For NFL quarterbacks, the door is always revolving

ON THE NFL

Pro Football

October 31, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Quarterbacks in the NFL have become like subway cars.

There will be another one along soon.

There's Brett Favre, the Energizer Bunny of quarterbacks who will tie Ron Jaworski's record by making his 116th straight start tomorrow night, and then there's everybody else.

When Dan Marino's streak of 46 straight starts was ended by an injury a week ago and Trent Dilfer was benched after last week's game to halt his string of 70 straight starts, Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart was left a distant second to Favre with 39 straight starts.

Although some changes were caused by injuries, many have appeared to be change for change's sake as teams continue to recycle the same old faces.

Of the 31 quarterbacks who performed last Sunday, six were former Bears -- Erik Kramer, Jim Harbaugh, Doug Flutie, Rick Mirer, Steve Stenstrom and Paul Justin. Except for Flutie, that's a rogues' gallery of journeymen.

The Bucs even gave Dilfer the ultimate insult when they benched him for an ex-Raven -- Eric Zeier.

Zeier put his best spin on this opportunity. "In the situations I've been in before, it's been more of a situation where I came in just for a spark, and that was kind of it. I played three or four games and then we did some other things, kind of went in some other directions," he said.

He left out that he had a chance to win the Ravens' job last year before he quarterbacked 12-8 and 16-6 losses to Tennessee and Pittsburgh. The Ravens then went back to Harbaugh.

Dilfer has been inconsistent -- he threw three second-half interceptions to cost the Bucs the opener to the Giants -- but he has thrown 59 touchdown passes and 44 interceptions in his past 49 starts, compiling a 27-22 record. He has completed 61 percent of his passes. He hasn't been spectacular, but it's difficult to believe Zeier's going to do much better.

It has also been difficult for a Tampa Bay quarterback to get in a groove because the Bucs are not a passing team. They threw the fewest passes in the league last year and are again at the bottom this season.

Although coach Tony Dungy described the move to Zeier as "permanent," nobody will be surprised if he eventually goes back to Dilfer.

Even Dilfer said: "I think the best thing for the team would be if Eric went in, played great, never got hurt and I never saw the field again. But I know how hard it is to play every week in this league. Eric's going to have to take some shots, and he's going to have to be very tough to stay the rest of the year. I assume that I'll have to go in there and play."

Reunion in Green Bay

Favre has made a few comments about his former coach, Mike Holmgren, in the off-season that could be construed as less than complimentary.

He said at one point that Holmgren would say his office door was open and, "Then you'd go in there and get chewed out. Guys were scared to go in there."

He also said in April that Holmgren's contract status was a distraction last year and that he hadn't talked to Holmgren since he left.

"He hasn't said a word to me. Does that mean he's a bad person? I don't know. I owe a lot to Mike Holmgren. I'd be stupid to think I did all of this by myself. But I'd also like to think it was a two-way street. I don't get that feeling from him," he said at the time.

But when an ESPN interviewer asked Favre last month about the "bad blood" between him and Holmgren, he backtracked.

He told Seattle reporters last week, "Where he would come up with that, I don't know. Mike Holmgren, I consider him a real good friend, a great, great teacher to me. He was like a second dad."

In the ESPN interview, he said virtually the same thing. One of Holmgren's daughters told Holmgren about it, and he phoned Favre, and they talked for 45 minutes.

"I've had a chance to know him probably as well as anyone," Favre said. "People who don't know him can take him the wrong way. Mike's personality is not like mine. I'm a happy-go-lucky guy. Mike is more serious. But he does mix it with fun every once in a while."

Said Holmgren: "He was in the principal's office a lot. But he knows how I feel about him. He and I, our so-called problems, there weren't any problems. Now did I call him into my office on occasion? Yes. Would I correct him and yell at him a little bit? Yes. Do I care about him? Yes. My relationship with him was great."

Don't knock replay

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is getting serious about ending the public criticism of the new instant replay system.

He called Colts general manager Bill Polian and coach Jim Mora into his office in New York a week ago to lecture them for complaining about a replay reversal two weeks ago when it was ruled that Marino didn't fumble on a game-winning drive against the Colts. He also sent teams a memo threatening $20,000 fines for knocking replay.

So when the officials took 3: 39 to review one play last week in the Colts-Bengals game, Mora was careful.

"I'm leery that whatever I say might be construed as criticism," he said.

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