Testaverde's superb tools may dazzle Parcells, too

ON THE NFL

June 28, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Big Tuna may become the latest NFL coach to get tangled in the Vinny Testaverde net.

Bill Parcells, the New York Jets coach, who is usually referred to simply as "Tuna" on the back pages of the New York tabloids, signed Testaverde to be his backup last week after Neil O'Donnell refused to take a pay cut and was released.

If Testaverde remains the backup to Glenn Foley -- Parcells said Foley gets the "benefit of the doubt" in the duel -- there shouldn't be a problem.

But if Foley, who has been injury-prone, gets hurt or is ineffective and Testaverde winds up starting, it's hard to imagine a worse fit for the former Ravens quarterback.

The quick-tempered Parcells is noted for screaming at his quarterbacks, and that's not a good way to deal with Testaverde, who tends to be a sensitive soul.

Then there's the New York factor. Even though he's a New York native, Testaverde has never been the target of the back pages of the tabloids. He's not likely to deal well with their critical headlines.

One New York columnist said last week: "There are reasons Testaverde will come cheaper [than O'Donnell]. For one, the guy can't play."

Actually, the real Testaverde problem is that he plays just well enough to tease the coaches into thinking he'll get better. Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda was the latest coach to fall into that trap.

Testaverde has all the physical tools, but has never overcome his habit of wilting under pressure and making critical mistakes at the worst possible times.

A good quarterback needs more than physical tools. He needs intangibles. He needs to be a leader. He needs to make plays with the game on the line. Testaverde is lacking in all those categories.

He likes to blame many of his mistakes on the supporting cast around him. He said last week that one of the reasons he has thrown 183 interceptions and 175 touchdowns in his career is that he spent six years in Tampa Bay.

"Look at the numbers from when I was in Tampa and wipe the slate clean from there, and you're going to see better numbers," Testaverde said.

He did throw 98 touchdowns compared with 71 interceptions in five years with the Browns/Ravens, but quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses. He was 8-20-1 in starting the first 29 games the Ravens played. Eric Zeier came in and was 2-1.

It could be that the Ravens weren't good enough to win more under Testaverde. They'll get a better reading on how good they are this year when they switch to Jim Harbaugh, who's a direct contrast to Testaverde. He lacks Testaverde's physical talent, but is a clutch player who has earned the nickname Captain Comeback.

For Testaverde, the bottom line is that he has never made the bad teams he's played for any better. In 11 years, he made the playoffs only once -- in Cleveland in 1994.

Now, Testaverde goes to New York, which he calls a "dream come true" because he grew up in New York rooting for the Jets.

If Testaverde winds up playing, though, he could wind up being Parcells' worst nightmare.

Moving on

As Baltimore native Antonio Freeman plans to explore his free agency options at the end of this season and possibly leave Green Bay, he might look at the example of Neil O'Donnell. He showed that leaving a good situation for the money isn't always a good idea.

When O'Donnell signed the five-year, $25 million deal with the Jets in 1996, he left a Super Bowl contender in Pittsburgh.

As it turned out, he didn't even get half that money -- he made $11.75 million -- before he was waived by the Jets.

He'll have little chance of returning to a Super Bowl contender, because most of them are set at quarterback.

He seems most likely to sign with another struggling team -- Cincinnati.

The Bengals are looking for a quarterback because they lost confidence in Jeff Blake when Boomer Esiason replaced him last year. The Bengals traded a fifth-round pick to Indianapolis for Paul Justin, but he's probably not the answer, either.

O'Donnell would have a shot at beating out Blake and Justin. It also helps that his agent, Leigh Steinberg, doesn't represent either Blake or Justin. Steinberg represents so many quarterbacks that he could be hurting a client if he takes him to another team.

The Bengals are publicly interested in O'Donnell. Coach Bruce Coslet said: "He's a guy who's won. He's a guy who's experienced. Who wouldn't be interested? He's a tough guy mentally and physically."

The hang-up could be the money. The Bengals are noted for being frugal. They offered Testaverde $2.5 million in the first year of a two-year deal, but it dipped more than $1 million in the second year and Testaverde passed.

Cincinnati, though, may present O'Donnell with the best chance to play. After going for the money last time, maybe he will go for the opportunity this time.

The Viking saga

Novelist Tom Clancy pulled out of the bidding for the Minnesota Vikings, apparently because of financial complications surrounding his impending divorce, but his future father-in-law, J. Bruce Llewellyn, has made a bid for the team.

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