Inside The NFL

December 24, 2001

Coach In Waiting
Bill Parcells isn't sure he wants to return to the game, but he's
doing his homework

Sunday afternoon was still young as Bill Parcells sat in his
living room in Sea Girt, N.J., four houses west of the Atlantic
Ocean, with the whole world in his hands. For Parcells, on a day
like this, the whole world is NFL Sunday Ticket and the remote
that controls his 35-inch TV.

"Here's what bothers me," he said during the first quarter of the
Jets-Bengals game, after Cincinnati tight end Kirk McMullen had
caught a pass. "I knew [tight end] Marco Battaglia. I knew Tony
McGee. But they're both gone. I don't know McMullen. I need to
know him."

Parcells reached into a small bag bearing an NFL logo and pulled
out a laminated 8 1/2-by-11-inch card bearing the up-to-date
roster of every AFC team. There was McMullen, a first-year man
from Pitt. Parcells pulled out a lineup card from the previous
day's Giants-Cardinals game, which he had attended, and noted
that he had circled the name of Arizona fullback Dennis
McKinley, a third-year player out of Mississippi State. He
didn't know him either. "Drove me crazy," Parcells said. Also in
the bag: an NFC roster card, a team-by-team breakdown of the
number of players by position, and salary-cap data.

What's with all this material? Maybe, as Parcells says, it's part
of the information he accumulates to prepare for his weekly
one-hour national radio show and his once-a-month ESPN pregame TV
gig. However, it seems remarkably detailed for six hours of media
work per month. It does seem normal, though, for a man itching to
get back into the fray. It also raises the question: Will the
60-year-old Parcells, who turned three sub-.500 teams into Super
Bowl winners or contenders in the span of 16 years, take one last
fling at the NFL?

"I like football," he said. "Sometimes I miss one o'clock on
Sundays. It was my life for a lot of years. But you can't do this
forever, and guys like me aren't for everyone. I do feel like
this is it for me. If I get through January, I'll be in the clear
forever."

From the couch to her husband's left, Judy Parcells piped up, "In
the clear?"

"I mean about being finished with coaching," he said.

The room went quiet, and all eyes turned to the TV and the end of
the Patriots-Bills game. This was the game that Judy was most
interested in, because daughter Dallas is married to New England
director of player personnel Scott Pioli. A visitor kept bringing
up coaching, and finally Bill turned to his wife. "Judy," he
said, "should I coach?"

She thought for a few seconds. "Probably not," she said. "You
know, he's a lot less stressed when he's not coaching."

But he's also restless. The jobs most likely to be open when the
season ends are with Tampa Bay, San Diego and Carolina;
Indianapolis and Atlanta are possible too. The Bucs, whose
playoff hopes took a serious hit on Sunday with a 27-3 loss to
the Bears, seem the best match for Parcells because he wouldn't
want to coach for more than three years, and they have many of
the pieces in place for a title run. Also, Tampa Bay seemed ready
to make a strong run at Parcells after last season, before
ownership gave coach Tony Dungy another chance. Parcells,
however, wouldn't be baited into discussing specific teams,
reminding a visitor that none has a vacancy now.

He did snipe at a Fox Sports Net report claiming he would seek a
$7 million annual salary to run and coach a team. The highest
annual general manager-coach salary is reportedly the $4 million
earned by the Seahawks' Mike Holmgren. "That," Parcells said,
"was a ludicrous report. When they can't attack your record,
they say you're greedy."

It sounds as if Parcells is in midseason form already.

Setback in Seattle
Injury Spoils Watters's Return

The Seahawks' Ricky Watters is 32, old for a running back. He
missed two months with a cracked right shoulder, suffered on
Sept. 30 against Oakland. His contract is up at the end of the
season, and he's headed to the free-agent market. Seattle's
runner of the future, Shaun Alexander, averaged 119.3 yards in
the eight games that Watters missed, so coach Mike Holmgren's
announcement last week that Watters had regained his starting
job was met with amazement by some around the league. Not by
Watters, though.

"It's because of the way I came back--strong, in the best shape
of my life--and because I never pouted," Watters said last week.
"I was a team guy. And let's remember one thing: I'm no Joe
Schmo. I'm still a very good NFL back. I'm serious when I say I
feel faster and stronger than ever."

Alas, on the 28th carry of a 104-yard day against the Cowboys on
Sunday, Watters broke his right ankle. Now the player who had
made 116 consecutive starts before going down against the
Raiders is out for the season.

Watters, 13th on the league's alltime rushing list, wasn't
available for comment on Monday, but his new perspective should
help him deal with his latest setback. He's no longer the kid who
threw tantrums on the 49ers' sideline. His outlook has changed
since his son, Tigero, died two weeks after his premature birth
in October 1999. "This great game is not the most important thing
in my life," said Watters, who has one son. "Being a father is.
Being a husband is."

Inefficiency Central
Giants' Offense Stuck in Neutral

When the Giants played the Raiders on Nov. 25, offensive
coordinator Sean Payton called "Sluggo Z Seam," a play that when
executed correctly would have wideout Joe Jurevicius running
through a seam down the middle. Jurevicius was open, Kerry
Collins threw and--boink!--the ball bounced off Jurevicius's chest.
A couple of series later the Raiders ran a similar play, and Tim
Brown scored on a 46-yard touchdown. "We can't miss the
three-foot putt, because we don't hit 300-yard drives," Payton
said after the Giants escaped with a 17-13 win over the Cardinals
last Saturday. "Unfortunately, we've missed too many of those
easy ones."

The problems are almost too numerous to count. The Giants (6-7),
who are averaging seven points after halftime, are at their
worst when the chips are down: They are sixth in the NFL in
three-and-out fourth-quarter drives, with 14. Their receivers
are plagued by the dropsies--they had seven against Arizona. The
patchwork line is one of the league's oldest (averaging 31.2
years) and is showing its age. Ron Dayne, drafted in the first
round last year to be a Jerome Bettis-type bruiser, goes down
consistently on first contact. Collins leads all quarterbacks in
fumbles (18), and the Giants lead the NFL in that category (33).
As the play-caller, Payton deserves some of the blame. The
team's best offensive player by far, running back Tiki Barber,
averages but 16 touches per game.

Collins, who lit up the Vikings for 381 passing yards and five
touchdowns in last season's NFC Championship Game, has
regressed. A 59% passer with 22 touchdown throws, 13
interceptions and good mechanics last year, he's a 57% passer
this season with 16 TD throws, 14 interceptions and a shaky
pocket-presence and delivery. Asked after the win over the
Cardinals if Collins was still his long-term quarterback, coach
Jim Fassel said yes, then added, "but we've got to get him back
working on his fundamentals every day, the way he did before
last season."

Gold Rush
Niners Do a Balancing Act

When you think about the 49ers, the first thing that comes to
mind is the passing game. That's understandable, considering the
numbers that Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jeff Garcia have put
up. Still, since 1983 no team has finished in the top 10 in
rushing more often than San Francisco--15 times, including this
year (assuming the 49ers, who rank second with 149.4 yards
rushing per game through 13 games, don't collapse down the
stretch). Over the past 10 seasons the Niners' average passing
rank is sixth; their average rushing rank is eighth.

"The thing about playing for the 49ers," says 39-year-old guard
Ray Brown, "is there's a commitment to getting better every day.
You can trust the technique taught by the coaches because it's
worked for so many years." Brown is a candidate for his first Pro
Bowl. He's probably the best pure run-blocker on a line that is
paving the way for the Niners to average 4.6 yards per carry.

My Two Cents
Browns Let Fans Off

1. "This is a great football city," Jaguars wideout Keenan
McCardell, a former Brown, said after fans littered the field in
Cleveland with debris in protest of a replay reversal in the
last minute of Jacksonville's 15-10 win. "But to be honest,
[this] disgusts me." Disgusting too was Browns president Carmen
Policy's not initially taking the fans to task for their behavior.

2. Who says you have to win to be profitable? Rankin Smith bought
the Falcons for $8.5 million in 1965, had eight winning seasons
out of 35 and never won the Super Bowl. On Dec. 4 his family sold
the team to Home Depot cofounder Arthur Blank for $545 million.

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

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Overrun by Anthony Thomas and the Bears, the Bucs may soon be in the market for a new coach. COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Collins hardly looks like the cool customer who led the Giants to the Super Bowl last season.

the football Beat

--WORD ASSOCIATION
With the Packers' Brett Favre, three-time league MVP and NFL
record holder for consecutive starts by a quarterback, with 154

SI: Endurance.

Favre: Luck. To play every game for 10 years, you have to have
some of that. [Coach] Mike Sherman came up to me at practice
today and congratulated me for being the first guy to have 10
seasons in a row of 3,000 yards passing. The stats aren't that
big a deal, but I'm proud of what Mike said to me: "To do it at
that level for 10 years is unbelievable."

SI: Contracts.

Favre: People say that I left money on the table [when he signed
a 10-year, $101.5 million deal last March]. Maybe I did. Randy
Moss came after me and got a bigger signing bonus. I don't give
a crap. Every time I walk out onto the field, I realize how
lucky I am to be getting paid so much for playing this game.

SI: Fourth MVP.

Favre: Never think about it. If it happens, great. I just care
about getting back to the Super Bowl.

SI: Tornado.

Favre: I'm home in [Hattiesburg,] Mississippi in March. The wind
blows the door off the barn and starts to peel off the roof.
Sounds like a jet engine at takeoff. I'm in the barn with my
[two-year-old] daughter, Breleigh. She's on my lap. If I go,
she's going with me. The tornado lasts a couple of minutes, and
it's gone. You wouldn't believe our property. Half mile of
wrought-iron fence, mangled.

SI: Favorite TV channels.

Favre: Easy. The Learning Channel, Discovery Channel, Animal
Planet.

SI: Leisure.

Favre: We get home from the Monday night game in Jacksonville at
5:15 in the morning, and I get up at 8:30 that day, our off day,
to play golf with Doug Pederson and a few guys. Next day, Mike
gives us off till one, so I'm up at 4:30 to go deer hunting. We
hunt till 11. Know how many deer I saw? Zero. Am I nuts or what?

--MATCH GAME
Tony Dungy versus job security...and a tough home stretch

"Every game's a playoff game for us now," Bucs wideout Keyshawn
Johnson said recently, fully aware that the job of his coach,
Dungy, is dependent on how his team finishes. History suggests
that it would be wise for the Bucs to win their last three (this
Sunday against the Saints, Dec. 29 against the Ravens and Jan. 6
against the Eagles) and stay in contention for a wild card, even
if it's on the road. Under Dungy in the playoffs Tampa Bay is
2-0 at home, 0-3 on the road. A first-round game at
Philadelphia, Chicago or Green Bay would be deadly for this team
and, likely, its coach.

--HISTORY BOOK
Jan. 2, 1982: The Chargers win one of the great games of all time

In 1995, when San Diego tight end Kellen Winslow was
elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, someone asked him if
he still got asked questions about the 41-38 overtime playoff
win over the Dolphins. "It's all people want to talk to me
about," he said with a laugh. The Chargers led Miami 24-0 after
one quarter. It was 31-all after three periods, 38-all after
regulation. Not only did Winslow catch 13 passes for 166 yards,
but with four seconds left he also made a game-saving block of a
field goal attempt by Uwe von Schamann. Because of the humidity
and the 87[degree] heat, Winslow repeatedly left the game with
cramps, and two teammates had to help him off the field when it
was over. "It's the closest to death I've ever been," he said
afterward.

Dispatches

Denver offensive linemen have been fined a total of $102,941
this year for illegal blocks, and there's a feeling they've
reined themselves in because the NFL is watching their
chop-blocking methods so closely. Last season the Broncos
averaged 4.5 yards per rush, but this year the average has
dipped to 3.8 yards. "When you're playing the game the way you
think it ought to be played and someone in the league tells you
it's not correct, that's got to get in your head," says Denver
offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak....

Until Vikings quarterback Todd Bouman was named NFC offensive
player of the week for his four-touchdown performance against
the Titans on Dec. 9, the biggest award he had received was an
honorable mention on the 1996 Successful Farming All-America
team while attending St. Cloud (Minn.) State. The magazine
annually recognizes players whose families' livelihoods are in
farming and ranching....

The Packers waived safety Chris Akins for insubordination after
11 games, and the Browns picked him up. League rules say that
because Akins was on the roster for at least eight games, he's
in line for a cut of Green Bay's playoff loot if the team
reaches the NFC Championship Game. Akins's take would range from
$34,500 to $97,500....

Peyton Manning has had 21 passes picked off this season, and
he's on track to do for a second time something his father,
Archie, never did--lead the league in interceptions. In 13
seasons Archie was never higher than third; in 1972 he was
picked off 21 times. Peyton also led the league in 1998, with 28
interceptions.

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)