JUST FOR THE FUN OF IT
Packers coach Mike Holmgren heard it all last week. His Super
Bowl champions were an ugly 2-1. The talk shows were besieged
with flak from fans. Quarterback Brett Favre and defensive end
Reggie White spoke openly about a team that wasn't having much
fun. So Holmgren stepped to the podium at Green Bay's team
meeting last Saturday night and said, "Let's define fun."
Fun, he told his players, is not complicated. "When you win,
it's fun," Holmgren said. "When you lose, it's no fun. You guys
are reflecting on last year and comparing this year to the
euphoria you felt then. You're only going to have that kind of
first-time feeling once. It was a fun, uplifting time. That
time's gone. It's a new season, and no one cares what you did
last year. But I can promise you this: You get there again this
year, and it's going to be fun."
It's not that Holmgren wasn't concerned. On the Monday and
Tuesday after the Packers' skin-of-their-teeth 23-18 home win
over the Dolphins on Sept. 14, he quizzed his coaching staff,
trying to identify reasons for the club's lackluster start. He
asked the offensive assistants if their schemes were still good
enough to beat NFL defenses. The coaches said they were. Then he
asked, "Am I calling the wrong plays? Am I being too
conservative?" Most of the assistants have been with Holmgren
since he took over in Green Bay in 1992, and the staff has good
give-and-take. They assured Holmgren that his play-calling was
fine. "We determined that it was a dropped pass here, a missed
block there," Holmgren said. He decided to stay the course as
the Pack prepared for Sunday's game against the Vikings at
Favre, who had only four touchdown throws coming in, is glad
Holmgren did. The two-time MVP played as good a half as he ever
has, throwing four of his five touchdown passes (which equaled
his career high) as the Pack raced to a 31-7 lead. Several times
Favre came close to losing his cool with a defense that taunted
him and repeatedly hit him after the play. "Their guys are
kicking him, pushing him, spitting on him, and he's still
throwing touchdowns," Green Bay strong safety LeRoy Butler said
afterward. "Without him we'd be lost."
Minnesota roared back in the second half, but the Packers hung
on for a 38-32 win. Clearly, things still aren't perfect in
Titletown. The defense, ranked first in the league in total
yards and points allowed last season, let the Vikings gain 393
yards, let Brad Johnson complete 13 consecutive passes during
one second-half stretch and let Robert Smith run for 132 yards.
Maybe it will be impossible to recapture the magic of 1996.
Holmgren says the only difference he sees between this year and
last is injuries--five starters have missed games or are out for
the year--but it was strange to watch the Vikings move the ball
at will in the second half.
The Packers were lucky that they had Favre, who broke Bart
Starr's franchise touchdown-pass record of 152. Minnesota clawed
to within 31-22 early in the third quarter, and as Green Bay
took over at its 19, Vikings defensive tackle John Randle walked
up and down the line, screaming at the Pack, "I'm coming! We're
gonna bring it! You'll never stop us!" Nine plays, 81 yards and
five Favre strikes later, the Pack had what proved to be the
winning points, on a two-yard bullet to tight end Mark Chmura.
This season may be only four weeks old, but the Packers already
know this much: Repeating will be harder than they imagined.
"Green Bay's still an outstanding team, and they've got a great
chance to win it all again," Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson said
last week. "But last year it seemed like they were more driven.
It's human nature. It's hard to be as hungry when you've got the
That doesn't mean you can't have some fun. When Holmgren
addressed his players after Sunday's game, he told them, "Don't
let [anyone] take the joy out of this day. We won, and this is
fun." For at least another week.
K.C. MAKES A STATEMENT
Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer likes to liven up his
practices with simulated crowd noise by using a row of speakers
capable of pumping out more ear-ringing sounds than Garth Brooks
in Central Park. Midway through last Friday's session, however,
Schottenheimer brought his players together at midfield, turned
down the volume and asked, "Do you prefer to operate like this?
Well, then, shut Carolina down. You do that, and it'll get real
quiet, real quick."
On Sunday at Ericsson Stadium the Chiefs not only hushed the
raucous Carolina crowd with an amazingly easy 35-14 win, but
Kansas City (3-1) may have also silenced critics of their
off-season overhaul. The game marked only the second time since
the start of the '96 season that the Panthers (2-2) had been
beaten at home, and the 21-point margin tied their worst defeat
ever at Ericsson. In 1996 Carolina gave up only 13 second-half
points at home. With a lineup that includes 11 new starters, the
Chiefs scored 21 against the Panthers after halftime.
"We made a strong statement today," said cornerback Mark
McMillian, a Saints castoff whose 62-yard interception return
for a touchdown made it 35-7 with 13:42 to play. "To beat a team
that was an inch from the Super Bowl as soundly as we did today
probably has a lot of people scratching their heads. We've got a
lot of new guys, and the more we mesh, the better we get. That's
got to be a scary thought for a lot of teams."
A big part of that scare will come from the Chiefs' swarming
defense. Despite playing without Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick
Thomas for the second week in a row, the Chiefs forced Panthers
quarterback Kerry Collins into five turnovers (four
interceptions and one fumble).
In March the Chiefs signed Thomas to a seven-year, $27.5 million
contract and restructured their defense to give him the freedom
to line up wherever he found a mismatch. The position is called
the Falcon, and Thomas set his sights on Mark Gastineau's NFL
single-season sack record of 22. "Falcon gonna fly," Thomas
could be heard hollering as the season approached. Then he tore
his left triceps during a preseason scrimmage; the injury hasn't
healed, and the Falcon has been grounded. Thomas, who flinched
at the slightest pressure to his left arm while working out last
Friday, has four tackles and no sacks. Of having to watch from
the sidelines until his wing heals, he said, "This is the
hardest thing I've ever had to do."
With Thomas out, other linebackers in the 3-4 scheme have picked
up the slack. The best of the bunch may be Donnie Edwards, a
second-year middle linebacker out of UCLA who helped limit
Carolina's leading receiver, tight end Wesley Walls, to one
catch. Edwards's third-quarter interception led to a Marcus
Allen touchdown that put K.C. up 21-7.
"When you're young and nobody knows you, nothing motivates you
more than wanting to establish yourself in this league," Edwards
said afterward. "Now we have a bunch of guys on both sides of
the ball who are like that. But I think the league is going to
get to know us all pretty soon." --DAVID FLEMING
SO LONG, THREE RIVERS?
The Steelers' Dan Rooney is as pragmatic an owner as you'll find
in sports, and that's why he can cut ties with 27-year-old Three
Rivers Stadium. None of the multipurpose stadiums built in the
1970s has had more history made in it than Three Rivers, but
last Friday, when Rooney announced plans for a new $185 million
riverfront home, he said financial factors left him no option.
The Steelers make $5,000 per year on each of the 105 luxury
boxes at Three Rivers; they would make about $75,000 on each of
the 125 boxes in the new place, which Rooney hopes to name after
his dad, Steelers founder Art Rooney. With the Pirates planning
to build their own facility, Three Rivers would be razed.
"I've had a couple of people say to me, 'How can you bear to
have Three Rivers come down?'" Rooney says. "It's a good
question. I'm tremendously nostalgic about the place. Roberto
Clemente's 3,000th hit came here. So did the most famous play in
football history, the Immaculate Reception. We've won four Super
Bowls since we started playing here. The Pirates have won two
World Series. It's had a lot of magic. But if we renovate, it'll
cost $120 million, and the architects say in 10 years we'll need
more renovations or a new stadium."
Rooney's plan is contingent on approval of a half-percent
sales-tax increase, and the Steelers will face huge opposition
when the measure is put before the voters in November. Hours
after the proposal was floated, it was denounced at a rally
across the Allegheny River in downtown Pittsburgh. "I won't
tolerate the rape of taxpayers' wallets," state representative
David Levdansky said. That cry has been heard in a lot of NFL
cities. The league, however, is on a seven-referendum winning
streak, with San Francisco and Seattle being the latest
franchises to win votes to build stadiums.
A SECOND LIFE FOR GRASS
It's looking as if the Lions' new downtown stadium, which is
scheduled to open in three to five years, will be domed. If so,
Detroit could have the first indoor venue with a full-time grass
field. "It's not a pipe dream anymore," says Tom Lewand, the
Lions' director of stadium development. "From an agronomist's
standpoint, we're almost there. We're going to try to design a
facility with sufficient translucency in the roof to let in
enough light, and we're trying our best to get a roof with at
least partial retractability."
Indoor grass first surfaced during the 1994 World Cup in the
Lions' current home, the Pontiac Silverdome. But after rolling
the grass in and out for three weeks, the turf and the 6,500
pallets on which it was stored were rotting. So the Lions and
grass experts at Michigan State are trying to develop a strain
that can last five months indoors.
What a welcome relief that would be to players, who have long
complained about the toll artificial turf takes on their bodies.
STAT OF THE WEEK
In its first four games, the Broncos' punt-coverage team has
allowed five return yards on two kicks and forced six fair
The biggest reason Steve Young didn't heed the cries to retire
was his consultation with a top Bay Area neurologist, who
examined Young, studied his history and then told the
quarterback, "If you were my son, I'd tell you to play." ... The
Saints lost their first three games by a combined 91-37, but
their telecasts averaged an amazing 55 share in the New Orleans
metropolitan area--meaning that 55% of the televisions in use
were tuned to their games.... One owner who canvassed his peers
last week said that while dissatisfaction is rampant with the
league's soft salary cap, there is no strong movement afoot to
change it. In 1996 the collective bargaining agreement was
extended two years, to 2002, but until Dec. 1 the players or the
owners can void the extension.... The league should force the
Oilers to play at 41,448-seat Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville
next season. That only 17,737 attended Sunday's 36-10 loss to
the Ravens in Memphis should show club officials that they made
a colossal mistake in choosing the Liberty Bowl as a home field
while their new stadium, scheduled to open in 1999, is under
THE END ZONE
Bears punter Todd Sauerbrun married Marla Scalise in Chicago
last Friday, saying later that he'll always cherish the memory.
Asked where the wedding took place, Sauerbrun replied, "I don't
Send your NFL questions to Peter King, and read more Dr. Z at
BIG D...AS IN DOLDRUMS
Sooner or later, offensive inefficiency is going to catch up
with the Cowboys. "You're not going to win games if you're not
scoring touchdowns," says fullback Daryl Johnston. "This was a
problem we had last year, too." Since the opening game of the
'96 season, only four offenses have scored fewer touchdowns than
Dallas's, which has 31. You don't have to look far for a reason.
The Cowboys can't put the ball in the end zone when they get
inside their opponent's 20. Here's a look at the Cowboys'
success--or lack thereof--in the red zone dating back to their
'92 Super Bowl season.
YEAR Inside 20 Zone TDs Pct. TDs NFL Pct.
1992* 57 30 .526 .485
1993* 51 27 .529 .473
1994 60 39 .650 .503
1995* 63 36 .571 .493
1996 55 23 .418 .497
1997 14 4 .286 .443
*Won Super Bowl
1. GENE UPSHAW Just get rich, baby. The National Football League
Players Association's 10-player executive committee voted to
make Upshaw the highest-paid union leader in sports history for
two reasons: The NFLPA is awash in profits, and Upshaw
negotiated a system in which salaries have soared. In 1996 the
players got 72% of the league's designated gross revenue, as
opposed to the 62% that baseball players received. With his new
deal, Upshaw will receive $1.6 million a year through 2003.
2. COACH JERRY The Dallas owner touches off a media feeding
frenzy by saying he would love to coach the 'Boys. Then Jones
takes a sanity pill and tells SI he wouldn't coach in a jillion
years. "I think it's possible to coach and be G.M.," the
all-powerful Oz said on Sunday, "but not to coach and pay the
3. TERRELL DAVIS With his 215-yard performance against the
Bengals, he became the first Bronco to run for 200 yards in a
game. Now when the debate begins about football's best back,
this third-year player deserves serious consideration. Look at
these rushing numbers since the start of last season: Terrell,
2,064; Barry, 1,880; Emmitt, 1,496.
4. RAVENMANIA Baltimore's 3-1. Vinny Testaverde's possessed.
Modell's men are playing some defense. The schedule favors them;
after a game in San Diego on Sunday, the Ravens don't leave
Maryland until November. And how do you think all this is going
over in northeast Ohio?
5. LINDY INFANTE After blowing a 26-zip lead at Buffalo, the
Colts find themselves down 37-35 with a hot kicker (Cary
Blanchard, 5 for 5 on the day) ready, nine seconds left and the
ball at the Buffalo 48. The Indianapolis coach calls for two
Hail Marys, both of which fail. Earth to Lindy! Why not throw a
20-yard sideline pass against a soft zone, then let Blanchard
try to win it? --P.K.