Walsh tries new tack on Druckenmiller

On The NFL

August 15, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

After quarterback Jim Druckenmiller's first workout in training camp, San Francisco general manager Bill Walsh raised a few eyebrows by saying, "I was very impressed. He looked really good."

The remarks were surprising, because Walsh has been a frequent critic of the team's decision to take Druckenmiller over Jake Plummer in the draft two years ago.

It turned out Walsh's comments had more to do with his relationship with coach Steve Mariucci than with Druckenmiller.

It's been awkward at times for Mariucci to work under the man who started the 49ers dynasty. They've disagreed on occasion, and Mariucci felt it would make it more difficult to trade Druckenmiller if Walsh continued to knock him.

"The story has been hit on for the last 50 years of football," Walsh said. "The old coach returns, and the new coach feels threatened. But in reality, I think we understand our roles completely."

Walsh conceded it was difficult for him not to get emotional about the bypassing of Plummer.

"I was really mad when they didn't take Jake Plummer. I told people the continuation of the dynasty was in that decision. It's very simple. It was. That meant 10 more years of dynasty," Walsh said.

Now the 49ers dynasty is likely to collapse once Steve Young retires. Unless they find another franchise quarterback, they'll be just another team.

The 49ers got another example of how the Druckenmiller pick will haunt them in their first exhibition game Thursday night against San Diego. Druckenmiller played so poorly that Walsh might as well go back to trashing him.

Druckenmiller was two of seven for 19 yards and threw one pass near his own goal line into the hands of defensive lineman Norman Hand, who dropped it.

Druckenmiller is clearly losing the backup job to Jeff Garcia, who passed the last five years in the Canadian Football League. He completed 13 of 18 for 163 yards and two touchdowns. But Garcia is unlikely to be more than a backup type.

After the game, even Mariucci didn't sound much more enthusiastic than Walsh about the quarterback.

"I think he was just OK," Mariucci said. "Certainly there's a lot of improvement that's needed, [because] he can play better than that. He's got a ways to go."

Return of the Browns

The return of the Cleveland Browns is a national hit. Their first exhibition game Monday night at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, was the highest-rated exhibition game nationally in five years. In Cleveland, it got Super Bowl numbers, and the league is hoping the Browns' Sunday night ESPN opener against Pittsburgh will set a cable TV record.

The fact the Browns were able to keep their nickname clearly makes them more than just another expansion team.

The strange thing, though, is that the two people who don't seem to be quick to embrace the Browns' heritage are owner Al Lerner and president Carmen Policy.

While coach Chris Palmer showed the players a video of the old Browns, Lerner and Policy have been slow to honor the old Browns.

There won't be a tribute to the old Browns at the first regular-season game. Instead, they'll have an alumni weekend in November.

Lerner and Policy also snubbed Ozzie Newsome's induction at the Hall of Fame. Their first explanation was that they were getting ready for their Monday night game and were planning to entertain commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

When that explanation got ripped by a Cleveland columnist, Policy came up with even a stranger explanation: "I felt our being there would bring attention to the owner [Art Modell] who wasn't there. I just felt our being there was not in Ozzie's best interest," he said.

To blame Modell for his snub was tacky.

Policy then announced the Browns would honor Newsome at their Aug. 28 exhibition game and present him with his Hall of Fame ring then.

The only problem with that announcement was that the Ravens are playing that night, so Newsome won't be there. Newsome was polite and called it a "miscommunication." The Browns are now supposedly going to set another date.

The bottom line is that Policy, who spent the last decade in San Francisco, has no feel for the Browns' history even though he grew up in Youngstown. Policy wants to create a new legacy for the Browns with his stamp on it.

But Policy better do a better job of hiding that fact, because those Cleveland fans take their history seriously. Modell fired Paul Brown 37 years ago, and they still talk about it in Cleveland as if it happened last week.

Super debate

Is it better to go to the Super Bowl and lose or not go at all?

That point can be debated, but Ravens coach Brian Billick told a Minnesota writer that the Vikings' loss to Atlanta in the NFC title game last January might have been for the best.

"What if we had gone to the Super Bowl?" said Billick, who was the Vikings' offensive coordinator last season. "Given the depleted nature of our defense [with injuries], it would have been difficult for us to beat Denver.

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