So far, it's bizarre

Improper behavior has been the norm


Midseason Report


Somewhere between Terrell Owens squeezing out situps in his parking lot last summer and his way-too-late apology at the same location this week, the NFL turned X-rated.

The sleaze factor surfaced during a bye-week boat cruise on Lake Minnetonka outside Minneapolis, and again in a women's restroom at a restaurant in Tampa, Fla.

It reared its head wherever it was that New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson conducted clandestine meetings to pull his ragged franchise out of his hurricane-ravaged city as quickly as he could.

It showed up in Seattle, where Seahawks safety Ken Hamlin was severely beaten in a fight outside a nightclub in the early morning hours, not far from where another man was killed the same night. Hamlin suffered head injuries that ended his season.

Unseemly behavior?

How about the president and head of football operations in St. Louis blocking cell phone communication between ailing Rams coach Mike Martz and his offensive coordinator in the second half of a game, as they had planned?

Or Houston Texans coach Dom Capers firing offensive coordinator Chris Palmer two games into a doomed season because the franchise quarterback looked shell-shocked already?

Not a pretty first half of the season.

By comparison, Owens' transgressions seem almost harmless. The Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver merely instructed his offensive coordinator not to talk to him unless spoken to first, told his head coach to shut up, berated his quarterback at every turn and called the franchise classless.

But whatever credibility Owens gained in that heartfelt apology Tuesday quickly evaporated when he allowed his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, to speak. Rosenhaus led Owens to believe he could get him a new contract from the Eagles after the Super Bowl. Having failed that, Rosenhaus stood defenseless, dodging questions that would only incriminate him in the court of public opinion, while his client stood to lose millions of dollars.

These were nine weeks during which Ricky Williams returned to the Miami Dolphins from pot-smoking heaven, while Owens vanished in the haze of his own ego. Curiously, the two Super Bowl teams both went 4-4 during that time. But, 4-4 got the New England Patriots into first place in the tepid AFC East, while 4-4 put the Eagles in last place in the torrid NFC East.

Highlights and lowlights from a bizarre first half of the season follow.

Sex, lies and payoffs: In what is now known as the Love Boat Scandal in Minnesota, 17 Vikings were investigated for participating in an alleged sex orgy Oct. 6 aboard two rented cruise ships on Lake Minnetonka during the bye week. This is hardly what new owner Zygi Wilf had in mind when he paid $600 million for the team last fall.

The sex theme flared anew this week when two Carolina Panthers cheerleaders were arrested in Tampa after allegedly having sex in a bathroom stall. When other patrons protested, one of the cheerleaders slugged a woman and both cheerleaders wound up going to jail.

Now both women stand to profit. Shock jock Howard Stern has said he wants to hire the two former cheerleaders to join his new Sirius satellite radio show that begins in January. And Penthouse magazine is trying to arrange a nude pictorial of the two.

Storm warning: Whether the Eagles knew it or not, the Eagles had at least two omens of the season to come. One was Owens indicating he'd be a distraction this season without a new contract. The second was when defensive leader Jeremiah Trotter was ejected from the season opener in Atlanta during pregame warmups after he scuffled with the Falcons' Kevin Mathis, also ejected. Atlanta outslugged the Eagles that night, 14-10.

Wrong number: Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman could deal with the losses. He just couldn't deal with the ringing cell phones. So he cut off his weekly news conference last week when a cell phone went off during his discourse. When the guilty party would not come forward to accept his punishment - a one-week ban - the Packers publicist, Jeff Blumb, canceled a news conference with Brett Favre later in the day.

That certainly cleared the air, if not the Packers' unsightly record.

Power player: Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith has had the most remarkable first half of any player in the NFL this year. He broke his left fibula in the team's 2004 opener and missed the rest of the season. He literally has carried the Panthers to a 6-2 start, restoring them as a Super Bowl threat this year. In eight games, Smith has 55 catches and nine touchdowns, averaging 16.4 yards per reception. He appears unstoppable with six 100-yard receiving games.

Only a Hyundai: Rookie running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams took the NFL by storm when he rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his first three games in the league, amassing 434 yards. But his 88 carries took their toll, and Williams missed the next two games with injuries. He has rushed for a total of 62 yards in the past three games, quieting comparisons to Hall of Famer Walter Payton.

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