron Meyer and Rick Venturi, who together have 98 victories in their entire pro careers.
FOR THE BIRDS
In two decades of coaching, Eagle defensive coordinator Bud Carson has assembled some of the best rushing defenses in the history of the game. But the '93 Eagles have already surrendered more yards on the ground in eight games—1,208—than their 1990 or '91 teams did in a full season. A Phoenix rookie named Ron Moore trampled them for 160 yards on Sunday, and a week earlier Dallas's Emmitt Smith burned them for 237. "Emmitt's game doesn't look so hot now," said Philly safety Wes Hopkins. "He got 237, but some guy I never heard of got 160." No one has summed up the 4-4 Eagles better than cornerback Eric Allen. "We could lose every game from here on out," he said.
HERE WE GO AGAIN
After the Bucs lost to the Lions in Detroit, Detroit Free Press reporter Michelle Kaufman stood in the visitors' locker room at the Silverdome and interviewed Tampa Bay linebacker Hardy Nickerson. Kaufman was partially occupying the space in front of linebacker Jimmy Williams's locker; spillover to other players' lockers is common in NFL locker rooms because they are usually so cramped. Kaufman said that the 6'3", 225-pound Williams shoved her in the back, causing her to lurch forward and almost fall. "You don't belong in here," Kaufman quoted Williams as saying. Williams later apologized, but the Free Press talked to Buc officials and filed a complaint with the league, which has been vigilant about equal locker-room access for male and female reporters since Lisa Olson, a Boston Herald reporter at the time, was verbally abused by Patriot players in 1990.
"Why aren't we beyond this by now? Why is this still an issue?" said Kaufman on Monday. "Every time one of these things happens, it reminds you how uncomfortable a place the locker room is for women. Anyone who thinks the Lisa Olson incident is an isolated case—it's not."
The Dolphins need to win this week in Philadelphia to push aside the distraction created by Don Shula's pursuit of George Halas's record for career coaching wins. On Sunday, Miami lost to the Jets for the second time this year, and in those games New York quarterback Boomer Esiason burned the Dolphins for a combined 579 yards and five touchdown passes, with only one interception and no sacks....
SI has been told that former Redskin coach Joe Gibbs is not the leading choice to coach the expansion Charlotte Panthers. The guess here is that the job will go to Florida coach Steve Spurrier, a patient teacher who built solid programs from the ground up at Duke and with the USFL Tampa Bay Bandits....
A tip of the hat is in order for Detroit, which is considering playing a preseason game next year on real grass inside the Silverdome. Four World Cup soccer games will be played on grass in the Silverdome between June 18 and 28, and the Lions would play a preseason game five or six weeks later.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Jets at Colts, Sunday. In the first half of the season, 3-5 New York played the NFL's toughest schedule. Its first eight opponents were 36-21 (.632). In the second half, beginning at the Hoosier Dome, the Jets will have the easiest schedule—their remaining opponents are 22-35 (.386).
THE END ZONE
Perhaps it's an oversight, but it does appear that Cowboy owner Jerry Jones is trying to shift responsibility for the team's 1-15 finish in 1989. Tom Landry's name was inscribed on Texas Stadium's facade alongside his years of service with Dallas, which are listed as 1960-89. Landry never coached the team in '89; he was fired that February.