?"That's why they drug-test us, for saying things like that."—Bill utilityman Steve Tasker, after being told that quarterback Jim Kelly had said that Tasker would have been another Steve Largent had he been a receiver for his entire career.
And the Winners Are...
?Packer quarterback Brett Favre as our MVP of '95. No other team is blessed with a more inspiring on-field leader. Liberated from the pressure of having to look for All-Pro wide receiver Sterling Sharpe on most passing plays ( Sharpe retired during the off-season after neck surgery), Favre lifted his own performance and that of his team, which was closing in on the NFC Central division title after last Saturday's 34-23 win over the Saints. Here's leadership for you: On Dec. 10, at Tampa Bay, Favre had the Packers near the Buccaneer goal line. Favre's primary receiver was tight end Mark Chmura, a close friend, at the right pylon. His second read was the other tight end, Keith Jackson, who had held out for the first seven weeks of the season and had felt underused since arriving in late October. Chmura was wide open, and Favre should have thrown to him for an easy score. But instead Favre drilled a touchdown pass to Jackson, even though he was not as open as Chmura. "I want to get him involved," Favre said of Jackson. "We need all the weapons we can get." That's a team guy talking.
?Patriot running back Curtis Martin as our Rookie of the Year—by a whisker over Bronco tailback Terrell Davis. Martin, who was the 74th pick overall in the April draft ( Davis was No. 196), has had a season like that of Marshall Faulk when he won the award last year. Martin has rushed for 1,384 yards, has caught 27 passes for 237 more and has scored 15 touchdowns. Davis has 1,484 yards rushing and receiving, and led the AFC in total yards for four weeks in a row, but Martin gets our nod because he is the third-best back in football, behind Dallas's Emmitt Smith and Detroit's Barry Sanders.
?The Eagles' Ray Rhodes as our coach of the year. Last May rookie coach Rhodes heard that one of his young starters had not been rehabbing an injury conscientiously, was barely working out and was being rude and abusive to Eagle staffers. Rhodes called the player in and said, "Clean out your locker. You've been nothing but trouble, and we're waiving you." The player broke into tears and begged for another chance. Rhodes refused. The broken player left the office, gathered his gear and went home. Rhodes called him that night. "If I give you another chance," he said, "do you understand you're gone for good if you make one single mistake?" The player understood. He has been one of Rhodes's key performers in an unexpected 10-5 year that has put the Eagles in the playoffs.
In Other News...
? Drew Bledsoe Flopped. I he Patriots have paid their wunderkind quarterback $20 million for his first three years in the league, and they have gotten 52 touchdowns and 55 interceptions in return. Bledsoe, whose primary residence is in Pullman, Wash., needs to spend more time during the off-season in Foxboro, working out and studying the game. He needs to become a more accurate passer. The Patriots also need to get him some receiving help. On New England's first possession in last Saturday's 41-27 loss at Pittsburgh, Bledsoe drove the Pats 61 yards to the Steeler six. On the next play he threw a catchable ball to fullback Sam Gash. Doink! The ball caromed off Gash's shoulder pads into the arms of a Steeler. That was one of some 70 New England drops this year, which means that one of every eight Bledsoe throws was mishandled. "It feels like death around here," Bledsoe said.
? Kordell Stewart Exploded. After last Saturday's win over the Patriots, in which Stewart ran for a touch-down and completed two of three passes for 41 yards, Steeler coach Bill Cowher could barely contain himself. "I'll tell you what we're going to try to do next week," he said. "We're going to have him punt!" Stewart, the Steelers' rookie quarterback/receiver/option runner, was punting one day in practice, and Cowher watched him boom a 45-yarder. If Cowher really gives him a shot, Stewart will have punted, thrown a touchdown pass, caught a touchdown pass, run for a touchdown and run a series of downs as an option quarterback—all in the space of nine weeks. "] feel I'm kind of in the same category as Deion Sanders," Stewart says. Only a lot less expensive.
And While We're at It...
?On Thanksgiving Day, Jet owner Leon Hess gave a pep talk to his troops, who were then 2-9. "Let's go out with dignity and show them we're not horses" asses! " he implored them. Since that bit of inspiration, the Jets are 1-3; their best offensive lineman, Carlton Haselrig, has gone AWOL after flunking a drug test; three players have been fined a total of $31,500 for mugging quarterbacks; and kicker Nick Lowery slapped a Patriot ball boy for not keeping the game balls warm enough for him.