But there is another theory, and that is that the deal was a money-saver, an ownership decision, and Bucko was left to take the fall. Gray's contract package, signed after the '77 season, and which Houston now has to pick up, runs through 1981. With incentives, it can cost more than $500,000. The Oilers also had to cover $70,000 worth of the $85,000 signing bonus Gray received. Compare that with what New England is paying Wheeler, and you've got a healthy saving.
Don't write the Patriots out of the playoff picture just yet. Strange things can happen at this time of the season. Nerves jangle, throats tighten, must-win games turn into nightmares. The Dolphins are riding high in the AFC right now. That could change. But for one magic night in the Orange Bowl last week, some ghosts came back to life.