When Reggie White arrived at the Green Bay Packers' mini-camp Friday, you would have thought Paul Hornung had returned in his prime. White was mobbed by autograph seekers and photographers captured his every move.
"They were stretching this morning and there were 47 photographers around him," coach Mike Holmgren said. "I'm not sure they need all those pictures. It's an exciting thing. It's fun to have him."
White's signing of a $17 million contract and Joe Montana's trade from the San Francisco 49ers to the Kansas City Chiefs are the most talked about moves of the off-season.
Don't be surprised, though, if they don't have the biggest impact this fall. After all, White only played in one winning playoff game in Philadelphia and nobody knows if Montana can stay healthy after sitting out all but one half of one game the last two years.
If pro football people are right, the player who could have the most impact on a new team this season is rookie Garrison Hearst.
He could make the sad-sack Phoenix Cardinals a respectable team virtually all by himself.
"That guy will save Joe Bugel's job," said Ken Herock, the player personnel director of the Atlanta Falcons.
Bugel has a win-or-else ultimatum from owner Bill Bidwill and he needs Hearst to have a sensational start.
Although quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer went first and second in the draft, it takes quarterbacks time to develop. Hearst -- assuming he has no problem with his knee -- is the odds-on favorite to be rookie of the year.
Bob Ackles, the Cardinals scouting director who was fired by the Cowboys last year, is comparing Hearst to Emmitt Smith.
"Garrison doesn't look to me to be quite as strong as Emmitt is in the lower body, but he has much greater speed," Ackles said.
It won't take Hearst long to prove himself.
The Cardinals start the year in Philadelphia and then play at Washington and at home against Dallas on Sunday night on TNT.
It's the only national TV game for the Cardinals, who don't play on Monday night this year. That could be a good sign for Hearst. When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Franco Harris in 1972, they didn't appear on Monday night that year because they had been 6-8 the previous season. They went to the AFC title game.
The Tube Game
If the ESPN draft show was any indication, the ratings for NFL games might be up this year.
There had been concern that the ratings for the draft might decrease this year because of interest in the free-agent derby.
Instead, the show got its best rating -- 4.2 (the percentage of TV households watching a program). Last year, it got a 3.5 and it averaged 3.7 in the previous five years since it was moved to Sunday. All the free-agent movement may have whetted the fans' appetites.
If ratings improve during the season, negotiations over a new TV contract for 1994 are likely to be long and bitter.
The networks insist they're losing money on the big NFL contract and want to roll back the numbers or at least try the innovative profit-sharing concept that NBC negotiated with the NBA last week.
The NFL owners, though, don't like that word "sharing" and aren't likely to go for that idea.
In the expansion derby, the NFL has an unusual definition of the word "voluntary." For the NFL, voluntary means something like: "You'd better do it or else."
For example, it was supposed to be voluntary for cities to hold a preseason game. But there was sniping at Baltimore when it was the only expansion contender not to hold one, so Baltimore was virtually forced to play host to one last August.
Now the NFL is back with a "voluntary" sky-box and club-seat ticket-selling campaign.
Charlotte needs to sell them for its stadium financing plan, and it's supposed to be "voluntary" for the other cities.
Herbert Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said an official decision on whether Baltimore will participate will be made this week when he meets with the city's expansion committee. But it's a foregone conclusion that Baltimore will go along. After all, when the NFL says "voluntary," it really means mandatory.
Although this is mainly a corporate campaign except for the club seats, Belgrad expects the enthusiasm for the NFL in Baltimore to make the campaign the same success the preseason game was.
"I can't even describe the strong feelings in this community for getting an NFL team," Belgrad said. "Everywhere I go, I get bombarded with questions about our chances for a team. It's not just the older fans who remember the Colts. It's across the board, including the young fans."
On Wednesday, it'll be two months since Joe Gibbs resigned as coach of the Redskins. On Friday, the team will open its first mini-camp without him since 1980.
But Gibbs isn't exactly relaxing since his departure. He's been busy following his NASCAR team and, giving motivational speeches. Gibbs also visited his son, Coy, at Stanford over Easter.
Last week, Gibbs, who never showed much interest in politics while he was coaching, was even roaming the halls of Congress as a lobbyist with five NASCAR drivers. The racing industry is lobbying against the provision in President Clinton's economic program that would cut the tax deduction for business-related entertainment and meal expenses from 80 to 50 percent.
Meanwhile, Gibbs is waiting to find out if one of the TV networks wants to use him as an analyst. The networks' first priority was bidding for colorful former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka. Now that Ditka has signed with NBC, Gibbs should be next.
"When you're a down-the-line draft choice, you've got to wait your turn," Gibbs said jokingly.
One problem with Gibbs is that he wants to be free on Saturdays so he can watch Coy play at Stanford this fall.
So far, the only network to audition Gibbs is ESPN, where he could be teamed with his former quarterback, Joe Theismann.
Theismann has criticized the Redskins at times, and Gibbs said jokingly, "We'd be perfect. I'd be kidding Joe that if they want conflict, we'd probably have it."
Why teams don't repeat
The Cowboys are starting to find out why it's so hard to stay on top.
Their top two players, Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman, are both publicly unhappy with their contracts.
Smith, whose contract has expired, wants Reggie White money. If he doesn't get the long-term contract he likes, he's emphatic that he'll leave when he becomes a free agent.
"I'm not going to argue with them. I'll try to get a short-term and get on out of here," he said.
Aikman said he wants to renegotiate his six-year contract before the start of this season. If the Cowboys don't do it, he says he'll play it out and become a free agent after the 1994 season, when the six-year deal expires.
Aikman said if the Cowboys say it's "just business," that they don't renegotiate, he'll reply, "It's also 'just business' on my part to say that leaving as a free agent could make me a couple of million dollars."
Owner Jerry Jones said the Cowboys' policy is not to renegotiate until the final year of a contract.
Jones' problem is that he can't name both Smith and Aikman franchise players. He needs to get one signed to a long-term deal and then he can protect the other one.
Incidentally, if Aikman is free after the 1994 season, there'll be a couple of expansion teams looking for quarterbacks for the 1995 season.