A GLIMMER OF HOPE
If you are a homeless person huddling on a Michigan Avenue
sidewalk in downtown Chicago on a nippy fall night, there is no
more heartwarming sight than that of a change-dispensing,
cigar-smoking man with a bushy mustache. Last Saturday, as is
his custom on the night preceding home games at Soldier Field,
Bears coach Dave Wannstedt left the team's downtown hotel and
led a small brigade of coaches and other staff members on an
hourlong walk down the Windy City's most famous strip. "I've
been doing that walk for five years," Wannstedt says, "and some
of the street people have come to expect it. They're pretty much
the only ones out there, and it's a nice way for me to unwind."
Wannstedt's fifth season as Chicago's coach has been an
unmitigated disaster, and he may not be around to coach a sixth,
but give him credit for staying the course. At the helm of a
team with meager talent, Wannstedt has refrained from panicking
and has worked hard to keep the Bears from unraveling. Shortly
before embarking on his walk last Saturday, Wannstedt told his
players that their opponent the next day, the Buccaneers, had
ascended to the top of the NFC Central standings "by doing
things the way we used to do them--running the ball, playing
physical, not turning the ball over and not getting stupid
penalties. If we do that, we can beat them."
On Sunday the Bears upended Tampa Bay, forcing a pair of
first-quarter fumbles and holding on for a 13-7 win. With no
turnovers, a blue-collar performance by halfback Raymont Harris
(33 carries, 116 yards) and a bruising defensive effort that
held the Bucs' backfield tandem of Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn
to a combined 22 yards rushing, Chicago (2-10) followed
Wannstedt's formula to perfection. Well, almost. On their lone
scoring drive late in the third quarter, Tampa Bay (8-4) was
helped along by personal foul penalties on two Bears, middle
linebacker Bryan Cox and strong safety Marty Carter. During the
timeout after the conversion, the volatile Cox remained on the
field and argued both calls with referee Bernie Kukar, who
flagged him for unsportsmanlike conduct.
December 1, 1997
A more incendiary coach--Wannstedt's predecessor Mike Ditka, for
example--would've given Cox a few dozen decibels worth of grief,
as many Bears players did on the sideline. But Wannstedt calmly
told Cox to cool out for a series, then sent him back into the
Some Bears have criticized Wannstedt privately for being
beholden to a rigid routine, and he admits that many of his
personnel decisions in recent years have been disastrous. "It's
going to take time to build this thing up, and I'm all for
that," says Wannstedt, whose power over roster moves was reduced
by the off-season hiring of Mark Hatley as vice president of
player personnel. "It goes against NFL precedent to rebuild
after your fifth year, but I hope I get that chance."
Wannstedt, who began this year with a 32-32 career record,
signed an extension after the 1995 season and is under contract
through 2000. The Bears would be on the hook for a reported $3
million if they were to fire him after this season. Before the
game against the Bucs, in an interview with WMAQ, the Bears'
flagship station, team president Michael McCaskey gave Wannstedt
a vote of confidence. It was the second time in the past four
weeks that McCaskey had taken such a stand during a pregame
interview, and maybe he's on to something. Chicago is 2-0 in
MOST ELIGIBLE COACH
There is a very good reason that in the last eight months George
Seifert has gone fishing in Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile and New
Zealand, vacationed in Italy and along the New England coast,
and hunted deer in Wyoming and duck in Mexico. "I figured some
opportunity might come up, so I'd better take advantage of my
first season off in 32 years," Seifert said last week from his
Bodega Bay, Calif., home.
Good idea. You can be sure every team with a coaching vacancy
will ring his phone after the season. Despite his 108-35
record--the best in NFL history for coaches who have won at
least 100 games--the 57-year-old Seifert was not so subtly shown
the door by the 49ers in January after eight seasons, and two
Super Bowl titles, in charge. He wants back in football, but
only under the right circumstances. "It's kind of a zany time
for me," he says. "It's the excitement of the unknown. I'm fully
aware I could be anywhere next year, and it's a good possibility
I'll be back in the game. I'm ready. I'm revitalized, energized."
It's safe to say Seifert would be at the top of the list in
Baltimore, Dallas and Seattle if those teams change coaches, but
Seifert says he has not been contacted by any club. He wants to
clear up a couple of possible misconceptions. First, he's not a
control freak, "and to say I'd need total control or have to be
a coach-G.M. is just false." Also, he doesn't have to live on
the West Coast. "It's a pretty small world, the kids are out of
the house, and my wife and I are flexible," he says.
CORNERING THE MARKET
The subject of race is a tired one for Giants cornerback Jason
Sehorn, the only white starting cornerback in the league. "I
wear sleeves and gloves and high socks anyway," he says, "so no
one can really tell what color I am. I realize that of the 60
starting corners in the NFL, 59 are black. A white corner's a
novel thing, but I just want to be recognized for playing."
Sehorn is getting plenty of recognition these days because he's
competing on a level with the game's best corners. His
performance in a Nov. 16 win over the Cardinals--10 tackles, one
interception, one-half sack, four passes deflected, one forced
fumble, one fumble recovery and one stoning of fullback Larry
Centers for a four-yard loss on a run blitz--was a memorable one.
What makes the 210-pound Sehorn special is his 4.4 speed in the
40 and the fact that he hits like a strong safety. A 1994
second-round pick out of Southern Cal, Sehorn should compete
with NFL interceptions co-leader Ryan McNeil of the Rams for a
reserve spot on the NFC's Pro Bowl squad behind Deion Sanders
and Aeneas Williams.
HOW TO CURB THE ROUGHING
In the preseason and the first 12 weeks of the regular season,
26 fines were assessed for late hits on the quarterback; there
were 19 all of last year. But the fines have been meager,
typically $7,500, and no suspensions have been handed down. A
plan hatched by New York Times columnist Dave Anderson is worth
the NFL's consideration. Defenders would accumulate points--two
for a hit that draws a fine, one for unnecessary roughness--and
when a player's total reached five, he would be suspended for
Naturally the defensive players hate the idea. "If you have four
points, and you know you'll miss a game if you get another, it's
going to affect your play," says Cardinals linebacker Eric Hill.
"Say you had three guys on a team who had four points. All of a
sudden, they're going to have to play a game walking on
Adds former defensive end Sean Jones, who played 13 years with
three teams before retiring after last season, "Football's too
fast a game. In basketball you can see Dennis Rodman kicking the
photographer. In baseball you can see Roberto Alomar spitting at
the ump. In football so many hits happen so fast it's not
[always clear] if it's late."
The plan's not perfect, but the league's competition committee
should consider some kind of proposal that would curtail the
infractions. You think a $2 million-a-year pass rusher wouldn't
pay more attention to the rules if he knew he might miss a
week--and a $125,000 paycheck?
END OF THE LINE FOR HUMPHRIES?
Chances are better than 50-50 that Chargers quarterback Stan
Humphries has thrown his last NFL pass. His second concussion in
18 days--on Nov. 2 while playing against the Bengals--was his
fourth in two years. On Sunday in San Francisco he missed his
13th game due to injury in six seasons with San Diego.
The Chargers, who can't rely on Humphries to stay healthy, could
save his $3.8 million 1998 salary by waiving him after the
season, and besides, the 32-year-old quarterback doesn't fit
into first-year coach Kevin Gilbride's read-and-react offense.
It's likely he'll slip into retirement with his wife, Connie,
and two kids. "Some people who keep playing after concussions
maybe don't have the wife and kids at home like I do," Humphries
Backup Patriots defensive back Larry Whigham kept the ball that
he intercepted and returned for a 60-yard touchdown against Dan
Marino. He wanted Marino to sign the keepsake but didn't have
the nerve to ask. Drew Bledsoe interceded, and Marino obliged....
Bledsoe on his lack of overt leadership: "I am the way I am. If
something needs to be said, I say it to a person individually.
If you want me to turn into Dan Marino and yell at people,
that's not going to happen."...
Odd, and telling, stat: NFC East teams, so dominant for so long,
are 6-9-1 in interconference games (all against the AFC Central)
Here's the biggest reason the Dolphins are contending for the
AFC East title: None of the last 10 Don Shula-coached teams
forced more turnovers than they committed; since Jimmy Johnson
took over in 1996, Miami is plus-15....
Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary, of his club's 4-7-1 record
after a 16-13 loss to the Cardinals: "This is a terrible waste
of a team."...
There are 19 former World League quarterbacks in the NFL, and
Jets coach Bill Parcells plans to use the spring league to groom
another. Parcells will send former Rutgers quarterback Ray
Lucas, a practice-squad player for most of the season, to the
league in hopes of making him a backup NFL signal-caller....
Marino on playing in the twilight of his career: "You learn to
appreciate the game as you get older. I take losing a lot harder
now. You never know when your last game or your last play will
A friend of Sean Gilbert's, the Redskins' holdout defensive
tackle who turned down a $4 million-a-year offer because he
believed God was directing him to hold firm at $4.5 million,
reports that Gilbert is working at a church in western
Pennsylvania and is at peace with his decision. "A lot of people
wish they had that spiritual conviction, that peace and joy in
their heart," the friend says. "He feels God's going to take
care of him."
THE END ZONE
The Packers will probably hold their 1998 annual meeting at the
only place in northeastern Wisconsin that can handle the crowd:
60,790-seat Lambeau Field. The publicly owned organization
recently put 400,000 shares of stock up for sale, and there will
soon be more than 30,000 shareholders. "We could have 40,000
people there watching the meeting on the big-screen TV," says
Packers president Bob Harlan. He paused. "Weather permitting."
Send your NFL questions to Peter King and read more Dr. Z at
1. LARRY, WE HARDLY KNEW YE Before the '96 draft the Rams dealt
disgruntled defensive tackle Sean Gilbert to the Redskins for
the sixth pick, which they used to select Nebraska running back
Lawrence Phillips. Gilbert is a holdout. Phillips was waived
last week after failing to show up for team meetings. Looks like
a trade that hurt both clubs.
2. BROKEN RECORD Barry Sanders is on pace for a career-best
1,903-yard season. Sanders's second 200-yard game of the year
came in a 32-10 rout of the Colts. The 216-yard masterpiece
included his third touchdown run this season of at least 80
yards, an NFL record.
3. DON'T JUMP, MIKE! Saints hair-trigger coach Mike Ditka went
off after a 20-3 loss to the Falcons. On Sunday, a week after
talking brightly about the Saints' future, he was all gloom and
doom: "We're inept at every position. I'm probably not the
answer for this team. If I'm out of the mix, they can probably
win." On Monday, Ditka reversed fields again, saying, "I'll stay
here until they run me out of this town."
4. FAIR-WEATHER BUCS Tampa Bay, a 13-7 loser to the Bears in
frigid Chicago, is 0-17 when the temperature at kickoff is
42[degrees] or below. That's bad news for a team that still must
play two games at the Meadowlands, on Sunday against the Giants
and on Dec. 14 against the Jets.
5. EARTH TO GUS Redskins quarterback Gus Frerotte was lost for
the final three periods after head-butting a wall at Jack Kent
Cooke Stadium while celebrating his touchdown run in a game
against the Giants that ended in a 7-7 tie. "Stupid thing to
do," said Frerotte, who suffered a jammed neck. No kidding.
DOME FIELD DISADVANTAGE
For Brett Favre, playing against the Vikings in the Metrodome
has been a nightmare. The two-time league MVP hasn't won there
in five starts, and Packers coach Mike Holmgren nearly demoted
him after he threw for only 32 yards in Minneapolis in 1994.
"They're just so fast there on the [artificial] turf," Favre
says of the Vikings, whom the Packers meet at the Metrodome in
an NFC Central showdown this Monday night. "It's a different
team from the one we see at home." Apparently. Here are Favre's
numbers against Minnesota at the Metrodome and at Lambeau Field.
YARDS PER QB
W-L GAME TDS INT. RATING
AT THE METRODOME
0-5 149 2 9 52.3
4-0 237 13 2 106.3