White given hero's welcome at Green Bay

PRO FOOTBALL

May 02, 1993|By VITO STELLINO

When Reggie White arrived at the Green Bay Packers' mini-camp Friday, you would have thought Paul Hornung had returned in his prime. White was mobbed by autograph seekers and photographers captured his every move.

"They were stretching this morning and there were 47 photographers around him," coach Mike Holmgren said. "I'm not sure they need all those pictures. It's an exciting thing. It's fun to have him."

White's signing of a $17 million contract and Joe Montana's trade from the San Francisco 49ers to the Kansas City Chiefs are the most talked about moves of the off-season.

Don't be surprised, though, if they don't have the biggest impact this fall. After all, White only played in one winning playoff game in Philadelphia and nobody knows if Montana can stay healthy after sitting out all but one half of one game the last two years.

If pro football people are right, the player who could have the most impact on a new team this season is rookie Garrison Hearst.

He could make the sad-sack Phoenix Cardinals a respectable team virtually all by himself.

"That guy will save Joe Bugel's job," said Ken Herock, the player personnel director of the Atlanta Falcons.

Bugel has a win-or-else ultimatum from owner Bill Bidwill and he needs Hearst to have a sensational start.

Although quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer went first and second in the draft, it takes quarterbacks time to develop. Hearst -- assuming he has no problem with his knee -- is the odds-on favorite to be rookie of the year.

Bob Ackles, the Cardinals scouting director who was fired by the Cowboys last year, is comparing Hearst to Emmitt Smith.

"Garrison doesn't look to me to be quite as strong as Emmitt is in the lower body, but he has much greater speed," Ackles said.

It won't take Hearst long to prove himself.

The Cardinals start the year in Philadelphia and then play at Washington and at home against Dallas on Sunday night on TNT.

It's the only national TV game for the Cardinals, who don't play on Monday night this year. That could be a good sign for Hearst. When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Franco Harris in 1972, they didn't appear on Monday night that year because they had been 6-8 the previous season. They went to the AFC title game.

The Tube Game

If the ESPN draft show was any indication, the ratings for NFL games might be up this year.

There had been concern that the ratings for the draft might decrease this year because of interest in the free-agent derby.

Instead, the show got its best rating -- 4.2 (the percentage of TV households watching a program). Last year, it got a 3.5 and it averaged 3.7 in the previous five years since it was moved to Sunday. All the free-agent movement may have whetted the fans' appetites.

If ratings improve during the season, negotiations over a new TV contract for 1994 are likely to be long and bitter.

The networks insist they're losing money on the big NFL contract and want to roll back the numbers or at least try the innovative profit-sharing concept that NBC negotiated with the NBA last week.

The NFL owners, though, don't like that word "sharing" and aren't likely to go for that idea.

Voluntary?

In the expansion derby, the NFL has an unusual definition of the word "voluntary." For the NFL, voluntary means something like: "You'd better do it or else."

For example, it was supposed to be voluntary for cities to hold a preseason game. But there was sniping at Baltimore when it was the only expansion contender not to hold one, so Baltimore was virtually forced to play host to one last August.

Now the NFL is back with a "voluntary" sky-box and club-seat ticket-selling campaign.

Charlotte needs to sell them for its stadium financing plan, and it's supposed to be "voluntary" for the other cities.

Herbert Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said an official decision on whether Baltimore will participate will be made this week when he meets with the city's expansion committee. But it's a foregone conclusion that Baltimore will go along. After all, when the NFL says "voluntary," it really means mandatory.

Although this is mainly a corporate campaign except for the club seats, Belgrad expects the enthusiasm for the NFL in Baltimore to make the campaign the same success the preseason game was.

"I can't even describe the strong feelings in this community for getting an NFL team," Belgrad said. "Everywhere I go, I get bombarded with questions about our chances for a team. It's not just the older fans who remember the Colts. It's across the board, including the young fans."

The lobbyist

On Wednesday, it'll be two months since Joe Gibbs resigned as coach of the Redskins. On Friday, the team will open its first mini-camp without him since 1980.

But Gibbs isn't exactly relaxing since his departure. He's been busy following his NASCAR team and, giving motivational speeches. Gibbs also visited his son, Coy, at Stanford over Easter.

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