When the 1996 NFL schedule came out in May, Fox-TV figured it had the game of the year on Oct. 27: Cowboys-Dolphins. Jerry-Jimmy. Aikman-Marino.
It's still a nice game, but Rupert Murdoch didn't pay almost $1.6 billion in 1993 to televise nice games. Nate Newton, that Southern philosopher who doubles as the Cowboys' left guard, put the game in perspective on Sunday, after the Cowboys had expended another of their nine lives in a 32-28 win over the Falcons. "We're 4-3, the Dolphins are 4-3," he said. "What's so gigantic about two 4-3 teams playing? Right now we're two wild-card teams." Even that's a stretch.
Miami's three losses have come in the last four games; the Cowboys are still underwhelming the opposition, particularly on offense. Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson, divorced from the Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones in March 1994, hasn't taken any shots at his former boss in months, and vice versa. Through Sunday's games Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman was the league's 11th-rated passer, on the league's 25th-rated offense; for his part, Miami's Dan Marino is expected to start against the Cowboys after sitting out the last three games with a fractured right ankle.
Five months ago who would have thought the first Jerry-Jimmy Bowl would be such a low-key affair? These guys used to go out of their way to knock each other when they were on the same team, but they zipped lips after their games on Sunday. Following the Dolphins' 35-28 loss to the Eagles, Johnson refused to discuss the impending showdown. Maybe he was miffed about the four touchdown passes that Philadelphia wideout Irving Fryar caught against his former team. (An unrestricted free agent, Fryar signed with the Eagles in the off-season.) Or perhaps it was the 173 yards rushing that Eagles back Ricky Watters piled up. Meanwhile, Jones, after a peculiar day at Texas Stadium, ducked all interviews for the first time in memory.
It's not unusual to see Jones on the sideline late in Dallas games, uncannily positioned in camera range as he glad-hands players. However, he made an early appearance against the Falcons. After Aikman was creamed on a play in the first half, a victim of poor blocking from the left side of his line, Jones had a word with coach Barry Switzer. Then Jones walked over to Aikman and said, "We're going to try to get you some blocking help on that side." In the third quarter Jones helped restrain Cowboys wideout Michael Irvin from venturing onto the field while yelling at the team's defense. Jones even toweled himself off at one point. Said linebacker Darrin Smith, "Jerry was just very intense, very excited."
Kind of like Johnson used to be on the same sideline. Maybe in his new role Jones can give his team some oomph.
Give It Up, Mike
In the wake of the long-anticipated firing of Bengals coach Dave Shula on Monday, the organization's next step should be to hire an experienced pro football executive to run the personnel and scouting departments. But Cincinnati fans shouldn't hold their breath.
Even before Shula was dismissed, Bengals president and general manager Mike Brown sounded like a man who was prepared to stay the course. "I don't plan to change," said Brown, the pilot of the franchise since the 1991 death of his father, football legend Paul Brown. "I plan to run this team the way we have run it. There are up and down years in this business, and I firmly believe we'll come out of it."
Down years, yes. But a down decade? With their 28-21 loss to the 49ers on Sunday, the Bengals, at 31-72, have the NFL's worst record this decade, even after winning the AFC Central in 1990. Interim coach Bruce Coslet, who served as offensive coordinator under Shula, inherits a 1-6 team whose problems can largely be traced to an offense that ranks 26th in the league. But there's more to the coaching change than that. To trigger construction on a proposed football-only stadium, the organization must sell 50,000 season tickets, including 40,000 personal-seat licenses; 80 luxury boxes; and 6,000 club seats by April 30. If this massive sales effort fails, Brown may consider a move 235 miles northeast. Cleveland, after all, is the city his father put on the football map.