Rice and Sanders, one-on-one, begins with words from 49ers' side


Steve Young doesn't think the rivalry between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys can get any bigger than it was last year.

After all, the two teams have met for three straight years in the NFC title game and the winner has gone on to win the Super Bowl each time.

"I don't know how much more you can increase it," Young said last week.

It may not be possible, but Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys' owner, is doing his best to add more hype to the Nov. 12 regular-season meeting between the two teams.

His acquisition of Deion Sanders for a $12.9 million signing bonus sets up a one-on-one match for the ages in that game -- Sanders vs. Jerry Rice.

It matches the game's best receiver and the game's best cover cornerback. But a real rivalry needs something more than two great players. It needs some animosity.

Rice is providing that.

It's no secret that Rice, who is all business, doesn't like Sanders' flashy ways. The two had a blowup at the Super Bowl last year when Rice was unhappy that Sanders and a few other players stayed out late the week of the game.

Rice tolerated Sanders when they were teammates last year, but he lashed out last Sunday at reporters who kept asking him about Sanders' signing with Dallas and what it would mean to the 49ers.

"No one individual wins the Super Bowl. You guys made this thing into a circus. It was an insult what you wrote, and I want you to know it," he shouted in a series of expletive-filled comments.

The tirade didn't end until a 49ers aide pulled him away from reporters.

The next day, Rice had calmed down. "If anything I regret, it's the language that I used. But I felt like it was the appropriate thing to say," he said.

His teammates agreed with him. "He spoke for all of us when he said that," fullback William Floyd said.

The 49ers have a goal of showing they can win without Sanders.

But it's Rice who will go one-on-one with Sanders.

The last time the two met was in 1993, when Sanders was with the Atlanta Falcons. Rice caught six passes, and Sanders picked off a pass.

Where's the fever?

The city of Charlotte, N.C., did a textbook selling job during the expansion race in 1993. It sold the idea that its fans would come from both Carolinas. It bragged it had a fan base of 10 million in the two states.

The NFL bought that line, even though the Carolinas have been noted for having more fervor for basketball than football.

It turns out NFL fever is lukewarm in the Carolinas.

The Panthers play their first regular-season home game in Clemson, S.C., today and are expected to draw about 60,000 in a stadium that seats 76,000. The fans don't appear to want to make the three-hour drive from Charlotte to Clemson.

So they'll watch on TV, right? Wrong.

The home games will be blacked out because they're not sold out, but the first road game drew only a 19 rating (percentage of TV sets tuned in). The second game dropped to a 14.5 rating with a 34 share.

To make some comparisons, Dallas had a 39.8 rating and a 63 share last week, Denver had a 28.6 rating and a 55 share and Washington a 29.1 rating and a 61 share.

Even in Baltimore, there's as much interest as there is in Carolina. The Redskins-Raiders rating in Baltimore virtually matched the Panthers' rating in Charlotte. It got a 14.0 rating and a 34 share. The Dallas-Denver game topped it in Baltimore with a 15.2 rating and a 31 share.

Panthers officials are stunned by the apathy.

"We're disappointed," team president Mike McCormack said. "We've done everything in our power -- from advertising to promotions -- to increase support to have sellouts in Clemson. It just hasn't happened."

The Panthers hope to sell out their new stadium next year in Charlotte. But playing in Charlotte isn't likely to increase the TV ratings.

Stadium games

It's a new day in Tampa Bay.

At least that's the slogan dreamed up by Baltimore ad man Bob Leffler, and it appears to be true. The first Tampa game of the Malcolm Glazer regime today is a sellout. Even the TV ratings last week -- 24.0 with a 44 share -- topped Carolina's despite all the years of losing.

But selling out is no longer enough. Glazer is going to lose $15 million this year and needs a new stadium to stop losing money.

His chances of getting one were jolted last week when Tampa voters rejected a 1 percent sales tax increase -- half for education and half for public safety -- by a lopsided margin.

The politicians quickly said that if voters were going to turn down taxes for education, they couldn't provide public money for a stadium.

"The priority isn't the stadium at this point," said Hillsborough County Commission chairman Jim Norman.

Joel Glazer said the family has no intention of moving and is willing to work with local officials on a stadium solution.

In another development, Cowboys owner Jones said that some teams are looking at Baltimore's stadium funding -- which may be pulled next year -- but he didn't identify them.

Jones, who'll be questioned at an owners meeting Tuesday in Atlanta about the deals he has made with Nike and Pepsi, defended himself against criticism that he's a maverick by saying he's not like the owners trying to move their teams.

"I know and you know that there are clubs right now that are looking at Baltimore and Los Angeles. I wouldn't doubt that some of the criticism that I have read is being made from a phone booth in the city where someone is planning to move," Jones said.

On the bench

When ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. criticized the Indianapolis Colts for taking linebacker Trev Alberts over quarterback Trent Dilfer in the draft a year ago, Colts general manager Bill Tobin responded, "Who is Mel Kiper?" He also suggested that Kiper was prejudiced against the Colts because he's from Baltimore.

A year later, Dilfer is starting for Tampa Bay and Alberts, moved to defensive end, has been benched.

"It's good for the team because I'm flat-out not playing worth a darn right now," Alberts said.

Turf wars

Of the 440 players who have changed teams in free agency, 247 (56) percent signed with teams that play on grass fields.

The NFL Players Association believes those figures may influence teams to get rid of artificial turf.

Clark Gaines of the NFLPA said: "Players believe they play longer on grass. Free agency is a statement."

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