Patriots face challenge of winless season

PRO FOOTBALL

November 15, 1992|By VITO STELLINO

Going winless in the NFL is almost as difficult as going unbeaten.

While the Miami Dolphins became the only team to post a perfect season in NFL history when they went 17-0 in 1972, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the only team to go winless in the post-World World II era. The Dallas Cowboys went 0-11-1 in 1960 and the Baltimore Colts went 0-8-1 in the 1982 strike season. The Bucs, though, lost all 14 games in their first season in 1976.

Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, no team has man aged to go 0-16. The New Orleans Saints in 1980, the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, the New England Patriots in 1990 and the Indianapolis Colts in 1991 all went 1-15.

Even the worst of teams manage to sneak up on one team that takes them too lightly.

But this year, there's a genuine contender for the "honor" of being the first 0-16 team.

It's the New England Patriots, a team that seems destined to be remembered in any discussion of all-time worst teams.

Nobody knows the trouble they've seen. The owner, James Busch Orthwein, doesn't want to own them. He wants to own an expansion team in St. Louis. It's widely assumed that if New England doesn't build a new stadium, Orthwein will move them by 1995 when a new domed stadium is constructed in St. Louis.

Meanwhile, Orthwein is stuck with a general manager, Sam Jankovich, who was hired by former owner Victor Kiam. Orthwein chewed out Jankovich at halftime of one game.

The coach, Dick McPherson, is in the hospital after undergoing surgery Friday. The first two quarterbacks are on injured reserve and former Maryland quarterback Scott Zolak makes his first start today.

With an 0-9 record, the Patriots will be underdogs the rest of the way. There's just one obstacle in their way -- the Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts are one team the Patriots own. They're 13-3 against the Colts in their past 16 games. The Colts have won four games but haven't scored a point in their last two games and their two high-priced rookies, Steve Emtman and Quinten Coryatt, are both on injured reserve.

The Patriots have two games left against the Colts -- today in the Hoosier Dome and on Dec. 6 in Foxboro Stadium. They also have to play the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins at home and the Atlanta Fal

cons, Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals on the road.

In McPherson's absence, Dante Scarnecchia, the special teams coach, has the unenviable task of running the team.

NB "I told them [players] that I'm nothing more than an assistant

coach and that I only know one way of doing things, and that's to report to work the next day with your sleeves rolled up," he said.

Unfortunately, for the Patriots, it'll take more than rolled up sleeves to solve all their problems.

* Days of the Eagles

The NFL's marquee games this weekend are the New Orleans Saints at the San Francisco 49ers today and the Buffalo Bills at the Miami Dolphins Monday night.

But the Philadelphia Eagles, being the Eagles, always manage to stay in the spotlight.

Their game against the Green Bay Packers in Milwaukee wouldn't normally get much notice except it'll be Randall Cunningham's return after his one-game benching.

It also happens to be against the team he suffered his knee injury against last year, although he said he holds no grudge against the player who injured him, Bryce Paup.

Cunningham also praised Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren, who he worked with him in the Pro Bowl two years ago.

"I thought he was the best coach I've ever had," he said. "The guy is really great for a quarterback."

Hmmm. If Holmgren's the best, he must be better than a man named Rich Kotite, who just happens to be the Eagles' coach. There's never a dull moment in Philadelphia.

* The court docket

Federal Judge David Doty held his long-awaited hearing on Thursday and will decide in a week or two whether to free all the players whose contracts expire after four years.

Even though the NFL Players Association has long insisted the average career length is only four years, the owners presented their own statistics showing it's 7.8 years.

The real surprise of the hearing was that the owners didn't present a new free agency plan as an alternative to Plan B.

* Changing sides

Nobody is tougher on coaches than their former players who go into the broadcast booth.

Joe Theismann is quick to take shots at coach Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins, and now Dan Hampton is saying unflattering things about his former coach, Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears.

"You go to Vegas and see guys like him all the time," Hampton said. "Five or six years ago, they were big money players. Now they haven't got the money to be there and you can tell by the look in their eyes that they have a lonesome wish for it to be the way it used to be."

* Bill who?

The San Francisco 49ers are averaging 410.7 yards a game on offense, which is more than they ever averaged under former coach Bill Walsh. Their top figure under Walsh was 397.9 yards a game in 1984.

Mike Shanahan, the 49ers' offensive coordinator, said, "There's no way you'll get me to say I'm doing a better job than Bill or Mike [Holmgren] did."

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