Testaverde's superb tools may dazzle Parcells, too

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Big Tuna may become the latest NFL coach to get tangled in the Vinny Testaverde net.

Bill Parcells, the New York Jets coach, who is usually referred to simply as "Tuna" on the back pages of the New York tabloids, signed Testaverde to be his backup last week after Neil O'Donnell refused to take a pay cut and was released.

If Testaverde remains the backup to Glenn Foley -- Parcells said Foley gets the "benefit of the doubt" in the duel -- there shouldn't be a problem.

But if Foley, who has been injury-prone, gets hurt or is ineffective and Testaverde winds up starting, it's hard to imagine a worse fit for the former Ravens quarterback.

The quick-tempered Parcells is noted for screaming at his quarterbacks, and that's not a good way to deal with Testaverde, who tends to be a sensitive soul.

Then there's the New York factor. Even though he's a New York native, Testaverde has never been the target of the back pages of the tabloids. He's not likely to deal well with their critical headlines.

One New York columnist said last week: "There are reasons Testaverde will come cheaper [than O'Donnell]. For one, the guy can't play."

Actually, the real Testaverde problem is that he plays just well enough to tease the coaches into thinking he'll get better. Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda was the latest coach to fall into that trap.

Testaverde has all the physical tools, but has never overcome his habit of wilting under pressure and making critical mistakes at the worst possible times.

A good quarterback needs more than physical tools. He needs intangibles. He needs to be a leader. He needs to make plays with the game on the line. Testaverde is lacking in all those categories.

He likes to blame many of his mistakes on the supporting cast around him. He said last week that one of the reasons he has thrown 183 interceptions and 175 touchdowns in his career is that he spent six years in Tampa Bay.

"Look at the numbers from when I was in Tampa and wipe the slate clean from there, and you're going to see better numbers," Testaverde said.

He did throw 98 touchdowns compared with 71 interceptions in five years with the Browns/Ravens, but quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses. He was 8-20-1 in starting the first 29 games the Ravens played. Eric Zeier came in and was 2-1.

It could be that the Ravens weren't good enough to win more under Testaverde. They'll get a better reading on how good they are this year when they switch to Jim Harbaugh, who's a direct contrast to Testaverde. He lacks Testaverde's physical talent, but is a clutch player who has earned the nickname Captain Comeback.

For Testaverde, the bottom line is that he has never made the bad teams he's played for any better. In 11 years, he made the playoffs only once -- in Cleveland in 1994.

Now, Testaverde goes to New York, which he calls a "dream come true" because he grew up in New York rooting for the Jets.

If Testaverde winds up playing, though, he could wind up being Parcells' worst nightmare.

Moving on

As Baltimore native Antonio Freeman plans to explore his free agency options at the end of this season and possibly leave Green Bay, he might look at the example of Neil O'Donnell. He showed that leaving a good situation for the money isn't always a good idea.

When O'Donnell signed the five-year, $25 million deal with the Jets in 1996, he left a Super Bowl contender in Pittsburgh.

As it turned out, he didn't even get half that money -- he made $11.75 million -- before he was waived by the Jets.

He'll have little chance of returning to a Super Bowl contender, because most of them are set at quarterback.

He seems most likely to sign with another struggling team -- Cincinnati.

The Bengals are looking for a quarterback because they lost confidence in Jeff Blake when Boomer Esiason replaced him last year. The Bengals traded a fifth-round pick to Indianapolis for Paul Justin, but he's probably not the answer, either.

O'Donnell would have a shot at beating out Blake and Justin. It also helps that his agent, Leigh Steinberg, doesn't represent either Blake or Justin. Steinberg represents so many quarterbacks that he could be hurting a client if he takes him to another team.

The Bengals are publicly interested in O'Donnell. Coach Bruce Coslet said: "He's a guy who's won. He's a guy who's experienced. Who wouldn't be interested? He's a tough guy mentally and physically."

The hang-up could be the money. The Bengals are noted for being frugal. They offered Testaverde $2.5 million in the first year of a two-year deal, but it dipped more than $1 million in the second year and Testaverde passed.

Cincinnati, though, may present O'Donnell with the best chance to play. After going for the money last time, maybe he will go for the opportunity this time.

The Viking saga

Novelist Tom Clancy pulled out of the bidding for the Minnesota Vikings, apparently because of financial complications surrounding his impending divorce, but his future father-in-law, J. Bruce Llewellyn, has made a bid for the team.

Clancy was on vacation and not available for comment, but Marc Ganis, who was Clancy's partner in the foiled bid for the Vikings, said he's not involved and he doesn't think Clancy is.

Llewellyn, chairman of the board of the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co., had planned to go to Minneapolis last week. But he hasn't been feeling well and was hospitalized after meeting with commissioner Paul Tagliabue in New York Wednesday and had to cancel the Minneapolis trip.

Llewellyn's bid got a cool reception because of the tax implications of the way it was structured, and Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor may have the edge in this round of the bidding.

A 31-year-old Las Vegas woman, Shruti Misra, jumped into the bidding, but she wants to include a clause that she could move the team. The NFL doesn't like that idea, particularly if she wants to move it to Las Vegas, where gambling on NFL games is legal.

Meanwhile, the lame duck regime of Roger Headrick continues to run up the payroll. After spending $93 million to re-sign four key free agents, it offered Cris Carter a four-year, $22 million deal, only to have the receiver turn it down.

The snub

John Elway's decision to skip the Broncos' trip to the White House continues to be the subject of much controversy in Denver.

The team reported he skipped it because of a knee exam. Elway, who apparently was a no-show because he's not a fan of President Clinton, did have the exam, but it turns out he was "recuperating" on the golf course on the day his teammates were at the White House.

Elway has since left for a vacation in Europe and was not available for comment, but coach Mike Shanahan said: "John's been to the White House before. It's not like his first time."

Elway visited President Bush at the White House in 1989 when the Broncos were in town to play the Redskins. He got food

poisoning and missed the game.

Quarterback shuffle

How desperate are teams for quarterbacks?

With Mark Rypien apparently ready to retire because his wife and son are seriously ill, the Atlanta Falcons last week worked out Steve DeBerg, who hasn't played since 1993.

DeBerg, who worked for coach Dan Reeves as a quarterbacks coach in New York, told reporters he's 39 -- but he's listed as

being 44.

Names in the news

Carolina Panthers linebacker Kevin Greene will be in a tag team wrestling match in San Diego in two weeks when Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone are the headliners.

Offensive tackle Michael Wahle, who was dismissed from the Naval Academy after reportedly flunking a steroids test, will be -- eligible for the league's supplemental draft next month.

Two years after taking running back Leeland McElroy on the second round instead of Mike Alstott, the Arizona Cardinals gave up and released him after failing to trade him.

Quotable

"The NFL is much more difficult than I thought it was. I thought the whole thing was going to be whiz bang and we'd have won more and done more things, but it's more difficult. There are so many things you can't control." -- Carolina owner Jerry Richardson, who predicted his team would win a Super Bowl in 10 years and then saw it slip from 12-4 in 1996 to 7-9 last year.

Ravens schedule

Preseason

Date, Opponent, Time, TV

8/8, Chicago, 7:30, 13

8/15, at N.Y. Jets, 5, 13

8/24, Philadelphia, 7:30, 13

LTC 8/28, at N.Y. Giants, 8, 13

Regular season

Date, Opponent, Time, *TV

9/6, Pittsburgh, 1:01, 13

9/13, at N.Y. Jets, 1:01, 13

9/20, at Jacks., 4:15, 13

9/27, Cincinnati, 8:20, ESPN

10/4, Bye

10/11, Tennessee, 1:01, 13

10/18, at Pittsburgh, 1:01, 13

10/25, at Green Bay, 1:01, 13

11/1, Jacksonville, 1:01, 13

11/8, Oakland, 1:01, 13

11/15, at San Diego, 4:05, 13

11/22, at Cincinnati, 4:15, 13

11/29, Ind., 1:01, 13

12/6, at Tennessee, 4:15, 13

12/13, Minnesota, 4:15, 45

12/20, at Chicago, 1:01, 13

12/27, Detroit, 1:01, 45

* -- Regular-season home games must be sold out 72 hours in advance to be televised.

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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