Cowboys and 49ers take bows at the half

PRO FOOTBALL

November 08, 1992|By VITO STELLINO

It's time to say bye to the byes and check the report card on the winners and losers of the first half of the season now that all the teams have played eight games:

Best teams: Dallas, which has started a new era, and San Francisco, which has continued its old era with new faces.

Worst team: New England. The coach is ill, the owner berates the general manager at halftime and the moving vans are warming up. Is this team taking lessons from Bob Irsay?

Best wheeler-dealer: Jimmy Johnson, who has made 46 trades while running the Cowboys, including the acquisition of Charles Haley and Thomas Everett this year.

Best coaches: Dennis Green brought an attitude change in Minnesota and Bill Cowher brought emotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers sidelines.

Best media coach: Rich Kotite of the Philadelphia Eagles gave the writers and broadcasters the best story of the year by benching Randall Cunningham.

Best player: Emmitt Smith of the Cowboys, who proved again you can't judge a running back with a stopwatch.

Best rookie: Ricky Watters of the San Francisco 49ers if he's a rookie. He sat out last year with an injury, so there's a debate about whether he's officially a rookie, but he's the best newcomer.

Biggest losers: NFL lawyers, who lost more than $60 million in three separate lawsuits.

Worst prediction: Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said after the opening arguments in Minneapolis that the NFL would win the Freeman McNeil case only to have the jury rule Plan B a violation of the antitrust laws.

Second worst prediction: Vito Stellino's best bets.

Most disappointing teams: Detroit and Atlanta went to the playoff ball last year, but turned back into pumpkins this year.

On the bench

When American voters elected a new president Tuesday, it was only the second-biggest story in Philadelphia. The headline on Page 1 of the Philadelphia Inquirer that day: "Kotite to bench slumping Cunningham for Sunday's game."

That'll puzzle historians researching election coverage a couple of hundred years from now. Before the week was over, CBS, NBC and ESPN were on hand to get fodder for today's pre-game shows.

Kotite also confused things by saying the move was only for one game. If Jim McMahon plays well today against the Los Angeles Raiders, it's difficult to believe Kotite would yank him.

Early in the week, Cunningham wasn't happy. "If he thinks a week off will help me, he doesn't know me as well as I thought he did."

By Wednesday, though, Cunningham was playing the diplomat's role.

"I would have done the same thing he did. I haven't been doing good for three or four weeks," he said.

It may have dawned on Cunningham that McMahon doesn't have a history of staying healthy. He's better off taking the high road.

The poll game

The NFL has learned it's better off staying out of politics. Two years ago, it got involved in Arizona politics by spreading the word that it would yank the Super Bowl out of Phoenix if voters rejected the Martin Luther King holiday.

There was a backlash, the measure lost and Phoenix lost the 1993 game. This time, the NFL refused all comment and the measure was approved by 61 percent of the voters. Phoenix will be awarded the 1996 game at the meetings next March.

Before the judge

Federal Judge David Doty will hold a hearing Thursday in Minneapolis to hear the arguments on the fate of the 600 players whose contracts expire Feb. 1. The players contend they should all be free agents or at least all of them with four years of experience should be free.

The NFL will unveil a new plan to replace Plan B that still has a lot of restrictions on player movement.

Doty is expected to decide whether to let the owners implement their new plan in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, the court battles go on and on. A date was set for next June 1 in Los Angeles for a group of plaintiffs led by Marcus Allen of the Raiders, who was demoted to third string last week behind Eric Dickerson and Nick Bell.

"It seems to me like they keep me here just to torture me," Allen said.

Mellow Mike

Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears will face David Shula of the Cincinnati Bengals for the first time today.

"I like David Shula. He's a bright, young articulate guy who keeps his cool. I kind of like that in coaches," he said.

Ditka has certainly had a lot of practice.

Remember Howard

Ricky Watters of the San Francisco 49ers on his first Monday night game tomorrow in the Georgia Dome:

"Howard [Cosell] needs to come out of retirement for this game. I liked the way he used to describe my boy Tony Dorsett, the sheer athleticism, the way he talked about Walter Payton made dTC me want to be Walter Payton. I'm pumped up for Monday night. This is my first Monday night game. I'm from the days of Howard Cosell. These were the days when they used to show all the highlights of the day before. I used to sit there getting chills. Now I get to play on Monday night in a new dome."

Beating the spread

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