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Autumn in Detroit: Lions aren't winning, but Fontes isn't losing his job


It's almost as much a tradition in the fall in Detroit as the introduction of the new model year for cars: Wayne Fontes is once again on the hot seat.

In his first seven seasons as Detroit Lions coach, Fontes was the definition of mediocrity. He was 52-53.

Each time he has seemed on the verge of losing his job, he has managed to rally the team. He took Detroit to the playoffs three times, though the Lions posted only one playoff victory in those years.

Last year, he got a two-year contract extension when the Lions rebounded from a 2-4 start to make the playoffs.

This year, the Lions started 0-3, and with games with the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers ahead, there's a good chance they'll be 0-6.

Fontes says he knows he's in trouble.

"I'm like that big buck that's in the field. They're trying to hunt him down, trying to shoot him. I just keep dodging those bullets. Everybody wants my rack on the wall," he said.

The one thing he's got going for him is that owner William Clay Ford has been patient in the past.

His son, Bill Ford Jr., is taking a more active role in the club, but said it's still "Dad's call."

He also said that firing the coach now would be tantamount to giving up on the season.

"I think firing a head coach when your team still has most of its season in front of you is sending the signal you're giving up. And we are not even close to giving up on this season," Bill Ford said.

Sanders speaks out

It was only a matter of time before Deion Sanders responded to Jerry Rice's comment that he got too much credit for the team's Super Bowl victory last year.

Sanders also denied he had a well-documented blowup with Rice during a team meeting a couple of nights before the Super Bowl.

Rice complained at the meeting that some players weren't taking the game seriously enough after Sanders and some other players missed curfew. Sanders got up and said it was no big deal.

Whether that constitutes a blowup is a matter of interpretation, but Rice was certainly unhappy.

In any case, Sanders said: "To insinuate we had an altercation. . . . We didn't have one. If we had one, I'd remember it."

The contract

On paper, Sanders got a seven-year, $35 million deal that voids after five years to $25 million. But don't be surprised if it turns out to be a three-year deal.

Sanders got a signing bonus of $12.999 million plus the minimum salary of $178,000 for three years.

The last four years, he's supposed to get $5.2 million, $6.25 million, $5 million and $5 million, but those could turn out to be artificial figures to stretch the contract over seven years for salary-cap purposes.

Owner Jerry Jones probably will waive Sanders after June 1, 1998, to eliminate his $5.2 million base salary. He would have to count only his pro-rated bonus of $1.855 million against the 1998 cap. The rest of the bonus -- $5.565 million -- would then accelerate into the 1999 season.

Unless the players and owners reach a new labor deal, there will be no cap in 1999. That means Jones would pay Sanders about $13.5 million for three years and count only a little more than half of it against his cap from 1995 to 1998.

It has the makings of a slick deal that will get Sanders in uniform for three years without the Cowboys taking a major hit against the cap.

Running out the clock

Eagles coach Ray Rhodes got a lot of flak when he decided to run out the last 1:11 of the first half of the San Diego game after Junior Seau returned a Calvin Williams fumble 24 yards for a touchdown to give the Chargers a 17-14 lead.

It was the kind of conservative play that annoyed Eagles fans when Rich Kotite was coach.

But Rhodes said it was appropriate under the situation.

"If this was a championship-caliber team, with guys who have been together for a number of years, that understood this sys

tem and have a great feel for the system, then you can do some things. . . . This is our first year. We don't have a lot of continuity as far as a group of guys playing together a long time. I sensed that we were rattled a little bit at that time and I wanted to get in and regroup," he said.

It didn't help. The Eagles still lost, 27-21.

LT's pep talk

Lawrence Taylor gave the Giants a pep talk last week and wound up making the back pages of the New York tabloids when a reporter cursed Taylor for refusing to talk to media members.

Taylor, 6 feet 3, 245 pounds, briefly grabbed the throat of 5-5, 162-pound reporter Ernie Palladino before they were pulled apart by other reporters.

The two later reconciled. Taylor gave the writer the jacket he got for making the All-Madden Team in 1993. "Take it, you're crazier than I am," Taylor said. The two then shook hands.

Oh, yes, John Madden said the reporter now qualifies for the All-Madden Team.

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