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Cleveland could be McMahon's final fling

It was only a one-year phenomenon, but it was a year that will be remembered a long time.

Ten years ago this fall, the Chicago Bears took the NFL and America by storm. There have been better teams -- although their 18-1 record put them in the top echelon -- but maybe none as colorful.

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There was the Super Bowl shuffle and the Fridge, and Walter Payton and Mike Ditka barely tolerating Buddy Ryan on the sidelines.

Then there was the ringleader of it all, the punky, outspoken quarterback, Jim McMahon, who set the tone for that rowdy band.

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When the league ruled he couldn't wear a shoe company's headband, he wore one with the name "Rozelle" for commissioner Pete Rozelle, who jokingly said he hadn't had time to get his new shoe line out.

Alas, those times didn't last -- mainly because McMahon kept getting hurt. Last year, Ryan signed him again in Arizona, but he played in only two games.

Ryan lost interest, and when all the teams passed on McMahon as a free agent it seemed he was at the end of the line. After all, he'll become an old 36 next week and has never played an entire 16-game season.

It turns out, though, that the McMahon mystique is still alive and well. The Cleveland Browns signed him last week to back up Vinny Testaverde.

There's no doubt the Browns could use a veteran backup at playoff time. After all, they are in a division with an expansion team (Jacksonville), a 3-13 team (Cincinnati) and a 2-14 team (Houston).

There's a lot of doubt, though, that Testaverde can get it done in the playoffs. He bombed against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs last year.

It's difficult to understand why Cleveland thinks McMahon can make a difference. He hasn't done much since that fabled 1985 season.

He still talks a good game, though. "Once I pick up the offense, I won't fear anybody out there," he said.

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Coach Bill Belichick said that Testaverde, who was hospitalized last week with an allergic reaction to a medical treatment, is "absolutely" No. 1, although McMahon will get a chance to compete for the starting job. Testaverde will remain in the hospital after surgery on Thursday for a staph infection.

Speaking out

Quarterback Randall Cunningham tried not to knock former Eagles coach Rich Kotite before last night's game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Jets in Jackson, Miss.

He even declined to do a conference call with Jets reporters.

In Philadelphia, he also tried to bite his tongue when he was asked about the coach who benched him last year. He said such things as, "I don't have anything against Coach Kotite . . . . I'm not trying to start anything . . . . I don't want to talk about Richie."

Cunningham did manage to say just enough to get his point across.

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"The focus was different last year. There was a lot of disrespect on our team from player to player," he said.

In talking about current coach Ray Rhodes, he said, "Ray doesn't play favorites . . . . People respect each other. There's a mutual respect all the way around. It's because of the change in our coaching staff."

Kotite, who was hired to coach the Jets after being fired by the Eagles, wouldn't respond.

"I never look back . . . . I'm not going to respond to statements . . . . It was never personal with me. Never," Kotite said.

Missing Sharpe?

Don't tell quarterback Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers that the team is supposed to be missing wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, who is sitting out the season with a neck injury and will be an ESPN commentator.

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"I haven't noticed him gone because he never practiced or played in preseason games anyway," Favre said. "Sterling averaged 100 catches the last few years, but think back. He never really had to make any acrobatic catches or diving layouts. Our offense is designed to get him open and, of course, for me to make a great throw."

Sharpe was released by the Packers when he refused to take a pay cut, so if he can return in 1996 he probably won't be going back to Green Bay.

The outspoken Favre also isn't happy with tight end Keith Jackson, who's refusing to report to camp after being traded to Green Bay by the Miami Dolphins.

"I would suspect he doesn't want to go to training camp and he'll pick up the offense by midseason when we've maybe lost two games because of it. That doesn't make me real happy," Favre said.

Troubled times

NFL players aren't living up to the image of those United Way commercials in recent weeks.

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Just last week, two players, Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Larry Webster of Maryland and linebacker Jamir Miller of Arizona, were suspended for six and four games, respectively, for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Also, Atlanta suspended cornerback Anthony Phillips for one game after he was arrested on a drunken driving charge.

In addition, several New Orleans Saints players are being investigated on a gang rape allegation at training camp while quarterback Warren Moon of the Minnesota Vikings is charged with assaulting his wife and Seattle wide receiver Brian Blades faces a manslaughter charge in the shooting death of a cousin.

The Deion Watch

After Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, said his team had a 20 percent chance of signing Deion Sanders, Pat Bowlen, the owner of the Denver Broncos, said, "I think our chances of signing Deion are every bit as good as the Cowboys'. I really do."

The San Francisco 49ers remain the favorite to get Sanders, though.


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