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Inside the NFL
Posted: Wednesday December 02, 1998 11:23 AM
Dispatches: Niners Front Office Goes Soft | Rhodes Can't Catch a Break
The Buzz | Odd Couples | The Inner Game: The Long Road Back
Dr. Zs Forecast
Even in defeat Peyton Manning proved he's the man to lead the Colts
By Peter King
Nor had Manning put up numbers as a pro like the ones he did against Baltimore: 27 completions in 42 attempts for 357 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Indianapolis led 17-3 after 13 minutes and was on top 31-21 entering the fourth quarter, before poor defense and special teams play cost the Colts the game.
Still, there was no mistaking the progress Manning has made in three months. On about two dozen occasions against the Ravens, he called two plays in the huddle and then signaled which one would be run after he saw the defensive set at the line of scrimmage. He completed 10 of 13 passes on third down (eight for first down), often going right at cornerback Rod Woodson, the best player in the Baltimore secondary. Above all, Manning, at 22, has already established himself as a leader.
While fellow rookie Ryan Leaf sits on the bench behind Craig Whelihan in San Diego after repeated failures on the field and a series of missteps off it, about the worst thing Manning has done is throw a league-high 23 interceptions (partly the result of uncorking a league-leading 449 passes). His behavior has been exemplary, particularly for a player who can't escape the public eye.
"I've never seen him angry," says Colts backup quarterback Doug Nussmeier, Manning's best friend on the team. "I've never seen him say no to anyone. We're out one night and a guy comes up to the table and says, 'Hey, Peyton, if I go up the street to Wal-Mart and get a couple of your jerseys, would you sign 'em for me?' He said yes, and the guy came back with two jerseys. Peyton signed 'em."
Manning may look like a student council president in his pressed gray slacks, navy blazer and shiny brown loafers, but he's doesn't want to be thought of that way. "I grew up in New Orleans as Archie Manning's son," he says. "I learned how to handle myself, how to keep my emotions in check. Now everybody is begging for me to do something, to lose my cool. That'd be news. I won't do it. I think I'm a tough quarterback. I just don't advertise it like some other quarterbacks do. But I know how to chew a guy's ass out if it needs to be done."
Against a Ravens team that entered the game 4-7, Manning played like a seasoned veteran. On third-and-five at the Ravens' 45 with a little more than two minutes left in the first half, he rolled right with safety Ralph Staten and linebacker Peter Boulware nipping at his heels. Just before the two defenders leaped at him, Manning rifled a pass to tight end Ken Dilger for an eight-yard gain. "That's kind of a feel thing," Manning said. "Dad always said if you can't feel that pressure and make a play, you can't be a pro quarterback." Six plays later, on third-and-10, Manning threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to wideout Torrance Small.
With 1:13 left in the game Manning was driving the Colts to a potential tying touchdown, having moved them 58 yards to the Baltimore 24. He threw to an open Marshall Faulk, but the ball ricocheted off the running back's chest and into Staten's hands. Ball game.
"He's got good poise, great poise for a rookie," Woodson said afterward. "Sometimes he gets a little impatient, but take your hat off to him. He's not making a lot of mistakes."
Colts president Bill Polian, who put his butt on the line when he drafted Manning over Leaf, was the last person to leave his club's locker room. "When you see an effort like that go unrewarded," Polian said, "it breaks your heart."
It shouldn't. Manning looks like the real deal, a franchise leader for years to come, and that's the hardest thing to come by.
Approaching an off-season in which as many as 10 of the league's 31 teams could be shopping for a coach, the market is shaping up as a strange one. The Packers' Mike Holmgren will likely sit atop the most-wanted list; one Green Bay insider says there's a 95% chance Holmgren will leave for a general manager or coach-G.M. job. Then there's former 49ers coach George Seifert, who is expected to get back into coaching after a milquetoast performance this year as a CBS studio analyst. Before the season Tyrone Willingham of Stanford, Gary Barnett of Northwestern and Nick Saban of Michigan State were among the college names most often mentioned as possibly moving to the pros, but none had better than .500 years.
Among NFL assistant coaches, Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is the leader of the pack. He has a low-key personality, but he's sure to get an endorsement from Denver coach Mike Shanahan, who says Kubiak is as prepared to be a head coach as any assistant he has had. However, there's no guarantee Kubiak would accept a head position. Shanahan failed in one-plus seasons as coach of the Raiders in the late '80s, and, as his disciple, Kubiak knows how hopeless the wrong situation--in Philadelphia, for example--can be. Plus, he'd rather stay put than move to a top job someplace where his wife and three sons wouldn't be happy. "I make decisions about where I'll work and where I'll live based on what my family wants," Kubiak says.
An indication of how passive the 49ers' front office has become occurred when the team didn't get a draft pick as compensation for allowing vice president Dwight Clark to bolt before the end of the season and become the Browns' VP and director of football operations. When Carmen Policy was club president--the position he now holds in Cleveland--the San Francisco brass took a harder stance.... Tyrone Davis is emerging as a bigger threat at tight end than fellow Packer Mark Chmura. In his last three games Davis has caught seven passes for 141 yards and four scores.... Sign of the times in St. Louis: Long snapper Jeff Robinson is tied for the club lead in touchdown catches, with one, and Greg Hill, who hasn't played since breaking his right leg in Week 3, leads the team with 240 rushing yards.... Add this to the legend of John Elway: He took 10 painkilling injections before playing with torn rib cartilage on Nov. 22 against the Raiders.
Nicholas Perillo, an inmate at the Gander Hill Correctional Institute in Wilmington, Del., recently testified against fellow inmate Thomas Capano, who is on trial for murder. When Perillo appeared on the witness stand last week, Jack O'Donnell, Capano's attorney, suggested Perillo had struck a deal to get out of prison early in exchange for his testimony, saying, "Well, if you were giving information about the defensive line of the Philadelphia Eagles, do you think prosecutors would have cut you a deal?"
"No," Perillo said. "But I would say, 'Get rid of Ray Rhodes.'"
1. Upon Further Review Referee Phil Luckett blew the overtime coin flip in the Thanksgiving game between the Steelers and the Lions. Back judge Bob Lawing made a highly questionable pass interference call on a last-play Hail Mary in the Patriots-Bills game, stealing a win from Buffalo. Instant replay couldn't have been used to overturn the penalty because it was a judgment call, but a review of the tape might have reversed the previous play, a sideline catch by wideout Shawn Jefferson (he appeared to be out of bounds) that kept the winning drive alive. As for the coin flip, here's hoping that that embarrassment will spur the NFL to do what should have been done when sudden death was implemented in 1974: Give each team an overtime possession.
2. Break Up the Jets Curtis Martin ties a club record with his seventh 100-yard rushing game of the season. Vinny Testaverde has a ho-hum 16-for-21, 255-yard, two-touchdown day. The Jets roll to a 48-21 win over the Panthers, giving them the inside track to the AFC East title.
3. Not So Coy In his first start Koy Detmer was an exciting alternative to the other quarterbacks the Eagles have used this year. However, Detmer would be wise to nix cocky gestures like the one he directed toward the Packers' sideline on Sunday after throwing a touchdown pass that gave Philly a 13-10 lead, the team's first since Nov. 8. Green Bay responded with a touchdown drive of its own en route to a 24-16 win. "Watching him do that," said Eagles coach Ray Rhodes, "I was going ballistic."
When it comes to players' salaries, Major League Baseball and the NFL are in different leagues. In 1998 the salaries of 39 baseball players were higher than the salary cap figure for the Packers' Brett Favre, the NFL's three-time MVP, whose cap number in '98 is $5.6 million. Here are some comparisons.
As he sped with no noticeable limp through a series of 110-yard striders on the Miami Dolphins' practice field one day last month, wideout Yatil Green thought play-by-play thoughts: Marino fades back, he said to himself. He throws it deep. Green's got it. Touchdown!
"I feel so wonderful," Green said later. "I feel like a football player."
Well, yes and no. Green is unique among the 148 NFL players on injured reserve because he has never suited up for so much as a scrimmage. The Dolphins' first-round draft choice in 1997, Green blew out his right knee on the first day of training camp that year, then retore his right ACL on his first sharp cut of 1998 training camp, necessitating another knee reconstruction. He has worn his Dolphins uniform twice, for the 1997 and '98 team photos. As hard as he is working to get back on the field--five days a week, five hours a day--Green has to face the fact that Miami coach Jimmy Johnson doesn't expect to ever see him on the field as a Dolphin. "The first year, we counted on him," Johnson says. "The second year, we thought he had a chance. The third year, next year, we're hoping for him, but we're not counting on him. We just can't."
Nevertheless, Green has made quite a turnaround from the mental wreck he was in August on the day following the second knee injury. After team orthopedist John Uribe told him how serious the damage to his knee was, Green lay on the exam table weeping. "Why me?" he kept repeating through the tears. Forty minutes passed before Dolphins director of rehabilitation Ryan Vermillion helped the despondent Green off the table, steadied him on his feet and steered him to his car.
His right knee held together by a cadaver's Achilles tendon, Green has progressed so nicely with his rehab that the Dolphins think he'll be able to test the knee fully by next April. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Green devotes most of his time to exercises designed to strengthen the knee. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he concentrates on aerobics and speed drills. "I try to make every day different," says Vermillion, "because when you've been rehabbing for two years, it can get pretty damn boring."
Green believes all that work will pay off. "I don't just think I'll play again," he says, "I'm sure I will. And I'll be a force."
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