Johnson working to make it work in Dallas

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Joe Gibbs lost two titles this year.

Not only was the Washington Redskins coach dethroned as the coach of the Super Bowl champions, but he's no longer the NFL's leading workaholic coach.

"I guess he's trying to compete with Joe Gibbs as far as working the longest," Dallas Cowboys safety Ray Horton said last week referring to his team's coach, Jimmy Johnson.

Gibbs sleeps in his office three nights a week during the season, but Johnson has him topped in the workaholic derby.

Gibbs takes his wife out to dinner every Thursday night during the season after he tapes his weekly TV show. During the off-season, he sponsors an auto racing team. He even has a getaway cabin near a lake in Virginia.

Johnson, who'll coach the Cowboys today in the NFC title game against the San Francisco 49ers, has one thing in his life -- football -- although he says there's room for his two sons.

"My priorities are winning football games first, and my two sons second," he said.

Johnson lives alone -- he has several fish tanks -- and likes it that way. He split up with his wife of 26 years when he became the Cowboys coach in 1989, saying he didn't need a wife in pro football because there aren't the social functions to attend the way there are in college.

"It would have been a little more negative getting a divorce in college," he said. "Here, not a lot of explanations have to be made."

He has a steady companion, but . he said he doesn't plan to marry again.

"I enjoy winning. I enjoy winning football games and I hate losing football teams," he said. "I don't really go down the middle of the road in many things in my life. I am extreme in one way or another. That's part of my profession and I think that's part of my personality. I don't know that I'm obsessed. It's something I enjoy very, very much and I work very hard to get it."

This would be a perfect lifestyle for Johnson if he could win every game. The problem is he can't, and he's noted for tirades when he does lose. Nobody expects him to hold a long news conference today if he loses. He may not even meet with the team tomorrow if it loses. He didn't the day after last year's playoff loss in Detroit. He just left town to brood.

Losing is the bane of the profession. It eats at all coaches. But most hide it better than Johnson.

George Seifert, the 49ers coach, has a mild-mannered persona, and is low-key and gracious after losses, but he still takes them home.

"You're in a state of emotional shock," Seifert said. "There's no other way to describe it. You go home and you try to sleep, but you wake up in the middle of the night and you can't think about anything else. It's the one time even sex doesn't enter your mind. It's that kind of feeling."

Seifert, though, doesn't display those emotions. Johnson does. He's so volatile after losses that owner Jerry Jones felt the need to say recently he doesn't think Johnson is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Johnson wasn't pleased.

There's one solution for Johnson -- winning virtually every game.

When he was told at the start of the season that he couldn't duplicate last year's 11-5 season, he had a short reply.

"Is there a rule against it?" he said.

He didn't go 11-5 this year. He went 13-3.

A new era?

With all the comparisons this week to the 1981 NFC title game between the 49ers and Cowboys, it should be noted that the game was even something of an end of an era off the field.

The next year, Al Davis won an antitrust suit to move the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles and the players went on strike, ushering in a decade of court fights, strikes and franchise shifts that eroded the image the NFL and left the league virtually stagnant for a decade.

Now that the league has labor peace for virtually the rest of this decade, maybe this game will usher in a new era in which the league can work together with the players and make positive strides.

The Tennell factor

The Cowboys signed tight end Derek Tennell at the end of the season, and he caught the first touchdown pass in the team's 34-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

But having Tennell on the roster may not be a good omen for a championship game.

In 1987 and 1989, he was with the Cleveland Browns when they lost the AFC title game. In 1990, he was cut by the 49ers, who lost the NFC title game.

Last year, he was with the Detroit Lions. Yes, they lost the NFC title game to the Redskins.

The coaching derby

There'll be one consolation today in defeat for either Mike Shanahan, the offensive coordinator of the 49ers, or Dave Wannstedt, the defensive coordinator of the Cowboys.

One of them will lose and be available to start interviewing for head coaching jobs. Shanahan's the favorite in Denver, and Wannstedt is expected to get the New York Giants' job, although the Chicago Bears are also interested in him.

Assuming that Wannstedt passes on the Bears, Richie Petitbon, the Redskins defensive coordinator, hopes he has a shot at that job. He was contacted by the Bears last week, but Mike McCaskey, the team's owner, hasn't set up an interview.

It's somewhat ironic that in past years, the coaching jobs were filled while the Redskins were still in the playoffs. Now Petitbon is available, and he's waiting.

It turns out there won't be a vacancy in Phoenix, where owner Bill Bidwill decided to pass on Mike Ditka and will bring back Joe Bugel. The problem the Cardinals will have will be selling season tickets next year because the fans are impatient with Bugel. The Cardinals are likely to fall under the 20,000 figure.

Bugel apparently sold Bidwill on the idea the Cardinals can win in 1993 with the addition of a few free agents. This will be Bugel's last chance.

The other job open is in New England, where general manager Sam Jankovich resigned after firing coach Dick MacPherson.

Orthwein is supposedly interested in a big name such as Bill Parcells, Ditka or Buddy Ryan to sell some tickets until he can sell the team.

Orthwein heads the St. Louis expansion effort, but he seems to be caught in a quagmire in New England. If the NFL expands in the next year and awards St. Louis a team and then Orthwein can't sell, what happens next? He can't own two teams.

The NFL supposedly will give Orthwein a grace period to sell the team, but buyers aren't exactly lining up to take the team off his hands.

Remember, the Malcolm Glazer family, which wants to own an expansion team in Baltimore, took a long look at the Patriots' books last year and decided to pass on buying that team because it was in such bad financial shape. That looks like a good move because the Patriots situation isn't getting any better.

The award

Nobody was fooled when the Raiders announced last week that Marcus Allen and Terry McDaniel were co-winners of the team's MVP award. The players voted for Allen to thumb their nose at Davis, the team's owner who's been feuding with Allen for years, and management (Davis) then declared McDaniel a co-winner.

With free agency coming, players will pay attention to how a team treats its players. Davis went on CBS last week and said he's been contacted by many players interested in signing with the Raiders. But he then attacked Allen publicly.

Since Allen is one of the league's more popular players, this wasn't the best way for Davis to convince players to come to his team.

Expansion

You may have missed it, but a football league expanded last week. Unfortunately, it was the CFL, not the NFL.

The CFL decided to invade the United States and added a pair of former World League cities, Sacramento and San Antonio.

In the past, the CFL and NFL have had a sort of unwritten agreement that the CFL would stay out of the United States if the NFL stayed out of Canada.

But since the NFL hasn't expanded since 1976, the CFL isn't worried that the NFL is going to go into Canada any time soon.

If there were any bold thinkers in the NFL, the league could use this as an excuse for an eight-team expansion over an eight-year span -- two every two years -- for a 36-team league by the year 2000. It could add five American cities along with Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

The CFL isn't worried about this happening. Bold thinking went out of style in the NFL years ago.

The NFL will have enough problems simply adding two teams sometime in the next year or so.

The schedule

When the San Diego Chargers were blown out by the Miami Dolphins last week, general manager Bobby Beathard was asked what he'd say to people who said the team's fifth-place schedule was a factor in their success.

"I'd tell them to shove it. I don't like the question," he said.

A pair of victories over the Indianapolis Colts, compliments of the fifth-place schedule, were the difference between an 11-5 mark and a 9-7 record for the Chargers.

The byes

The two division champions that have byes in each conference in the system that was implemented three years ago seem to have built in a major advantage.

Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Buffalo Bills last week, the bye teams are 11-1 in their first playoff games the past three years.

Touchdown?

Stat to remember: Touchdown Tommy Vardell didn't score a touchdown for the Cleveland Browns last year. Defensive lineman James Jones did.

Vito Stellino's picks

The matchups -- Bills-Dolphins and 49ers-Cowboys -- certainly look good on paper, but don't be surprised if one of them is a dud on the field.

The only time since the 1970 merger that both conference title games were decided by a touchdown or less was in 1987 -- the year of the Earnest Byner fumble and the Darrin Nelson drop when the Broncos beat the Browns, 38-33, and the Redskins beat the Vikings, 17-10. So look for at least one of the games to be one-sided.

The other good bet is that the 49ers-Cowboys winner will win the Super Bowl. If the 49ers and Bills win, the hypemeisters will make much of the fact the Bills beat the 49ers in the regular season, 34-31. So what? The Bills also beat the Giants two years ago in the regular season, 17-13, and lost to them in the Super Bowl. The NFC owns the Super Bowl.

The thing about the Super Bowl is that the game doesn't matter, anyway. It's part of the winter holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and the Super Bowl. It's an excuse for a party.

Anyway, I had San Francisco and Buffalo in the Super Bowl, so I'll stick with them.

I'm on such a roll in the playoffs (7-1 and 6-1-1 against the spread) that I'll make one more pick for next year that I've been waiting nine years to make: By this time next year, Baltimore and St. Louis will be awarded expansion teams.

The NFL will try to drag it out as long as possible -- maybe even to October -- but it's running out of excuses not to go ahead and this time, even the delay helps Baltimore. If they go past July, think of the blimp shot over Camden Yards at the All-Star Game. Even the jaded NFL owners have to be impressed with that.

VITO'S PICK THE LINE

Bills 21, Dolphins 10 Bills by 2 1/2

Assuming the Bills win, Thurman Thomas will have two weeks to think of a place to put his helmet for safekeeping so he can find it before the first play of the Super Bowl.

49ers 27, Cowboys 21 49ers by 4

Wouldn't it be fitting for this game to be decided by a leaping catch by Jerry Rice in the back of the end zone with 51 seconds left?

Last week's record: 4-0. Against the spread: 3-1.

Playoff record: 7-1. Against the spread: 6-1-1.

Season record: 160-72. Against the spread: 114-112-6. Best bets: 28-37-3.

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