Inside The NFL

December 17, 2001

Cruise Control
Randy Moss is cheating the Vikings with his lack of full-time
commitment

"Purple pride's here!" Randy Moss yelled on Sunday morning, his
voice ringing through the Vikings locker room. "How ya doin',
Purple Pride?"

Purple Pride is Moss's moniker for the man who signs his
inordinately large checks, team owner Red McCombs. "Randy, I
hope you don't think about holding another press conference
without inviting me," said McCombs, who couldn't have been happy
about Moss's recent declarations that he doesn't always play hard.

This was McCombs's chance to speak for Vikings fans, some of
whom booed Moss loudly the first few times his name was
mentioned over the public address system on Sunday. This was
McCombs's chance to pull Moss aside and ask, Why are you
embarrassing the organization that last summer made you the
highest-paid receiver in NFL history? McCombs, however, said
nothing, which is only slightly less than coach Dennis Green had
said to Moss three days earlier about his outrageous statements.

The saga began in late November, when Moss told the Minneapolis
Star Tribune, "I play when I want to play. Do I play up to my
top performance, my ability, every time? Maybe not....Case
closed." Talking by conference call to a group of Tennessee
writers last week, he reiterated those sentiments, saying,
"There is nobody on the face of this earth to make me go out
there and play football. When I want to play at my highest
level, I'll do that."

In a 42-24 win over the Titans on Sunday, Moss was true to his
word. He played 54 of Minnesota's 56 snaps. By SI's count he ran
hard on 33 of them. On the other 21, mostly running plays, Moss
either jogged or walked off the line at the snap. It's true that
a receiver, especially when split wide, isn't involved in many
rushing plays, but he should be involved in some.

Twice on Sunday, with running back Michael Bennett steaming
around his end, Moss nimbly moved out of the way rather than
block a cornerback who ended up getting in on the tackle. For
Moss, playing hard on 61% of the snaps still produced the kinds
of numbers (seven catches, 158 yards, one touchdown) that make
him the most feared receiver in the league. On Sunday he became
the first receiver to begin his NFL career with four 1,000-yard
receiving seasons, and for the year he's in the top 12 in
catches (68) and yards (1,036).

Green did mildly rebuke Moss for his remarks. "He knows he
shouldn't have said it, and I told him what I thought," Green
told SI. What he should have said is, "You're suspended. I will
not have a player make a mockery of the game." By not standing
up to Moss, the Vikings proved they're willing to look the other
way as long as he puts up big numbers.

Problem is, until four weeks ago the numbers weren't so big. In
his first eight games Moss averaged 67.3 receiving yards, a
respectable number but not the kind expected of a player who in
his first three seasons averaged 86.7 yards a game. Then in a
Monday-night game against the Giants, he caught 10 passes for
171 yards and three touchdowns, only to revert to his
lackadaisical ways in a 13-6 loss to the Bears the next week
(four catches, 25 yards). Trying to stave off Moss's
indifference, Minnesota has been attempting to get him the ball
early and often. "If he doesn't get the ball early, it seems as
if he just goes through the motions," offensive coordinator
Sherm Lewis said the night before the Vikings' Dec. 2 loss in
Pittsburgh.

McCombs, the man who in July handed Moss an $18 million signing
bonus as part of an eight-year, $75 million contract extension,
called Moss's initial comments "regrettable, but knowing Randy,
I don't think they represent him as a person." When asked if he
had second thoughts about having given Moss the record contract
(he had a year left on his initial deal), McCombs said, "No
regrets. That contract gets too much attention. We'd been
talking about a six-year deal, and when we pushed the signing
bonus up to $18 million, we got two more years. So there was a
quid pro quo. Am I glad Randy's a Viking? The answer is an
unequivocal yes."

This is what he's getting for his money.

Is Daniel Snyder Learning?
Brash Redskins Owner Lies Low

Maybe it's his battle with thyroid cancer. Maybe it's the
humility that comes from an 0-5 start. Maybe it's the harsh
realization that you can't sign declining players like Deion
Sanders to ridiculous contracts in a salary-cap era. Whatever,
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is watching and listening and
playing more of a behind-the-scenes role this year, and the
Redskins are a better team because of it. "Am I learning?" he
said last week, sitting in his office at Redskin Park in
Ashburn, Va. "You bet. I think I'm smart enough to learn from my
mistakes. I'm trying to get this organization right, and not
only for one year."

Snyder, who in May 1999 bought the Redskins and their new
stadium for $800 million, came into the league with an open
checkbook and guns blazing, a successful businessman who thought
football would be easy. Now he calls the ill-conceived $8
million signing bonus he handed Sanders in June 2000 "something
I learned from." Sanders played one season, but his impact is
still being felt. Next year he'll be a $5.7 million load on the
team's salary cap.

Snyder, 37, had surgery last April 4 to remove his malignant
thyroid. He has received a clean bill of health, but he lives
with constant reminders of his illness. Each day he takes a pill
designed to simulate the functions of the thyroid. Every six
months he swallows a dose of radioactive iodine. "It shakes you
up when the doctor says, 'Swallow this pill but don't touch
it,'" he says.

A couple of weeks after the surgery Snyder was back in the
Redskins' draft room, listening to his new coaching staff,
headed by Marty Schottenheimer, debate whom to select in the
second round. The consensus was that Mississippi State
cornerback Fred Smoot was the best player, but teams were shying
away from him because of off-field concerns. Then Snyder spoke
up, saying that a player whom the Washington staff had
considered the best cornerback in the draft was worth the risk.
"If it doesn't work out," Snyder said, "don't worry. I'll take
the hit."

Snyder has stopped meddling in the football decisions. He's
still considering a run at former Packers general manager Ron
Wolf, which would be a wise move. Now let's see if the new and
improved owner can keep it up.

George Young: 1930-2001
The NFL Loses a Very Good Man

As a beat reporter covering the Giants in the 1980s, I had the
pleasure of learning football and how to take a tongue-lashing
from the team's general manager, George Young, who died last
Saturday of a rare brain disease. I've never met a fairer man.
He treated the nickelback the same as he treated Lawrence
Taylor, the Asbury Park Press writer the same as the one from
The New York Times. This evenhandedness is what led the warring
factions of the Mara family to hire Young in 1979. For 10 years
he worked in concert with Bill Parcells, whom he promoted from
defensive coordinator to coach in 1983. The Giants, who hadn't
been to the playoffs since '63, would win two Super Bowls under
Young's watch. He left the Giants in '97 to join the NFL as a
vice president.

Above all Young was a man of honor. In 1988 I learned that the
NFL was going to suspend Taylor for violating the league's
substance-abuse policy. I had the story cold, but my editor
wanted one more confirmation. I called Young at home at about
10:15 p.m. and asked if the story was correct. If it wasn't,
Young would have blistered me for calling him so late with such
a lame story. "I have no comment," he said. "O.K.? Do you
understand?" The story was true. As was the man.

My Two Cents
McNair, Holmes Coming Of Age

1. The Titans' Steve McNair looks like a textbook example of a
quarterback who has learned when to use his legs and when to use
his arm. He moves in and out of the pocket with the
self-assuredness of Steve Young.

2. Chiefs running back Priest Holmes has a shot at being the
league's offensive player of the year. The Rams' Marshall Faulk
won the NFL MVP last year with 2,189 yards rushing and
receiving. Holmes is on pace for a 2,180-yard season. Against
the Raiders on Sunday, he had a combined 277 yards and took over
the NFL rushing lead.

Send your pro football questions for Peter King's mailbag and
read more from Paul Zimmerman at cnnsi.com/football.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN Moss flashed his speed in the fourth quarter, turning a short pass into a 73-yard touchdown. COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER

the football Beat

--WORD ASSOCIATION
With battered Titans running back Eddie George

SI: 2001.

George: When I had toe surgery in the off-season, I didn't
realize how serious it was. Basically they reconstructed my big
toe the way they'd reconstruct a knee. It was almost as if I had
to learn to walk again. I had no power, no strength, but it's a
lot better than it was last summer. I've rediscovered how much
fun it is to run pain-free.

SI: Not dominating.

George: True. I haven't been able to take over a game the way I
did in years past. But don't think those days are gone. I'll be
back stronger than ever next year.

SI: Titans.

George: Missing key players. Changing our identity. We'll grow
into a contender again, I'm sure.

SI: Heisman ballot.

George: I value having one. I waited until after the Dec. 1
games to vote. I picked Rex Grossman. I thought he did as much
as a player could do for his team. But Eric Crouch winning is
fine with me.

SI: College degree.

George: My Number 1 accomplishment. When I left Ohio State, I
needed 20 credits for my degree in landscape architecture. My
last class was an independent study in horticulture. I had to
draw 70 plants around Tennessee, name them and classify them.

SI: Terry Glenn.

George: Major enigma. He could be one of the great receivers of
all time. I pray that he can somehow get out of his difficult
situations.

SI: Favorite meal.

George: Cheese pizza. Or a Philly cheese steak, ketchup, light
onions, mayo, barbecue chips with a Tahitian Treat drink.

--MATCH GAME
Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb versus the Redskins defense

Shifty Washington linebacker LaVar Arrington will likely spy
McNabb, and judging by the quarterback's performance in a 13-3
Redskins victory in Philadelphia on Nov. 25, it's a smart move.
McNabb had only 131 total yards that day. In five starts against
Washington he has averaged a paltry 129.4 yards passing per
game. "We know if we stop Donovan, we've got a great chance to
stop the Eagles," Arrington says. The Redskins must win to keep
alive their slim NFC East title hopes.

--HISTORY BOOK
Dec. 16, 1973: O.J. Simpson becomes the first player in NFL
history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season

"The thing people don't realize about O.J. is what a great
mudder he was," Joe DeLamielleure, a Pro Bowl guard for the
Bills, said last week. Simpson had to be on this frosty day
against the Jets at Shea Stadium. "Classic December football
day--snowing, sleeting," DeLamielleure said. In the first
quarter Simpson passed Jim Brown's single-season mark of 1,863
yards. In the fourth quarter Buffalo coach Lou Saban called 27
Power, a sweep behind the pulling DeLamielleure, and Simpson
finished his 34-carry, 200-yard day with a seven-yard gain,
giving him 2,003 for the year. Although Eric Dickerson (2,105
yards), Barry Sanders (2,053) and Terrell Davis (2,008) have
surpassed Simpson, they each needed 16 games, two more than
Simpson played in '73. "I hope with all the problems he's had,
people don't forget what a remarkable player he was,"
DeLamielleure said.

Dispatches

With the Bills and the Panthers, a pair of one-win teams, each
fighting to avoid the embarrassment of losing to the other on
Sunday, the Futility Bowl took an apt turn. Buffalo punter Brian
Moorman, warming up on the sideline, missed the net with one of
his practice kicks. The ball sailed 20 rows into the stands. "An
early Christmas present for somebody," Moorman said. The Bills'
gift was a 25-24 win....What does the NFL have in store for Eric
Crouch (above), the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from
Nebraska? He'll be picked no later than the third round as a
running back or a Kordell Stewart-type multiple weapon....Ten of
the Bucs' 12 games have been decided on the final drive. "I've
made so many deals with God this season, I think my life
expectancy has gone from 80 to 53," said Tampa Bay general
manager Rich McKay after his team rallied in the last minute to
beat the Lions 15-12. "In fact, I think I'm dead when the season
is over."...In the last nine weeks the 0-12 Lions have lost by
five, three, four, eight, three, seven, two, three and three
points. That's an NFL record for consecutive losses by single
digits....Broncos cornerback Denard Walker on wideout and former
teammate Eddie Kennison, now a Chief: "Eddie has so much talent
it's scary. I really feel that he hasn't reached his pinnacle as
a receiver." Kennison had better hurry. He walked out on the
Broncos on the eve of their Nov. 11 game against the Chargers,
saying he was tired of football and wanted to retire; now the
28-year-old is with his fifth team. On Sunday, Kennison will get
a chance to show his stuff against the team he quit on....Riding
a three-game winning streak that moved them into playoff
contention, the Cardinals played in front of 32,958 empty seats
at Sun Devil Stadium and lost 20-10 to the Redskins....Raiders
wideout Tim Brown got his 100th career touchdown on an 88-yard
punt return that beat the Chiefs 28-26. It was Brown's first
punt return since 1991.

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)