Forget the new, mellow Mike: Ditka proves to be as feisty as ever


Welcome back, Iron Mike.

From time to time, there are reports that a new, mellow Mike Ditka has arrived on the scene.

L The good news is that the reports never turn out to be true.

It's only a matter of time before the old, feisty Mike Ditka emerges.

It didn't take very long this year.

The outspoken Chicago Bears coach is squabbling with his best running back, Neal Anderson, in training camp.

"Neal doesn't talk to me," Ditka said last week. "I think he's mad at me. I've had strained relationships all my life. I couldn't care less."

Over to Anderson:

"My idea is to go out and play the best football I can and try to cause no problems on the team," he said. "Nothing has happened [with Ditka] to detract from the way I do my job."

Nobody is sure why they're on the outs. There doesn't have to be a reason when Ditka is involved, although he accused Anderson of running with his head down and not bursting through the hole last year. It turned out Anderson played hurt last year without telling the team.

Meanwhile, Ditka was amused that offensive lineman Stan Thomas, the team's top pick last year, has complained about being jerked back and forth between left and right tackle.

"We were in the coaches' room when that tape came on TV and it was better than watching the Three Stooges," Ditka said.

You didn't think Ditka was going to be sympathetic, did you?

Time out

Federal judge David Doty keeps sending signals that the owners and the players should solve their differences at the bargaining table instead of in federal court. He said last week that he's calling a recess to the anti-trust trial the week of Aug. 24 to attend to other cases.

That'll be the second recess and means the trial will likely drag into September because both sides appear to be ignoring the judge and are ready to take their chances in court.

Even if the owners lose, they'll appeal on the grounds that Doty made a mistake when he ruled the NFL Players Association has been decertified as a union.

Meanwhile, commissioner Paul Tagliabue ended his testimony last week with his credibility being severely questioned. He was, in effect, accused of lying under oath when he testified that owner Norman Braman of the Philadelphia Eagles was getting back $7.4 million of an $18 million loan he made to the team when he paid himself $7.5 million in 1990. Tagliabue said only $100,000 of it was in salary.

"You're making that up, aren't you?" asked the players' attorney, Jim Quinn.

"No, I'm not making that up," Tagliabue replied.

But he didn't convince Philadelphia Inquirer business columnist Craig Stock, who wrote a column entitled, "Calling a foul on NFL Chief."

Stock wrote: "Was Tagliabue telling a whopper? If not, how could a team be paying back a loan that it didn't show on its own books?"

Stock pointed out that the financial documents the team submitted listed only $3.1 million of debt.

When Stock asked an NFL spokesman to explain the discrepancy, the spokesman said he was in "no position to dTC explain those kinds of details."

What's so puzzling about all this is that the NFL virtually invented modern sports public relations -- it used to be noted that it was appropriate that Pete Rozelle's initials are P.R. -- and now it can't come up with explanations to deflect unfavorable publicity.

Meanwhile, nobody knows what the eight-woman jury thinks about proceedings. "They don't react to anything," said one observer.

The league also announced that Denver Broncos owner Pa Bowlen wouldn't testify. Bowlen had publicly called the jurors a group of "domestic housewives," so it was considered prudent to keep him off the stand.

The Raiders are the Raiders

Don't expect the Los Angeles Raiders to be invited back to scrimmage the Phoenix Cardinals any time soon.

When they visited the Cardinals' training site at Flagstaff, Ariz., last weekend, there were three fights in the morning and 11 in the afternoon the first day. Cardinals coach Joe Bugel was hit in the eye trying to break up one fight.

The next day, Raiders defensive back Elvis Patterson, 31, body slammed Raiders assistant coach Jack Stanton, 54, and was suspended.

That night, there was a reception for the teams in Flagstaff, and Mayor Chris Bavasi, the son of former Los Angeles Dodgers executive Buzzy Bavasi, welcomed them as the "Oakland" Raiders.

The college coach

Has Bill Walsh changed, now that he's back at Stanford? Even as a TV analyst, the former San Francisco 49ers coach could be grating because he harped on mistakes. But now that he's in his second stint as the Stanford coach, he seems more tolerant.

At the team's first practice for the Pigskin Classic against Texas A&M; on Aug. 26, Walsh said, "There were just god-awful mistakes sometimes. I don't know if you could see me laughing out there. . . . It's cute, really."

Laughing? Cute?

Will it still be cute when he loses his first game?

The rematch?

One of the most surprising games of last year was played by Michael Irvin, the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, when he caught nine passes for 130 yards and a touchdown against Darrell Green to enable the Cowboys to upset the Washington Redskins, 24-21, and spoil their bid for a perfect season.

The Green-Irvin rematch is supposed to be a highlight of the Sept. 7 Monday night opener between the two teams, but it's likely neither player will be in top shape -- even if they play. Both are holding out.

Quarterback Troy Aikman misses Irvin and two other offensive stalwarts, tight end Jay Novacek and center Mark Stepnoski.

"Our offense can't be ready until we get those guys back," he said.

Since the Redskins defense can't be ready until they get Green back, it may even itself out.

The welcome mat isn't out

The tension between college football coaches and NFL scouts is increasing. The members of the American Football Coaches Association discussed in a conference call last week further restricting the access pro scouts have to their programs.

The coaches are upset because juniors keep opting for the NFL draft. The NFL won't do anything about that because it certainly would lose a lawsuit if it tried to bar juniors.

On the other hand, the NFL probably is guilty of overkill on scouting. Jim Finks, the president of the New Orleans Saints and the head of the competition committee, has proposed the league establish one central scouting bureau to cut down on all the duplication, but can't get support for the idea.

Setting standards

Cleveland Browns coach Bill Belichick sent a signal to his teathat he won't tolerate off-the-field problems. When rookie cornerback Tim Hill, who was recuperating from a pulled hamstring at his home in Columbus, Ohio, was shot in a bar, Belichick cut him while he was still in the hospital.

"We sent him home to get his leg better . . . and he's screwing around in a bar," he said.

Owner Art Modell backed Belichick's action. "You can't win on the field when you have problems off the field," he said.

Hill and the man who shot him were apparently arguing about a woman.

The bust

Kenneth Simms, the first player taken in the 1982 draft by the New England Patriots, was waived by the Buffalo Bills, ending a comeback attempt after two years away from football.

Simms broke his leg twice, ruptured an Achilles' tendon and never lived up to his reputation in eight years with the Patriots.

The Patriots won the right to Simms when they lost to the Baltimore Colts in the "Stupor Bowl" to close out the 1981 season. The Colts wound up with the second pick and took Johnnie Cooks, who also never lived up to expectations.

Fashion note

When the Seattle Seahawks played their exhibition opener -- viewed by the team's third-smallest preseason crowd (52,360) -- the cheerleaders unveiled new, revealing one-piece uniforms. By the end of the first quarter, seams were starting to rip and the Sea Gals had to wear jackets the rest of the game.

A new name

Remember when Alan Page was a Purple People Eater? The Hall of Fame defensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings may have a new name: Minnesota Supreme Court justice. He's running against two other candidates and could become the first black member of the state Supreme Court. A Notre Dame graduate, he got his law degree in 1978 from the University of Minnesota and is an assistant state attorney general.

Still battling

Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers never gives up. He's heard all the whispers that his arm problems may end his career, but he just jokes about them.

"Someone called and asked about my retirement press conference," he said. "I couldn't believe it."

Montana insists he doesn't need surgery and rest is supposed to solve the problem.

"It could be seven days, it could be 21 days," he said.

Montana blames himself for the ailment because he tried to do too much too soon after elbow surgery last year.

"If I had to blame anybody, I'd blame myself," he said.

Whether Montana will really make it back is a question that nobody can answer.

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