Oilers' Pardee, Gilbride have developed life-and-death game plans in own lives

Houston Oilers coach Jack Pardee and his offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride, know firsthand what it's like to deal with life-and-death issues.

Both have overcome battles with cancer.


Pardee was 27 and a player with the Los Angeles Rams when he discovered that a black mole on his back was malignant.

"At one time, I was told I might have two weeks to live. My first thought was, 'How am I going to live those two weeks?' All of us need to remember to treasure life because it's so fragile and none of us know how much we have left," he said.


Gilbride had surgery for kidney cancer last year.

"The cancer clarified feelings I've always had, but sometimes drifted away from -- that my family is No. 1 in my life," Gilbride said. "It's so easy in this business to get sidetracked, though. Every moment I can spend with them is precious."

Pardee and Gilbride found themselves dealing with life-and-death issues again last week when one of their players, Jeff Alm, committed suicide after his friend, Sean Lynch, was killed after Alm's car hit a guardrail.

Pardee and his staff had to get the Oilers ready for their biggest game of the year today in Pittsburgh despite the trauma of the situation. Even though football doesn't seem very important at a time like this, the team has won eight straight and could clinch a division title with a victory.

Pardee brought a preacher in to help the players cope.

Punter Greg Montgomery, who was Alm's closest friend on the team, said: "Somehow, we have to find a way to channel this sadness into a positive note. No one would be happier than Jeff to be able to look down and watch us kick Pittsburgh's butt."

Running back Spencer Tillman said: "I don't meant to sound callous or insensitive, but somehow we have to find a way to keep our focus. We can't let this overwhelm us."

Cornerback Darryl Lewis said: "It's so sad. It makes you realize this is real life, not just a game. Real life, real careers."


Linebacker Al Smith said: "You can't say we will make something positive out of this, because it's such a tragedy. I'm sick to my stomach right now. The nature of this business is to move on, but after something like this, it's hard to do."

Money talks

From the network of Edward R. Murrow to the network of Bart Simpson.

That's the road the NFL took Friday when CBS decided it was tired of losing money on the NFL and decided not to match the bid made by the Fox Network for the NFC package.

CBS then bid for the AFC package, held by NBC, but if NBC matches the bid tomorrow to keep it, the CBS-NFL association will end.

That would mean that unless Fox can sign him, John Madden won't be passing out turkey legs on Thanksgiving next year.


By taking the Fox bid, the NFL also was willing to accept lower ratings to get the money because most Fox stations are on UHF channels.

Fox, run by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, is willing to lose the money to promote the network. CBS decided it wasn't worth losing millions to keep the NFC package.

It also signals a change in strategy for the NFL, which resulted in Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell getting booted off the TV committee.

Modell and former commissioner Pete Rozelle believed the NFL should be partners with the networks and that both sides should make money.

That's why when the networks started losing money on the current contract, Modell and commissioner Paul Tagliabue negotiated a rebate for the networks last year.

Each team was going to accept a reduction from $40 million to $32 million this year in exchange for a two-year extension at $32 million a year per team.


Tagliabue, though, doesn't have the clout that Rozelle did. He couldn't persuade 21 owners to go for the idea. The result was that Tagliabue dumped Modell and put Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen on the TV committee.

They were determined to keep the money at the 1993 figure of $40 million per team, although the old package averaged $32 million per team. The Fox bid enabled them to stay at $40 million.

The CBS-NFL connection goes back a long way. The league's first single network agreement to televise all games was with CBS in 1962 for a total of $4.65 million a year.

Two years later, CBS bid $14.1 million a year -- $1 million per team.

When the NFL merged with the AFL in 1970, CBS got the more lucrative NFC package with the bigger markets.

The rights fees eventually became so high that Laurence Tisch, the head of CBS, decided it wasn't worth the prestige of televising the NFL to lose money, even though his brother, Robert, is the co-owner of the New York Giants.


Now it's up to NBC to decide whether it's worth losing money to keep the AFC package. The strange thing is that NBC has complained the most about losing money on the NFL. But it may now decide it's worth it to knock CBS out of the NFL.

Fox runs up salary cap, too

The new contract is a boon to NFL players because they get most of the TV revenue under the salary cap. They get 64 percent of the gross revenues, which amounts to just about what the TV contract is.

That means each team will have about $40 million to spend on players next year. Once the benefits package of almost $5 million is subtracted, each team will have slightly more than $35 million to spend on players. There had been much speculation the number would be around $30 million.

That means the bidding will be higher for the top free agents.

However, this number is built on the fact that Fox is willing to lose money on the deal. If the network decides at the end of the contract it doesn't want to keep losing money, the price will go down.


What a bore

Although the TV ratings stayed strong despite the number of boring games in the NFL this year, it'll be interesting to see whether the league will take any action in the off-season to put more excitement into the game in light of the new contracts.

Since putting games on Fox means an automatic loss in ratings, the league may decide it's time to solve some of the on-field problems.

How boring has the game become?

The TV cameras caught Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants apparently sleeping on the bench during the team's 20-6 victory over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday.

Colts games will do that to you.


Taylor first tried to say he was just going over a few plays in his mind with his eyes closed, but finally said: "Even if I was asleep, so what? Who cares?"

Counting the fans

Although the NFL is quick to point out it may set an attendance record this year, it drew only 29,794 last week in New England, 38,161 at the Los Angeles Coliseum and 39,393 in Phoenix.

The Raiders' Nolan Harrison said: "Where is everybody? We'd be shocked if we ever sold out a game on our own instead of depending on who our opponent is. Heaven forbid they should come out just to watch us."

Don't flaunt that taunt

Did you know there's a penalty for team taunting?


The Broncos found that out last Sunday when several players converged on the Kansas City Chiefs' Harvey Williams 2 yards deep in the end zone. Denver was called for a 15-yard penalty for team taunting.

"I guess in the NFL you're not allowed to talk to people anymore," said Reggie Rivers. "We wanted to create an image of being aggressive, so we yelled at him to take the ball out. I thought the penalty was ridiculous."

Job fair

When Larry Wilson resigned as general manager of the Phoenix Cardinals last week, it was a signal that Joe Bugel will be out as head coach at the end of the year. The loss to the Detroit Lions sealed his fate.

Owner Bill Bidwill may let the new general manager send him packing.

One of the candidates for the job being mentioned in Phoenix is Ernie Accorsi, whose stint with the Maryland Stadium Authority will be over at the end of the year.


Accorsi said he was flattered to be mentioned, but he said he hasn't been contacted by the Cardinals.

The Lions' Wayne Fontes has to be a bit nervous. After offensive tackle Lomas Brown said owner Bill Ford told him Fontes has to win the division title to save his job, Ford denied he had given such an edict.

But when he was asked if Fontes' job was safe, he said: "I can't answer that right now. My gut feeling is that Fontes' job is safe."


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one loss away from becoming the first team to lose 10 or more games 11 years in a row, but coach Sam Wyche was almost giddy after the team beat the Chicago Bears last Sunday.

"We're not going to be in the playoffs this year. We will next year. I might as well say I'll guarantee it, because even if we don't, all you can say is, 'I screwed up' or 'You lied to me,' " Wyche said.


The players were a bit more cautious after the victory.

"We have a tendency to make some progress and take a step back," Reggie Cobb said.