Which is three games behind the Bears in the NFC Central as the Lions head into Sunday's game in New Orleans after having last weekend off. Jerry Ball, perhaps the league's best nosetackle, held out until Sept. 4, sprained an ankle in Week 2 and is probably a dozen pounds overweight. Inside linebacker Chris Spielman (shoulder injury) and free safety Bennie Blades (knee) also were hurt in Week 2 and have seen no action since. All three are expected to play against the Saints, and Pontes believes Detroit still has a shot at making the playoffs.
Spielman, who has been a caged lion while sidelined, is not sure his right shoulder—bone chips were removed—can withstand a 10-game stretch run, but he's going to give it a try. "If we [he and Blades] can't bring anything back physically, maybe we can add something emotionally," Spielman says. "It's our job to pick up this team. Anything can happen in 10 games. Look what happened to us last year." After losing 42-7 in Cincinnati to fall to 2-9, the Lions finished with five straight wins. This season could be tougher. Beginning on Nov. 18, Detroit faces the Giants, Broncos, Bears, Raiders and Bears again in successive weeks.
FROM THE BOARDROOM
Nuggets from last week's NFL owners' meeting in Chicago:
•All we heard in the preseason was what a terrible thing the league had done in instituting rules aimed at curtailing the time it takes to complete a game. Now no one's complaining about it. The facts: Plays per game are down, from an average of 154.3 in 1989 to 148.2 this year; playing time is down, from an average of 3:11:19 to 3:00:07; and scoring is up, from 41.2 points per game to 42.5.
•The league has to do a better job of scheduling. For the past three years, the Redskins and Giants have played their season series within the first seven games. The Bears and Packers finished their series by Oct. 7. More games between division rivals are needed in December.
•A popular expansion theory has the league awarding one franchise to a city that has never before had a team and one to a city that had a team and lost it. The NFL is expected to add two new teams in 1991 for play in '93, and the favorite new city appears to be Charlotte, N.C. The popularity of the NBA Hornets, who led the league in attendance in 1988-89 and ranked fourth in the sale of licensed NBA merchandise last season, has made Charlotte an even more attractive market to the NFL. Construction on a privately financed, $125 million, 70,000-seat stadium—with 8,000 club seats and 107 luxury boxes—could begin soon after word comes that a franchise has been awarded. The other expansion pick? St. Louis.
THE END ZONE
A check for $1,400 from a rival team is one of the many donations that Bengal coach Sam Wyche has received to help him pay his $27,941 fine for barring USA Today reporter Denise Tom from the Cincinnati locker room on Oct. 1 (SI, Oct. 15). Most of the contributors will remain anonymous, but according to Wyche, a man in North Carolina sent him a check for $1,000; an NFL coach sent him $500; the League of Women Voters in Portland, Ore., wants to hold a fundraiser for him; a man in Texas offered to assign a percentage of his profits from one of his oil wells to Wyche; and a former major league pitcher sent him $500. As of last weekend, Wyche says, he had received almost $6,000 in unsolicited donations. Wyche has not determined how the donated money will be used. His fine, however, has been paid to the league, and it will be split between two charities, one of which is Homemade, his Cincinnati agency for the homeless.
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