Thursday, October 26, 2006

Old S.I. Review (December 6, 1993)

13 years later it seems awfully hard to believe but, yes, the cover story from this issue really did pose the question, "Can the NFL Be Saved?" Peter King wrote it around a framework of 10 problems facing the league at the time along with his solutions. Interesting read. Some of it comes off pretty funny but overall it's not as off-base as you might guess. Anyhow, I'll get to that shortly. Let's start tackling the issue from the beginning....

Puttin' On The Ritz

If you're looking for a giant, dimly-lit picture of Lenny Dykstra talking on the phone from a hotel bed at the Paris Ritz while his wife Terry stares off into space, well, look no further. That was the big Contents page photo in this issue. Makes you wonder what they passed on if that was the best that could do.

"Might" is the Key Word

The highlight of the Letters page is a submission from reader Donald Schmitz of San Jose nominating race-car driver Nigel Mansell for 1993 Sportsman of the Year. After listing some of Nigel's incredible (his word, not mine) accomplishments Donald wraps it up by stating, "Mansell might be the biggest British import since the Beatles." Ummm, sure. If you say so.

L.T. on the NASDAQ

The Scorecard section has a tremendous blurb about Lawrence Taylor's fledgling company, All-Pro Products. Described as "one of the hottest new stock offerings of 1993," All-Pro opened at $5 per share on November 9th and was trading at $15.50 on the NASDAQ by November 26th. Rumors had it that L.T., about to enter the final year of his contract with the Giants, was so pleased with All-Pro's hot start that he was considering forsaking $2.5 million and walking away from football.

And what, you ask, did All-Pro sell? Well, the company had one product in the winter of 1993, a sports drink called Metro-Pro, which was marketed as "an urban drink for males." Unfortunately, Metro-Pro is also described in the piece as having "a less than pleasing taste." All of which helps to explain why All-Pro was operating with "a total revenue of $36,220" since inception and "losses of over $900,000."

But despite those discouraging financials, All-Pro was forging ahead. L.T. "and his associates" were said to be tinkering with a new formula for Metro-Pro. And, what's more, plans were underway to develop "a virtual-reality home entertainment system," although the prospects for that venture were considered uncertain, "given that no one connected with All-Pro has experience in developing that media."

Sadly, I'm sure you can guess how this all turned out in the end. Here's the section of timeline from L.T.'s bio on that covers this era in his life...

-L.T.'s No. 56 was officially retired at halftime of the Giants-Vikings Monday night game on Oct. 10, 1994.
-Needing money, Taylor wrestled Bam Bam Bigelow in Wrestlemania XI for $500,000 in April 1995.
-Also in 1995, his business, All-Pro Products, collapsed. Because of stock fraud by two former traders, the company was worth practically nothing. It had been valued at $10.8 million after going public in 1993. L.T. lost several hundred thousand dollars.

Poor L.T. One minute you're getting your number retired and riding high in the stock market and the next minute your wrestling Bam Bam Bigelow to pay the bills.

I'm sure it all seemed like a good idea at the time.

Raffy vs. Will Clark

The Scorecard section also has a brief mention of the Texas Rangers deciding to sign Will Clark as a free agent and let Rafael Palmeiro walk. The move is largely praised on the grounds that numbers don't mean everything and that Clark will get in the faces of guys like Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez and Jose Canseco and teach them how to be winners.

The best is Raffy's reaction, described thusly...."Palmeiro blasted the Rangers for signing a "mediocre" player, then inexcusably ripped his former Mississippi State teammate, saying Clark had "no class" and was a "lowlife."

Yeah, because you're such a class act, Raffy. See you in Congress....

Fixing the N.F.L.

On to Peter King's story on the ailing state of the N.F.L. The opening paragraphs of the story paint a picture of professional football in the winter of 1993. Steve DeBerg and his "dental floss arm" was trying to keep the Dolphins in the AFC East race with Dan Marino out. Northern Exposure was seen a legit threat to the ratings of Monday Night Football. Deion Sanders, described as "the rascal that half of us love and half of us love to hate," was missing time with the Braves. And no less an authority than broadcaster Matt Millen (Matt Millen!) was quoted as saying, "Is it just me, or is this the worst football we've ever seen?"

Peter then tosses out 10 problems facing the league along with his solutions. Let's quickly run them down:

Problem #1: Parity is a monster unleashed.
Solution: Exempt the two highest salaries on every team from counting against the payroll.

Comments: That's actually not a bad idea. Even today. I wouldn't mind tweaking the system to allow teams an opportunity to hang on to a few veterans that would otherwise be too expensive. It's just funny to see parity, which is almost always cited as one the NFL's greatest strengths today, being lamented for damaging the league just 13 years ago. And it's even funnier when the guy talking about it is Matt Millen..."Parity is fine, if we have good teams beating each other. But bad teams with good records are beating each other, and usually the games are full of sloppy play." I don't like sloppy play either, Matt. If only they would let you run your own team...

Problem #2: One quarterback injury and a contender falls like a house of cards.
Solution: Use the World League to stockpile bright, young prospects and give guaranteed contracts to backup QBs.

Comments: First of all, you have to love any solution that involves the World League. That's always a good idea. But what's even better is the list of backup QBs from playoff contenders that Peter rattles off in this section. Check out these beauties...Ty Detmer (Packers), Tommy Maddox (Broncos), Kent Graham (Giants), Browning Nagle (Jets) and Peter Tom Willis (Bears).

Problem #3: The double byes are a double disaster.
Solution: Get rid of them.

Comments: Amen. And they did. No need for a team to get two byes per season.

Problem #4: There are more good college games on TV than pro games on a given weekend.
Solution: Allow NY and LA to get an extra TV game so they're not penalized for having two NFL teams. Give networks the ability to switch good games to prime time slots later in the year.

Comments: Well, that second part of that solution is about to come true in a few weeks. As to the first part, I imagine LA became less of a concern when they lost both franchises. Overall, I guess this is still a concern but I've got the NFL package on Directv so I'm not as worried about it myself. I might be singing a different tune if I got caught in that Atlanta-Pittsburgh bonus coverage mess on CBS last weekend.

Problem #5: Kickers are becoming too good.
Solution: Add the two-point conversion.

Comments: Kickers were too good 13 years ago? And that would be solved by adding two-point conversions? I'm not sure I understand.

Problem #6: Unlimited substition is killing offense.
Solution: Only one offensive and defensive sub allowed per play.

Comments: Apparently, nobody was going no-huddle in 1993.

Problem #7: There’s not enough big plays.
Solution: See Problem #6. Get rid of unlimited substitutions.

Comments: I had no idea unlimited substitution was such a big deal. When did this stop becoming a big concern? Or is still a big problem and I’m just not aware of it?

Problem #8: Artificial turf causes too many injuries
Solution: Get rid of it.
Comments: Amen.

Problem #9: The 40-second clock is causing offenses to misfire.
Solution: Add 5 seconds to the play clock.
Comments: The best part of this one is that the immortal Jack Trudeau of the Colts is cited as having wanted to audible 4 times in a recent game against Cincy but felt he couldn’t do it because the play clock was winding down. As if Jack Trudeau’s inability to audible was a legit concern. Jack Trudeau!

Problem #10: The game has no character and almost no color.
Solution: Do a better job marketing the players.
Comments: Here’s the actual first line of Peter’s final solution for the NFL…"Follow the NBA’s lead.” When’s the last time you heard that advice? Yikes. But that’s as good a line to end with as any. The NFL is king of the hill now. 13 years ago? "Be more like the NBA." Classic.

The Wit and Wisdom of Tomba La Bomba

Couple good quotes from the legendary Alberto Tomba in an article about the 1993 World Cup of skiing.

On his prospects of winning gold in the upcoming Lillehammer games…
“Everybody expects Alberto to win because he win gold before, but I cannot say what I can do.”

And on rumors of his retirement in the wake of Michael Jordan’s departure from the Bulls…
“As I understand, he stop because stress from the press is too much for him. For me, too, in Italy. He is a great champion in U.S. Me too, in Italy. Maybe the solution is this: He goes to Italy and plays basketball, and I stay here and ski.”

Midseason Report on the 1993-94 Sonics

The 1993-94 Sonics will forever be remember for losing as the #1 seed in the West to the 8th seeded Nuggets in a famous first-round upset. S.I. did a profile on them in this issue back in December of that year. Some highlights from that piece…

-"We’re crazy at times. We yell and cuss at each other maybe more than most teams.” –George Karl

-“If we were happy all the time, we wouldn’t be the Sonics.” –Gary Payton

-A story about Shawn Kemp trying a crazy spin move in the post against Billy Owen that resulted in an offensive foul, followed by Karl telling him to “just play basketball,” followed by Kemp swearing at Karl.

-Tons of praise for offseason acquisitions Detlef Schrempf and Kendall Gill. Probably too much praise in retrospect.

-Genuine debate about whether their go-to guy in the clutch was Schrempf, Kemp or Ricky Pierce.

-The last line of the story talking about Seattle going deep in the playoffs. Didn’t quite work out that way. Unless you consider a 5-game opening round series a deep run.

The Bowl System Sucks: 1993 Edition

While the image of the NFL might have been different 13 years ago you can take comfort in knowing that everybody hated college football’s postseason just as much then as they do now if not more. The 1993 regular season ended with two undefeated teams, Nebraska and West Virginia, but the Mountaineers were shut out of the Orange Bowl, and a shot at the national championship, in favor of Florida State.

Here’s what West Virginia coach Don Nehlen had to say about it…

“It’s the biggest misjustice in the world.”

And then added the following in reference to FSU’s November loss to Notre Dame…

“To have the opportunity to play for the national championship the good Lord says you’ve got to do every single thing right for 11 straight weeks.” And Florida State, in his mind, “didn’t get it done.”

Other voices in the article include Bobby Bowden, who summed up his 33-21 win over Florida thusly, “Almost a rout and almost close,” and Michael Wilbon, who called Nebraska, “the second biggest fraud in college football every single solitary season.” His number 1 fraud? Michigan.

Nails in Europe

In the feature on Lenny Dykstra touring Europe in the offseason as a goodwill ambassador for baseball come these two quotes….

“Now, Paris is France. But London, that’s just London, right? It’s just London?”
-Lenny, working on his geography

“My goal is to build a financial empire. I know people laugh about all the stuff I say and do. But believe me, before I take a dirt nap, I’m going to build myself a financial empire.”

Inside The NFL

Prolific issue from Peter King who, in addition to his cover story, still found time to do his weekly Inside the NFL piece. And the lead story there was, ho hum, a story about Drew Bledsoe’s growing pains under Bill Parcells. Honest to God. 13 years ago and that was the story. Drew’s a good kid. He’s learning. Getting better. Still makes mistakes. Etc, etc. And you wonder why Parcells might be frustrated with him now. He was having the same conversations 13 years ago.

Another tidbit I enjoyed was a blurb about Barry Sanders missing time with an injury and this quote from Lions coach Wayne Fontes…"A lot of people are counting us out but we’ve won without Lomas Brown. We’ve won without Herman Moore. We’ve won without Pat Swilling. We can with without Barry.” Well, yes and no. The ’93 Lions went 3-2 down the stretch without Barry and won the NFC Central but were bounced in the first round of the playoffs.

Finally, here’s SI’s Top Ten Power rankings with records at the time…

1) San Francisco 8-3 (Finished 10-6 and lost in the NFC title game)
2) Dallas 7-4 (Finished 12-4 and won the Super Bowl)
3) Miami 9-2 (Finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs)
4) Kansas City 8-3 (Finished 11-5 and lost the AFC title game)
5) Buffalo 8-3 (Finished 12-4 and lost in the Super Bowl)
6) Houston 7-4 (Finished 12-4 and lost a Divisional game)
7) Pittsburgh 6-5 (Finished 9-7 and lost a wild card game)
8) N.Y. Jets 7-4 (Finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs)
9) N.Y. Giants 8-3 (Finished 11-5 and lost a Divisional game)
10) Denver 7-4 (Finished 9-7 and lost a wild card game)

Wheatley vs. Faulk

Reprinted from Inside College Football in a section comparing two players by talking to teams that played against both of them in the regular season...

Wheatley vs. Faulk. Minnesota coach Jim Wacker, defensive coordinator Marc Dove and two defensive starters were each asked which back he would pick if he were an NFL general manager. The result: Wheatley 3, Faulk 1. "Faulk tried too hard to make big plays," said Gopher middle linebacker Russ Heath. "Wheatley likes the big play, too, but knows when it's not there and comes up with some sort of gain."

Career NFL stats:

Wheatley - 124 games, 4,962 yards rushing on 1270 carries, 3.9 yard per carry average, 40 rushing TDs, 125 catches for 900 yards and 7 TDs.

Faulk - 174 games, 12,279 yards on 2836 carries, 4.3 yard per carry average, 100 rushing TDs, 767 catches for 6,875 yards and 36 TDs.

Past S.I. Reviews...


Justin said...

the Bam Bam bigelow match was pretty freakin good. LT could execute a mean flying tackle.

I mean, WWF was putting up Giant Gonzalez around the same time, so it wasn't such a bad match

Justin said...

as to king's no. 4, they did do the solution for the NY market. The NY market used ot only get the jets and giants game. Now there will be a game opposite one of the home teams each week.

Anonymous said...

Re: Problem #5

I don't know how adding the 2-pt conversion would have solved things, but the NFL made a rule that all kicks were to be made on brand new, straight-out-of-the-box balls. People were getting tired of seeing booming punts returned for no gain, really long field goals, etc.

Hadley said...

People were really worried about losing those Niners and Cowboys dynasties....and Bills psuedo-dynasty...

Problem #2: One quarterback injury and a contender falls like a house of cards.

Unless that QB injury is Drew Bledsoe navigating the sideline...

Dean said...

Problem #2: One quarterback injury and a contender falls like a house of cards.

While King's suggestion was not all that great and it did not stand the test of time, he makes a good point. And the NFL must of been thinking the same thing considering since this article was published they have added numberous rules to protect the quarterback in hopes of keeping its most high profile players on the field.

Anonymous said...

Problem #2: One quarterback injury and a contender falls like a house of cards.

Unless you're the 1992 49ers?

Good thing Montana played for KC that year. Young couldn't possibly lead the 49ers like Montana could. ;)

BratsNBeerGuy said...

King is still harping about kickers a dozen or more years after this article. Just before the season he wrote a piece about changes he'd make if he were the NFL commissioner and one of the things he wrote about was installing a 4-point field goal.

Mark S. said...

Michael Wilbon, who called Nebraska, “the second biggest fraud in college football every single solitary season.”

That's pretty funny considering Nebraska rolled off three championships starting a year later (and nearly beat Florida State in that year's Orange Bowl for a fourth one). But Nebraska was known at the time for rolling over a depleted Big 8 and getting slaughtered by one of the Florida teams in a bowl game.

Anonymous said...

You should take a peek at the "faces in the crowd" section when you do these reviews. I know, I always skip that section, too. But there's always baseball or football players in there, and often that player has turned into a recognizable pro player. Worth a peek anyways.

Clarke said...

I definitely check Faces in the Crowd. Nothing noteworthy so far but I've always got my eye out.

stratego said...

awesome article...great work

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