The NFL in Nashville
Wanted: Home Field Edge
Last Friday a reporter stepped into an elevator at a medical building 15 miles west of downtown Nashville. Moments later two sniffling preschoolers and their mom got on. When the elevator doors opened on the second floor, Mom and kids went to the left, to the Old Harding Pediatric Associates. The reporter went to the right, to the offices of the Tennessee Oilers.
The Oilers practice on a windswept plateau hard by Interstate 40, across the street from a mall. They have just 41,600 seats in their temporary home at Vanderbilt Stadium, and they've been hawking those by appealing to Nashville's sense of civic duty. When the 6-4 Oilers, on a three-game winning streak and victorious in five of their last sue, met the 6-4 Jets on Sunday, the teams played before a crowd that was 4,516 short of capacity. "I don't think these people understand what 6-4 in the NFL means," Tennessee star limner Eddie George said last Friday, sitting in the trailer that passes for a trainer's room. "They're like, 'Oh, the Jets are in town? Whatever. Let me know who wins.' They have no idea what the NFL game's about."
This is the Nirvana that owner Bud Adams talked about when he fled Houston after the '96 season? "This ought to tell you how it's been going around here," says Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher. "We beat Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh the last three weeks, two on the road, and we still can't find out what home field advantage means. But even though we've had plenty of reasons to make excuses, our approach is that we're not going to tolerate excuses."
Who would listen if the Oilers were making them? One NFL team official visiting Nashville for a recent game called it the most apathetic scene he has ever witnessed. The Oilers have already sold 48,000 season tickets for the state-of-the-art stadium they are scheduled to move into next year, but that's doing nothing for them now.
Against the Jets, Tennessee gave the hometown fans little reason to cheer. New York rolled to a 24-3 win as Curtis Martin ran for 123 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, the Jets limited a running attack that had been instrumental in the Oilers' recent success to 94 yards on 24 carries. Tennessee, which lost for the fourth time in six home games, can take solace in knowing that three of its last five are on the road, even if two of those games are against the Jaguars and the Packers.
St. Louis Blues
Can Vermeil Save His Job?
The team with the league's worst record, the 1-9 Panthers, came to St. Louis on Sunday to play the 3-7 Rams, who desperately needed to get well. But the St. Louis players don't respond to coach Dick Vermeil's impassioned pleas anymore; the Rams fell behind 17-0 en route to a 24-20 loss. The St. Louis fans don't believe in Vermeil anymore, either; there were 14,000 no-shows on Sunday. The Rams' best player, wideout Isaac Bruce, missed his 10th game in two seasons with a mysterious hamstring injury.
Club president John Shaw, along with owners Georgia Frontiere and Stan Kroenke, will decide Vermeil's fate. On Sunday night Shaw sounded like a man prepared to write a $5.5 million check to buy out the remaining three years of Vermeil's contract. "I don't know what to tell Georgia and Stan after games like this," Shaw said. "What indications are there that we will succeed?"
Steelers Send A Message