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2 The problem: One quarterback injury and a contender falls like a house of cards. It used to be that when Sonny Jurgensen went down, Billy Kilmer would swagger in. Out went Bob Griese, in came Earl Morrall. Today, Cunningham goes down and in comes...Bubby Brister. Philadelphia's season is over. Here's a list of backup quarterbacks who are a pulled hamstring away from guiding playoff contenders: Ty Detmer (Packers), Tommy Maddox (Broncos), Kent Graham (Giants), Browning Nagle (Jets), Peter Tom Willis (Bears). If you're a defensive back, you've got to be licking your chops.
"The quarterback thing really is the key to what's happening in the league," says John Madden. "There's so much pressure on the passing game today. If you don't have a good passing game, you don't win. Yet you can count the great quarterbacks on one hand. The colleges aren't developing them. So you have not enough good quarterbacks, and that leads to not enough good teams, and that leads to not enough good games."
The solution: The NFL has already begun working toward this one by reviving a World League for the spring season of '95. Now each NFL team must stock a World League with bright quarterback prospects—as Miami did successfully with Scott Mitchell, and Detroit didn't with Andre Ware—for grooming. Teams must also offer guaranteed contracts to backup quarterbacks. This would make a good backup think about staying where he is, rather than jumping to the first quarterback-poor team that calls. Had the Eagles signed Jim McMahon to a guaranteed multiyear deal before last season, for example, he might have had them in the chase. As it is, McMahon is with the Minnesota Vikings.
3 The problem: The double byes are a double disaster. A second bye week was added this season in order to stretch the network TV schedule to 18 weeks. The bonehead result was that there were as few as 10 games per weekend through the first two months of the season, not 14. Fewer games, fewer chances for good games, obviously. Another by-product of the double bye: With so much time off between games, teams fall out of sync. "We beat Minnesota, and we were ready to roll," says 49er quarterback Young. "Then we had to pick our noses for two weeks before playing Dallas." The result: Dallas 26, San Francisco 17. The 49ers are 1-3 after bye weeks over the last three years, 30-8 without a week off.
The solution: When the new TV contract is signed, probably early next year, it should provide for a 16-game schedule over 17 weeks. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told SI last week that this will probably be the final year of the practice of giving two weeks off to each team. Thank you, Commissioner.
4 The problem: Saturday consistently brings all the best college football games in the nation to our living rooms. But until January, Sunday never brings us all the best pro games. On Saturday, Nov. 20, viewers in New York, the nation's biggest market, were able to watch Ohio State-Michigan, Boston College-Notre Dame, Miami-West Virginia and North Carolina State-Florida State. In other words, nearly every game with major bowl implications. The next day New Yorkers endured a yawner (Jets 17, Cincinnati Bengals 12) at 1 p.m., followed by another (Giants 7, Eagles 3) at 4. The Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Denver Broncos, the day's most interesting matchup, was not available to New Yorkers because a league rule effectively prevents a game from being shown opposite the telecast of the home team's game. Local broadcasts of the Jets and the Giants are never blacked out, because both teams sell out Giants Stadium. Consequently both teams are on TV every Sunday, which deprives some 2.5 million to 3 million viewers of the choice of switching to a more exciting or more meaningful game. The same thing could happen in Los Angeles, the second-biggest market, if the Rams or the Raiders were ever to sell out their respective stadiums—which doesn't happen often these days.
On that same Sunday night, New York, L.A. and the rest of the country were subjected to the national telecast of Minnesota versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, two NFC Central also-rans.
The solution: The networks must give New York and Los Angeles the doubleheader game each Sunday, so they aren't penalized for simply having two home teams. Likewise, both CBS and NBC must give the league the option, at least once a year, of switching a good game into that showcase Sunday-night slot to replace a who-cares game.
5 The problem: Kickers are becoming too good for the game, and they are too big a factor in the outcome of games. Including point-after conversions, placekickers are accounting for 35.1% of the points in NFL games this season, an alltime high—and that's way too much.
"We shouldn't diminish the importance of kickers," says New Orleans Saint kicker Morten Andersen. "If quarterbacks excel, what should we do? Use a weighted ball to penalize them?"