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Ditka loses cool in Baltimore, Washington

There's nothing like losing a game in the Baltimore-Washington area to bring out the worst in Mike Ditka.

In 1983, the Colts' last year in Baltimore, the Chicago Bears' coach broke his hand punching a locker after a loss at Memorial Stadium.

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Last year, after losing in RFK Stadium to the Washington Redskins, he delivered a post-game tirade, saying the team wouldn't win another game (he was right) and that Donnell Woolford "couldn't cover anybody."

This year, Ditka advertised himself as the new, mellow Mike Ditka and he didn't lose his temper after a 10-9 loss to the Redskins last Sunday.

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Ah, but the next day he was up to his old tricks.

He called a radio reporter a "jerk" and a "joke" for asking what was wrong with the Bears' struggling offense, then stormed out of the news conference.

Now that's the Mike Ditka we all know.

The next day, Ditka had cooled down. "I was wrong for walking off, which I admit," he said. "I wasn't mad. It's just I wasn't going JTC to get into a contest talking about our deficiencies on offense. Our difficulties on offense aren't that great," he said.

It's good to know that Ditka is back to being normal. So much for that mild-mannered, laid-back stuff.

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It's that annual confusion time again in the National Football League.

With 23 teams still alive for the new, watered-down playoffs, it's mind-boggling to try to figure out the tie-breaking procedures that include division games, conference games, common games, net points in division games, net points in all games, strength of schedule, touchdowns and that ever-popular favorite -- the coin toss.

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If the NFL wants six wild-card teams in the playoffs, it's time to simplify the tie-breaker system.

The league should go to some kind of point system -- award a certain amount of points for each game, say, four points for a division victory, three for a conference victory and two for a victory over a team in the other conference.

They could then award points for such things as shutouts or holding teams to fewer than 100 yards rushing or whatever. Each week a team could add up its points and there could be playoff points standings and you could see at a glance where a team stands.

Don't count on the NFL adopting such a system, though. It's not complicated enough.

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The fans sent the NFL a message with their balloting for its 27-man Silver Anniversary Super Bowl team: They liked the game better in the 1970s than in the 1980s.

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Only five players mainly from the 1980s -- Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice and John Taylor of the San Francisco 49ers and Mike Singletary of the Bears made it.

The rest of the team was from the Green Bay Packers club that won the first two Super Bowls or the teams of the 1970s, including nine Pittsburgh Steelers and five Oakland Raiders.

It's easy to understand why the fans have such fond memories of the 1970s. It was a decade in which the NFL still put the emphasis on football. There were no franchise shifts, no regular-season strikes, no instant replay, no open dates, no getting bogged down in controversies over yanking the Super Bowl out of cities. Even the schedule made a lot more sense than it does now.

Unless the NFL remembers it's supposed to be a football league, the 1970s will remain the good old days.

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The coaching derby:

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Bill Walsh continues to drop hints that he may be available to take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coaching job. He even talked about taking an "Al Davis role" with the team.

But if Walsh really comes back, he'll have to coach. Tampa Bay owner Hugh Culverhouse isn't going to pay him big money simply to run the front office.

The strange thing is that Walsh wasn't very happy simply running the front office in San Francisco for a few months in 1989 after he stepped down as head coach before he took a broadcasting job. Walsh apparently has forgotten that.

NFL coaches are watching him closely because if he does come back, he'll get such a good deal that it's likely to raise coaching salaries all around the league.

There'll also be a vacancy in Cleveland because even Jim Shofner has publicly admitted he's not the answer. However, owner Art Modell won't begin his search until after the season ends.

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More coaching derby:

It could be a bad omen for San Francisco that rumors are again swirling that John Robinson is in trouble as Los Angeles Rams coach.

"I think the last time this came up was before the [first 49ers] game, so maybe it's good that it's coming up," Robinson said.

The Rams play the 49ers tomorrow night. Coach George Seifert of the 49ers is 2-2 against the Rams and 25-1 against the rest of the league.

Ron Meyer of the Indianapolis Colts could be in trouble if his team loses to the New York Jets today. The Colts close the season with the Redskins and Miami Dolphins, so the Colts could finish 5-11 if they lose today, and that might spell doom for Meyer.

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The NFL has been quite confident that it will win its seemingly endless legal battle with the NFL Players Association.

After 10 years of Reagan-Bush appointments, the courts have a conservative majority that figures to favor the owners.

But they got a jolt when the U.S. Supreme Court asked the Justice Department for its opinion on the Powell case, which the NFLPA filed in 1987 in an attempt to get free agency.

Solicitor General Kenneth Starr told the court he thought the lower court's ruling in favor of the owners was "erroneous" and that it, "effectively gives the NFL the benefit of the antitrust exemption without having to pay for it."

This opinion doesn't mean the Supreme Court will hear the case or that it will rule for the players if it does. But if it does rule for the players, every free agent from 1987 through 1989 could be eligible for treble damages.

The high court is expected to decide early next year whether to hear the case.

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Meanwhile, the players are pressing a second suit in which they contend they have decertified as a union to deny the owners an anti-trust exemption.

Just the possibility of the players winning could affect future negotiations.

For example, Dan Marino's contract in Miami expires after the 1991 season, and the Dolphins are trying to get him to sign an extension. He may decide to see what the high court does.

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The owners met in Dallas last week to discuss several financial matters, including corporate ownership.

They also decided to give the third division champion $10,000 a man for playing the third wild-card team in the first round. The players on the wild-card teams get $6,000 a player.

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There could be trouble in San Diego.

Defensive lineman Leslie O'Neal stirred up a controversy when he said certain players are afforded preferential treatment by the club and some favoritism might be racially motivated. O'Neal, who is black, implied that Billy Ray Smith, who is white, got some of the favored treatment, although he didn't mention Smith by name.

Smith and O'Neal then had a talk. "That's all I'm going to say about it," Smith said.

O'Neal said: "I think the air is cleared. He told me what he felt, and that's fine. To me, it's a dead issue."

Coach Dan Henning took the opportunity at a team meeting to criticize O'Neal for his remarks, and O'Neal knows he'll have problems if the Chargers lose to the Denver Broncos today.

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"If we go out and blow Denver out Sunday, everybody will forget about it. We go out and lose, and it's like I started this problem and that caused us to lose. It's one of those deals I have to live with," he said.



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