CAN THE 49ERS FIND A WAY TO KEEP GRBAC? THINGS AREN'T SO SUPER FOR LARRY BROWN A GOLDEN AGE FOR PUNTERS

October 13, 1996

ELVIS HASN'T LEFT...YET

Forty-niners quarterback Steve Young keeps having this dream in
which he is married and has a couple of children. The wife and
kids sit in 3Com Park, cheering him on. For the dream to become
reality, one of San Francisco's most eligible bachelors will
have to marry soon--he is involved with a Bay Area woman--and he
would have to be playing four or five years from now. "That
would be a wonderful present for me, for my kids to see me
play," he said last week. "I hope I'm in the middle of a great
career, but I can't see that far into the future."

Twenty months after a six-touchdown, MVP performance in the
Niners' 49-26 win over the Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX, Young is
in one of the worst spells of his NFL career. A nagging shoulder
injury in 1995 and a lingering groin pull this season have
combined to sideline him for seven of the 49ers' last 16 games.
In the nine games in which he has played, Young has thrown nine
TD passes and 11 interceptions. Over that span Young's
replacement, Elvis Grbac, has 12 touchdowns and six interceptions.

That's not to suggest that Grbac is the better player, but
there's no question that his value has rocketed in the past
year. He is eligible to become a free agent at season's end,
and in this salary-cap era it would be difficult for San
Francisco to keep two high-priced quarterbacks. That puts the
Niners in a bind. If Grbac leaves, they are left with the
35-year-old Young, who has become increasingly injury-prone and,
because he relies on his mobility so much, needs healthy legs to
be effective. If the team finds a way to squeeze the 26-year-old
Grbac under the cap, it won't be long before the coaching staff
will feel the pressure to play him--much the same way the
pressure mounted to play Young when Joe Montana was still the
49ers' starter in the early 1990s.

If he plays like he did on Sunday--20 of 32 for 222 yards and
three TDs in a 28-11 win over the Rams in St. Louis--Grbac will
be worth at least $4 million a year on the open market. "The
best of all worlds would be for us to retain Elvis and have him
learn from Steve, and be willing to wait until it's his turn,"
says 49ers president Carmen Policy. "We're willing to commit to
him as our quarterback of the future, but the only way it can
work is if he's willing to play here for less [than he could get
with another team]."

Policy's most revealing comment concerns Young's future as the
starter. "In the minds of our staff, Steve definitely is
penciled in as the starter for 1997," he says. "Beyond that, you
just don't know."

In a meeting with Policy last Saturday, Jim Steiner, Grbac's St.
Louis-based agent, threw out the possibility of a large signing
bonus and a back-loaded contract including incentives that would
pay Grbac as a starter if and when he becomes one. As for Grbac?
He's still squarely on the fence.

"I truly don't know what I'll want," he says. "It's so
difficult. It's the potential of big money and playing right
away versus all the things the 49ers offer. I'd like to stay.
The key question is: How long am I going to have to sit?"

NO CALIFORNIA KID

The saga of Raiders cornerback Larry Brown is so weird. A
well-liked, stand-up guy who as a member of the Cowboys last
season was the Super Bowl MVP, Brown went the free-agent route
and signed a five-year, $12 million deal with the Raiders. He
attended all of his new team's off-season workouts and minicamps
as well as the NFL's longest training camp, played sparingly in
the first four weeks and then begged out of the lineup on Sept.
29 in Chicago because he said he wasn't comfortable with the
Raiders' defense. He played a little on Sunday in a 34-13 win
over the Jets, but he still seems lost on the field.

For a person who overcame so much in Dallas--he was only a
12th-round draft choice, it took him three years to become a
full-time starter, his infant son died last November--Brown is
frightfully immature. "I've had problems with change because I
don't change much," he says. "Going to school in Texas [at TCU],
playing in Texas. I really hadn't had much to change, but I come
here and there's a whole different system. And the
geography--everything is totally different."

The geography?

"Coming here, I figured everything would be great," Brown says.
"It can't be too hard--just get a house or an apartment and go
on with your business, but it's not like that. It takes time.
Change takes time."

IN THE DARK

The Jets are 0-6 for the first time in their 37-year history.
They've lost 10 straight dating back to last season. In the
1990s they're 3-54 when trailing after three quarters. Over his
last 29 games, as coach of the Eagles and now the Jets, Rich
Kotite is 3-26. When rookie wideout Alex Van Dyke scored his
first NFL touchdown on Sunday, he ran underneath the goalpost
and raised his arms robotically. "It's the signal the referee
gives for a score in Australian Rules Football," he said. "It's
something different." The touchdown or the signal?

According to kicker Nick Lowery, the Jets have more than a black
cloud hanging over them. "It's an entire black ecosystem," he
says.

BOOTING UP

Two statistical goals that punters once considered all but
impossible--a season-long 50-yard punting average and a 40-yard
net--are under attack, mostly by a new wave of booters who look
more like Butkus than Guy. The Chargers' Darren Bennett and the
Redskins' Matt Turk are both 6'5" and 230 pounds; Rick Tuten of
the Seahawks is 6'2", 220, while the Bears' Todd Sauerbrun, at
5'10", 210, is built like a blocking back. All four are
averaging more than 45 yards a punt.

In 1976 no NFL punter averaged 43 yards. Through Sunday 15
players were above that mark this season. "It's like anything
else in football," says Rams punter Sean Landeta, who's second
in the NFC at 46.7 yards a boot. "Punters are getting bigger,
and they're training more."

Sammy Baugh is the only NFL player to have topped 50 yards a
punt for a season, averaging 51.4 on 35 kicks in 1940 for the
Redskins. Never has a punter had a net average of 40 yards,
although Mike Horan of the Giants came close in 1993 with a
39.9-yard mark. "A 50-yard average is harder than hitting .400
in baseball," says the Bengals' Lee Johnson, who nevertheless is
averaging 49.8 yards. "Too many times you have to pooch-punt or
punt directionally."

DISPATCHES

The Rams' struggles on offense start with their line, yet as he
sat in his office last Friday, team president John Shaw
calculated that St. Louis is paying its linemen only a combined
$79,000 less this year than the Cowboys are spending on their
supposedly state-of-the-art front....After 35 Houston and
Pittsburgh players were fined a total of $145,000 for brawling
in their Sept. 29 game, some Oilers officials suggested that the
fines were steep because the league wanted to send a stern
message in the wake of the Roberto Alomar spitting incident....
The Packers are desperate for a left tackle. Third-year man Gary
Brown has been a disappointment, and rookie John Michels
sprained his knee in Sunday's 37-6 win over the Bears. This week
Green Bay coaches will be watching closely when 12-year veteran
Ken Ruettgers, who has been sidelined with an injured left knee,
practices for the first time this season.

THE END ZONE

Jaguars defensive tackle John Jurkovic, on how he rates the
team's road hotels: "If they have a TV in the bathroom, that is
a five-star hotel, my friend."

COLOR PHOTO: DOUG DEVOE Filling in for Young, Grbac likes what he sees with the 49ers, but he'd also like to lead his own team. [Elvis Grbac] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Lance Johnstone (left) and the Raiders had the upper hand against Matt O'Dwyer and the Jets.

THE FAB FAVRE

No quarterback in the last three decades--and perhaps ever--has
been hotter over a 16-game stretch (minimum 225 passes) than the
Packers' Brett Favre in his last 16 regular-season games.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, which used statistics
dating back to 1966, Favre's 117.5 rating, including his four-TD
day against the Bears on Sunday, is the best on record.
Comparing Favre's with the best 16-game regular-season streaks
over the last 31 years:

Comp.-Att. Yards TD-Int.Rating W-L 16th Game

Brett Favre,
Packers 343-517 4,243 49-7 117.5 13-3 Oct. 6, 1996

Steve Young,
49ers 344-487 4,097 37-6 116.2 14-2 Oct. 1, 1995

Joe Montana,
49ers 362-520 4,806 38-11 114.2 15-1 Oct. 14, 1990

Jim Kelly,
Bills 275-411 3,855 33-11 112.5 12-4 Oct. 21, 1991

Dan Marino,
Dolphins 324-502 4,522 41-13 109.8 11-5 Nov. 26, 1984

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)