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QB Brown will produce or take seat, Giants say

When Jim Fassel was named coach of the New York Giants, he quickly named Dave Brown his starting quarterback.

Fassel said he didn't want a repeat of the team's controversy in 1991, when new coach Ray Handley vacillated between Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler.

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"That's the lesson I learned. As a head coach, you have to be decisive and they have to be well-thought-out decisions," he said.

Despite all that, Fassel actually answered the question when asked what it would take for him to bench Brown for Danny Kanell.

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Coaches usually try to duck hypothetical questions, but Fassel plunged right in.

"If Dave were holding us back, that's what it would take," he said. "It would take our offense playing well, but Dave is not. We're going down the field, and have opportunity after opportunity to score, but we're not scoring and it's his fault."

Fassel added, "But if we aren't playing well and he's just part of that, then what good does it do to throw somebody new into the mess and open up another can of worms?"

Brown has been the most controversial player on the Giants team the past two years. He not only didn't play well, but was a focal point of the rift between coach Dan Reeves and general manager George Young.

Reeves made it obvious he didn't think Brown could play. Young was -- and still is -- a Brown booster.

"All the things that are being said now about Dave Brown were being said about Phil Simms early in his career," Young said.

Well, not exactly. Simms' problem was that he couldn't stay healthy early in his career. Brown has stayed healthy, but has been so erratic that opponents have consistently played eight-man fronts to stop the run, knowing Brown couldn't beat them.

Brown's attitude hasn't helped, either. Quarterbacks get the big bucks and are supposed to take the responsibility. Brown likes to pass it around.

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He said after one loss last year: "I'm the first to admit that I didn't play well. But that could be said for a lot of guys on this team."

Now Brown gets a fresh start with Fassel. "I feel more confidence in the personnel as far as the way they are being coached," the quarterback said. "We have an offense that allows guys to free lance and allows guys to use their athletic ability. In that regard, it will help me and our offense."

But he must produce -- starting with the preseason game against the Ravens on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.

Even Young said last week: "I don't care who plays quarterback as long as the team succeeds. Dave knows he has to produce on the field. He's working on it."

Brown, too, said this is his make-or-break season.

"When you have two losing seasons in a row, there are not many more chances," he said.

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Rift on the Jets

Wayne Chrebet, a free-agent overachiever from Hofstra who made it big with the New York Jets the past two years, has been one of the team's most popular players. Fans tend to like overachievers.

Now he's more popular than ever since top draft pick Keyshawn Johnson trashed Chrebet in his book, "Just Give Me The Damn Ball!" Chrebet gets cheered on the practice field and Johnson gets jeered when he drops a ball.

Chrebet, who hasn't spoken to Johnson since the book came out, said of the fans' support: "Hometown story still. They don't forget that. They know I try to give them something to cheer."

Of the jeers, Johnson said: "That's funny to me. It's a joke."

He also brushes off the controversy about his book. "It's a dead issue with me and it's a dead issue with my coaching staff and that's what's important," he said.

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"None of my teammates talks to me. I'm a loner. My job is on the football field. None of these guys have any relationship with me off the field."

Chrebet certainly doesn't.

Asked if he's surprised Johnson hasn't approached him, he said: "I don't think about it. I'm just trying to play ball right now. It doesn't matter. It doesn't affect me the least bit."

Sentiment

When the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Chicago Bears on Fox today in the first NFL game to be played in Dublin, Ireland, it's a sign that sentiment isn't dead in sports yet.

The game is the idea of Steelers president Dan Rooney, who wanted to bring the game to his ancestral homeland even though the NFL is picking up only about half the expenses and it's not likely to draw a big crowd.

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"We're not going to make money on the game, but that's not the point," Rooney said.

Although some teams don't like foreign trips, Rooney says they're a bonding experience.

"This trip gives us a chance to bring us all together as a team. The players bring their wives with them, and we're all jelling as a unit. That's all a plus for us," he said.

The Steelers also have to hope that Kordell Stewart jells in his debut as starting quarterback.

The signing game

The Darrell Russell signing by the Oakland Raiders last week shows the key to getting a high first-round pick signed is to give the agent something to brag about.

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When Russell signed a seven-year, $22 million deal, his agent trumpeted it as the richest rookie deal ever. But the seventh year at $4.5 million isn't guaranteed, so it remains to be seen whether Russell will ever earn $22 million. The contract is really a five-year deal that's voidable after three, but it looks good on paper.

With a $1.8 million salary cap number, the biggest signing bonus Russell could have gotten was $6 million and it wouldn't have looked as good on paper.

It remains to be seen if the Russell deal will start a rash of deals with no signing bonuses and a lot of guarantees.

The Rams have offered top pick Orlando Pace a deal without a signing bonus. Since they have $1.88 million left under the rookie cap, the most they can offer is a $6.2 million signing bonus.

Complicating the situation at the top of the first round is the fact that Seattle has the third and sixth picks. Last year, those two picks got a combined total of $3.6 million in salary cap money.

Seattle has only $3.1 million left this year and has offered a salary cap figure of $1.7 million to Shawn Springs and $1.4 million to Walter Jones. Both offers have been rejected.

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The Ravens have $1.819 million under their rookie cap, so the highest signing bonus they can offer is $6.06 million to Peter Boulware.

But the key in the end may be to give the agent something to hang his hat on.

The Russell deal was reminiscent of the Heath Shuler holdout. In 1994 he missed 13 days because his agent, Tom Condon, wanted to top the $5 million signing bonus given to Marshall Faulk.

When Condon finally gave in and accepted $5 million, Shuler lost 13 days in camp and eventually lost the job to Gus Frerotte.

The oddity is that Shuler didn't even get the best deal that year. He got $8.5 million for three. Trent Dilfer, who got a $4.5 million signing bonus, wound up making $9 million the first three years because he had $1.5 million in playing time incentives. The deal didn't look as good as Shuler's on paper, but it was better in Dilfer's wallet.

Retirement

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Linebacker Trev Alberts of the Indianapolis Colts finally got to do last week what he wanted to do in the first place -- retire.

He wanted to retire in the off-season because he has been injured so often. But the Colts wanted part of his original signing bonus back, so he reported to camp and promptly hurt his shoulder again.

That meant the Colts were on the hook for his $875,000 base salary for this year because he was hurt after passing the physical.

Alberts could have fought the Colts for the $875,000, but he decided simply to quit and forgo it.

The Colts could have avoided all this hassle by letting him retire in the first place.

The selling game

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The Tennessee Oilers have hired Pepper Rodgers, who led Memphis' failed bid to get an expansion team, to try to spark ticket sales.

Since the team is moving to Nashville in two years when a new stadium is completed and Memphis failed to get an expansion team, tickets are a tough sell.

It didn't help that the Oilers had a problem with their phones in the Memphis office for two weeks. The calls were kicking over to the Nashville office.

"It didn't go well, but we're up and running, and I think things will pick up as we go along," said owner Bud Adams.

Pub Date: 7/27/97


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