It's early, but Manning derby lurking

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Chicago Bears, the Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves have been on both sides of the quest for the top quarterback in a draft.

That's why it's almost fitting that at the quarter-pole, the Bears, Colts and Falcons have the best field position in the Peyton Manning derby with 0-4 records.

The Bears tied the Pittsburgh Steelers for the worst record in 1969 at 1-13 and then lost the coin flip for Terry Bradshaw, who was quarterback for four Super Bowl winners in the 1970s for the Steelers.

The Colts were still in Baltimore when they selected John Elway with the first pick in the 1983 draft and then traded him to Denver, then coached by Reeves, when Elway threatened to play professional baseball.

With Elway, the Broncos played in three Super Bowls. The Colts have yet to make it since they traded Elway's rights.

The Colts have a bye this week. The Bears and Falcons are two-touchdown underdogs today against the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos, respectively, and both are expected to drop to 0-5.

Lurking in the background are the New Orleans Saints, who lost field position last week when they upset the Detroit Lions. If the Saints upset the 1-3 New York Giants today, the Giants will step into the race.

Since the Colts, Bears and Falcons don't play one another this year, there probably won't be a Peyton Manning Bowl.

Despite the University of Tennessee's loss to No. 1-ranked Florida last week, Manning remains the unanimous first choice. Quarterbacks are more valuable than ever because there are so few good ones.

The coin flip has been eliminated, so ties are broken on strength of schedule.

As the losses mount, the teams on the bottom will hear more about Manning. But it's not a subject they're eager to discuss.

Reeves, whose team would get Manning on strength of schedule if the season ended now, said last week, "We're four games into the season. We're a long way from that. We're trying to win every game. We're certainly not doing something to ensure we get someone like Peyton Manning."

Settling scores

It will be personal for several players today.

It won't be just another game for several players and coaches. The 49ers' Kevin Greene plays his former team, the Carolina Panthers. John Elway plays against his old coach Reeves, and Jeff Blake faces his old team, the New York Jets.

The players don't want to admit that. Neither does Bruce Coslet, the Bengals' coach once fired by the Jets. Or Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who didn't get along with Reeves as an assistant in Denver.

Back in 1993, after Reeves departed, Elway said, "The last three years have been hell. I know that I would not have been back here if Dan Reeves had been here. It wasn't worth it to me. I didn't enjoy it. I wasn't any fun and I got tired of working with him."

Reeves shot back, "Just tell him it wasn't exactly heaven for me, either. One of these days I hope he grows up. Maybe he'll mature some time."

This week, they all tried to downplay it.

"Bygones are bygones," Elway said.

"I don't have any hard feelings," Reeves said.

The one person who will admit what games like this mean is Boomer Esiason, the former Jets quarterback, now a backup for the Bengals.

"Everybody would be lying if they said this game wasn't important," Esiason said of the Bengals-Jets match. Bruce has his reasons, Jeff has his reasons and even though I'm not playing, I want to win badly. It's like Coach [Bill] Parcells going back to New England. That'll make this game that much more exciting, more emotional and, hopefully, more physical."

Attendance woes

For the second straight week, the Ravens are facing a team with attendance problems.

This time, it's the Chargers. It will be the first local blackout in San Diego in 24 games.

On top of that, the city has guaranteed ticket sales of 60,000 per game starting with the Chargers' next home game in October.

For this game, the guarantee is 55,000, and the Chargers are about 15,000 shy.

Owner Alex Spanos is complaining that the guarantee -- part of a stadium renovation deal that increased capacity to 71,350 and included the construction of 7,800 club seats -- has become controversial.

"Baltimore gave Art Modell $75 million," he told a San Diego writer. "And a 15-year lease at a new stadium, rent free. What did I get in comparison to him in Baltimore? Tell me. Nobody gave me a check."

He doesn't seem to realize Modell didn't get one, either.

The myth that Baltimore gave Modell cash is almost impossible to correct.

Although Baltimore gave Modell a sweet deal with a free stadium and the right to sell up to $80 million in permanent seat licenses (he scaled it back to $68 million), the city gave him no cash or guarantees. If he doesn't sell out, that's his problem. He also signed a 30-year lease and will pay about $3 million a year in admission tax.

"It's totally false," Modell said of the myth he was paid to move. "I wish it were true."

Late games

For the third straight week, the Monday night game was decided on the final play when a bad snap led to a blocked field goal. Last Monday it was the Jacksonville Jaguars who came away with a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Despite the exciting games, the ratings are down 15 percent.

Modell says he has a solution. He says he's advocating an earlier starting time of 8 p.m. so more fans on the East Coast can see the conclusion.

Modell said the affiliates on the West Coast oppose the idea, but said the Eastern half of the country has a much bigger population.

"I thought we ought to pursue it," Modell said.

Legal file

When the NFL owners met in Dallas last week, they discussed, among other things, the St. Louis lawsuit against the league that will begin Oct. 6.

"We've got a pretty good case," Modell said. "But it's being held in St. Louis."

Modell will testify against St. Louis even though if St. Louis wins its argument that it shouldn't have to pay a $29 million relocation fee because the Raiders didn't pay one, Modell won't have to pay one.

Explaining why he, in effect, is testifying against his interests, Modell said, "I've always been a league guy."

There's much more at stake than the relocation fee.

St. Louis will argue that league interference forced it to sweeten the deal to attract the Rams.

If it can convince a St. Louis jury that it cost $3 million more a year because of league interference, that wouldn't sound like much. But for over 30 years, it would be a $90 million judgment, tripled to $270 million because it's an antitrust case.

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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