Dolphins' Johnson 0-1 in mind games NFL Week 2

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Coaching a football team obviously isn't challenging enough to keep Jimmy Johnson's fertile mind occupied.

A psychology major in college, the Miami Dolphins coach likes to break up the monotony by playing mind games. In 1993, he guaranteed the Dallas Cowboys' NFC title victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

He was up to his old tricks last week after Dan Marino's lackluster performance in the opener against the Indianapolis Colts when he said that the thought of benching Marino for Craig Erickson has "crossed my mind." Bench Marino?

"It crossed my mind," Johnson said, "but I just didn't think the situation [against the Colts] dictated it."

After that made headlines and became talk-show fodder, he said his comments were no big deal.

"Don't make more of it than what it really is," Johnson said. "It was an honest comment. What did Jack Nicholson say, 'You can't take the truth,' all right?"

As usual, Johnson has his own version of things. Nicholson's actual words in the movie, "A Few Good Men," were, "You can't handle the truth."

Johnson also denied he was trying to get Marino to play better.

"I heard comments that I did it for motivation. Please. You don't need to motivate Dan Marino," he said.

Marino then met with Johnson and tried to downplay it all.

"The media, especially here in this case, will blow things out of proportion. Coach Johnson said one thing and the next thing you know, it's big news. I'm not going to worry about it," Marino said.

As if it's not big news when Johnson talks about benching Marino.

Johnson is too calculating and savvy not to know exactly what he was doing.

Maybe he was setting the stage for yanking Marino in the second half of a poor performance. He said Marino would remain the starter even if he's yanked against Tennessee today.

But Johnson is treading in dangerous water if he's thinking about benching Marino indefinitely. Fans don't like it when they think their heroes are yanked prematurely.

Remember the uproar in Baltimore when Johnny Unitas was benched in 1972? It still seems like yesterday. Or the firestorm when Bernie Kosar was benched in Cleveland in 1993?

Maybe Johnson's psychology books never addressed the issue of quarterback controversies.

The next Rice?

Now that Jerry Rice is injured, Carl Pickens of the Cincinnati Bengals may be ready to become the league's most-feared receiver.

"I take everything from Jerry," he said before Rice was injured. "He's the best. But I don't want to be like Jerry. I want to be better than Jerry."

Pickens, who will face the Ravens today, caught 37 touchdown passes from Jeff Blake from 1994 to 1996 -- one more than Rice in the same span -- but he keeps a low profile.

"I'm a very moody person," he told a Cincinnati reporter last month. "I have close friends, but not a lot. And I don't need for you to know me."

He says the game is easy as long as a player follows a straight-and-narrow path.

"But you have some guys that would rather go to a club, get in a fight, bring girls to hotel rooms," he said.

By contrast, Pickens lives during the off-season in the basement the home he built for his parents in Murphy, N.C.

"People there are real," he said. "You can get caught up in this lifestyle. Fancy suits, fast cars, big houses. There's nothing like that in Murphy. My parents have been married 29 years. They've kept me levelheaded. I know to this day that if I screw up, my dad would be right in my face."

The zebras

The officials got off to a rocky start the first week of the season with two games virtually turning on questionable calls.

Besides the ruling that Michael Jackson didn't catch the pass at the end of the Ravens-Jacksonville Jaguars game, there was a questionable third-down, pass-interference call on the Carolina Panthers' Tyrone Poole against the Washington Redskins' Alvin Harper in the fourth quarter.

Not only was the ball overthrown, but Harper also appeared to jostle Poole. The call enabled the Redskins to drive for the touchdown that broke a 10-10 tie.

Then, there was the 49ers-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game. When Warren Sapp dragged down Rice by his face mask, rookie referee Phil Luckett made the sign for a standard face-mask penalty. After seeing that it was Rice on the ground, Luckett changed the call to a major face-mask personal foul. That's an example of how officials are affected by the players involved in a play.

On top of that, twice in the game, quarterbacks got belted after officials failed to stop action on a false start or a delay of game. On one of those hits, backup Jeff Brohm was injured, which is why the 49ers will start rookie Jim Druckenmiller today.

In the Kansas City Chiefs-Denver Broncos game, referee Ed Hochuli didn't throw a flag when safety Jerome Woods knocked the wind out of John Elway.

The league fined Woods $7,500 despite the non-call.

Slow starts

The 15 teams that lost their openers face critical games this weekend.

Last year, 10 teams started 0-2 and only one, the New England Patriots, made the playoffs. It was the third straight year and the fifth time in the past six that only one 0-2 team went on to make the playoffs.

Tale of two cities

When Baltimore and St. Louis were vying for expansion teams, the rap against St. Louis was that it didn't have the PTC football tradition Baltimore did.

The St. Louis partisans said it was an unfair comparison because the Cardinals never won a playoff game during their tenure in St. Louis, while the Colts won three championships.

As it turned out, both cities were bypassed in expansion and both lured existing teams. St. Louis got the Rams in 1995, and Baltimore got the Ravens last year.

So far, though, St. Louis has been more enthusiastic about the return of pro football. The Rams have already virtually sold out for their third straight year; the Ravens' game today against Cincinnati will be blacked out on local television.

St. Louis has an advantage because it already is playing in a new stadium, but that doesn't explain why the TV ratings last week for the Rams in St. Louis were about 25 percent higher than the Ravens' ratings in Baltimore.

Another edge could be that St. Louis was without a team for only seven seasons, compared with 12 for Baltimore. There's a chance, too, that Baltimore fans are spoiled by the Colts' success.

Farm system

The World League in Europe is developing into a proving ground for the NFL teams.

Bill Schroeder of the Green Bay Packers, who was NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his effort Monday night, when he returned five punts for 107 yards and two kickoffs for 53 yards, played for the Rhein Fire in the spring.

Schroeder is one of 100 World League players on NFL rosters. Two Ravens, Spencer Folau and A. J. Ofodile, played with Rhein.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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