Fox already has Johnson under contract for '95 at a salary of $600,000, and the network isn't going to entice him to stay by, say, doubling his salary. But Fox would likely give Johnson a nice raise if he decides to return.
On the other hand, Eagle owner Jeffrey Lurie is aggressively pursuing Johnson to run Philly's sinking ship. Lurie met with him twice before the 1994 season, and last week NFL sources told SI that Lurie talked with Nick Christin, Johnson's attorney, about what it would take to get Johnson to be coach and personnel director of the Eagles. (Regardless of whether Johnson takes the Philly job, current Eagle coach Rich Kotite will be gone after this season.)
Also, all three groups interested in buying the Buccaneers and keeping them in Tampa Bay have spoken to Johnson or Christin, and the Rams, who may be moving from Los Angeles to St. Louis before next season, have sent out feelers to Johnson. At 51 he has the football world by the tail, but don't be surprised if he says thanks but no thanks to all the coaching offers.
Who Are These Guys?
Last Thursday night, when Chicago quarterback Steve Walsh, a reject from the Cowboys and the Saints, lofted a perfect 15-yard touchdown spiral to wideout Greg McMurtry, a castoff from the Patriots and the Rams, the three Bears who greeted McMurtry in the end zone were running back Robert Green (a former Redskin), wideout Greg Primus (a Chicago practice squad player until three weeks ago) and tight end Ryan Wetnight (another player promoted from the practice squad). "Take a picture of that," said Bear coach Dave Wannstedt the next evening. "That's the Bears."
With three weeks left in the season, Chicago, at 8-5, is an unlikely NFC Central coleader with Minnesota, despite losing Thursday night's game to the Vikings and ranking in the bottom 10 of the NFL in talent. The team's only shoo-in Pro Bowl player is cornerback Donnell Woolford. But the Bears play as hard as anyone, they take intelligent risks (especially on special teams, which are coached by Danny Abramowicz), and their game plans are brilliant.
In Game 4 they beat the Jets at the Meadowlands, thanks largely to twice-cut running back Bob Christian's burrowing for a first down on a fake punt. They won in Miami in Game 10, when in the closing seconds James Williams, a former free-agent small-college defensive lineman, blocked a Dolphin field goal try that would have tied the game. Two weeks later they won in Arizona when Kevin Butler kicked four field goals, including a 27-yarder with 6:49 left in overtime, in a 19-16 win. Walsh calls the team "the blue-collar Bears, perfect for Chicago." There are no flashy stars, only an egoless coach who knows which buttons to push.
"It's will, desire and teamwork," says Wannstedt, the runaway favorite for NFL Coach of the Year. "We've been able to rise up and play to the level of our competition. I think we use our people the right way. Take [wideout] Jeff Graham. He was a second-round pick for the Steelers [in 1991]; they expected him to be a Lynn Swann, and he wasn't ready for that kind of pressure. We traded a fifth-round pick for him [in April] and just gave him a chance to be successful. He caught eight balls for more than 150 yards at Arizona. I ask you, could Michael Irvin have done more for his team that day? I don't think so. Every player in the NFL has talent. I just think that if you give your players a chance to be successful, and don't make things too complicated for them, and practice things over and over and over, you'll win."
The Bears play in Green Bay on Sunday, before finishing at home against the Rams and the Patriots. If the Bears win two of those games, they would probably host a wild-card game and perhaps even win the NFC Central—with the fourth-best talent in the division.
Forget the Replay