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GREEN BAY PACKERS
The ghost of Vince Lombardi showed up at the Packers' training quarters on Lombardi Avenue and wanted to know what was going on. The receptionist told him to sign the guest book and have a seat, please; the next tour leaves in 15 minutes. The tour leader showed him the expanded facilities, which cost $2 million—the kitchen, the 12-man Jacuzzi, the handball courts, the players' lounge, complete with video games, the conference room with the football-shaped table that weighs 1,950 pounds—"or six Louie Kelchers," the tour guide said. "Six whats?" the ghost of Lombardi asked. But by now they were in the expanded 60-man locker room with the green carpeting dotted with thousands of little gold Packer helmet emblems. "Mike Douglass, our right linebacker, said he'll have to keep his sunglasses on in the locker room," the tour guide said, smiling. "Sunglasses in the locker room?" the ghost muttered.
He noticed a picture on the wall: J.J. Jefferson and James Lofton skying for a high five. "What the hell is that?" he said. "Oh, they do that after each touchdown," he was told. "They're our two All-Pro receivers." "And how many touchdowns did they score last year?" he asked. "Four," was the answer. "Hummph," he said. He saw another picture, of a portly gentleman wearing No. 79. "Who's that?" he asked. "Our starting left tackle, Angelo Fields. His weight is down to 283 this year." "Down from what?" asked the ghost. "About 340," was the answer. The ghost shook his head. "How'd you do last year?" he asked. "Oh, very well," he was told. "We lost to Dallas in the playoffs 37-26, and we're favored to win the division this year." "Lost to Dallas?" he said. "Thirty-seven points? What the hell, don't you control the ball anymore? Don't you run it?" "Oh, yes," he was told. "Our first four running backs were very consistent. They averaged between 3.0 and 3.8 yards per carry." "Three point eight?" said the ghost. "Why, on my last Super Bowl team I had five runners do better than that.... I had...." But by now he was fading...fading....
You say Lombardi wouldn't recognize this team? Well, sure he would. They still wear the green and gold. They're heavy favorites to win the division again, even though the old Lombardi basics—great offensive and defensive lines—are missing. Sacking and being sacked were Green Bay problems last year. End Mike Butler's defection to the USFL will not help the defense, which is carried by a fine linebacking corps led by Douglass, who has been strangely neglected by the Pro Bowl voters for two years. Quarterback Lynn Dickey needs time to find his receivers, but his line is still a shifting spectrum. Maybe it'll get better when second-round draft choice Dave Drechsler is ready to step in at guard. And maybe the insertion of No. 1 pick Tim Lewis at right cornerback will help a defense that gave up 492 yards to Seattle in the second exhibition game. But the draft doesn't offer much more immediate help.
Still the Packers seem a logical choice to shade Minnesota in the division, if only because they've beaten the Vikes in five of their last six meetings, each time by 12 points or more. Even Lombardi would be satisfied with that.
Who says the Vikings are cheapskates? Just because their top draft choice, Safety Joey Browner of USC, got the lowest first-round package on the board doesn't mean they won't spend money. They hired Krazy George, didn't they? Who's Krazy George? Well, he's one of those assembly-line cheerleader crazies that clubs occasionally import when they can't think of anything else to turn the fans' boos to cheers. The off-season booing centered around the notion that in 1982 the Vikings had drafted Darrin Nelson instead of Marcus Allen because of economics, but let's be fair. At the time, most scouts and writers, even fans, rated Nelson the better prospect. So he had trouble shaking loose last year. I have a feeling he'll have a real impact on the Tommy Kramer pass-catch game this season—and they'll need him, what with Ahmad Rashad retired and Tight End Joe Senser out with a bad knee.
Over the last five years the Vikings have been the closest thing to true mediocrity in the NFL. Their aggregate won-lost is 36-36-1, and in none of those five seasons did more than two games separate the wins from the losses. They failed to finish in the Top 10 in the league defensively in any of those years, and here's another interesting thing—they've stunk in December. Bud Grant's whole training camp approach has been to take it easy on the vets so their legs would be fresh in December. In the five-year span from 1973 to 1977 the December record was 18-4, but the last five seasons their December record was 6-11. I sort of like them this year, though, because their defensive line is a very competent unit, capable of putting on a big league pass rush when aroused. But their predicted 9-7 record could just as easily be 7-9, or 8-8, or something like that.
Growls from the Lions' cage. They started the first day back from the strike last November. Well, not actually started...became public is more like it. The Lions stayed out an extra day to show their dissatisfaction. With what? Oh, the usual culprits—General Manager Russ Thomas and all the contract hassles and general insensitivity. Coach Monte Clark seethed. The team lost its next two and went in the tank against the Jets on Monday night TV. Then they sneaked into the Mickey Mouse Tourney with a 4-5 record and got blown away by the Skins. The fans and press got on Clark. He got on the players. This summer Bubba Baker wanted to renegotiate his contract. He weighed 280. Looked like a bubba and zeida, both. Bye-bye Bubba. Shipped to St. Louie for Defensive Tackle Mike Dawson.