Sunday, August 13, 2000

NFL INSIDER


Bettis already near Hall stats

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Steelers running back Jerome Bettis is entering the final year of his contract, and it figures to be his last season in Pittsburgh.

        He has 8,463 yards rushing in seven seasons, and a big year — like the one he had in 1997 when he gained 1,665 — will put him over 10,000.

        At 28 years old, Bettis is in Hall of Fame company.

        He's fourth in rushing among active players, trailing Emmitt Smith, Thurman Thomas and Ricky Watters. Bettis is the 16th-leading rusher in league history.

        Earl Campbell made the hall with 9,407 yards in eight seasons on teams that never played in a Super Bowl.

        It took another Hall of Famer, John Riggins, 14 years to accumulate 11,352 yards. To equal Riggins, Bettis would need to average only 475 yards for the next six years. If Bettis averages 1,000 a season for six more years, he'd be the third-leading runner in NFL history behind only Walter Payton and Barry Sanders.

        And Bettis would be only 34 years old.

        KEANU'S GOT GAME: The Replacements, the new Keanu Reeves-Gene Hackman film based on the Washington Redskins strike team from 1987, opened Friday and got a rave review from Charley Casserly on an early screening.

        “Without a doubt, it's the best football movie ever,” said Casserly, who was Washington's assistant general manager at the time. “In a four-star system, I'd give it five stars — four for the movie, and one for Washington beating Dallas.”

        The spare Redskins beat the spare Rams, Giants and Cowboys before the players strike ended. They finished 11-4 with regular players and won the Super Bowl over Denver.

        Casserly, now GM of the expansion Houston franchise, will make the first pick of the 2002 draft. He's looking for a franchise quarterback.

        “Keanu will be a free agent,” Casserly said. “I like his mechanics, arm strength, leadership ability, but I don't think I could fit him under our salary cap. He got $11 million and only had to play four games. That's $44 million a season.”

        DA ANNOUNCER: Mike Ditka has returned to the Bears as color man on preseason telecasts, his first association with the club since he was fired as coach following the 1992 season.

        “I was never mad at anybody,” Ditka said. “I was hurt. You always feel if you had more time you could right the ship.”

        Said new Bears president Ted Phillips, “It meant a lot to him to know the Bears wanted him to be part of the family.”

        Ditka played golf with coach Dick Jauron and likes him. “He doesn't get too riled up,” Ditka said. “Not that I ever did.”

        LET'S TALK: Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren plans to sit down with veteran Watters and rookie Shaun Alexander before the season and discuss their roles.

        Look for Watters to remain the starter, even though his playing time will diminish. Alexander, the Alabama product from Boone County High School, has dazzled coaches. Running back is now Seattle's strongest position.

        ROAD TRIP: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones likes taking his team overseas. He loves the international exposure the American Bowls give “America's team.”

        But players and coaches aren't too fond of the long journeys. With last week's 20-9 loss to Atlanta in Tokyo, the Cowboys are now 0-7-1 in American Bowls. They've also lost in London, Mexico City, Toronto and Monterrey, Mexico.

        GIVE THEM THE BOOT: Free agent Frank Biancamano, who taught physical education last year at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington, N.Y., will kick for the Broncos today against Green Bay.

        Veteran kicker Jason Elam has a strained groin, but coach Mike Shanahan is unsure how Elam hurt himself.

        “How could a guy everget hurt?” Shanahan said half-jokingly. “He never hits anybody. He doesn't jog, doesn't run with the team. Him and (punter) Tom Rouen sit back there talking about Tom's fiancee (swimmer Amy Van Dyken), how she's going to do in Australia (at the Olympics), and he pulls a groin. I can't figure it out.”

        STEP ASIDE: 49ers general manager Bill Walsh might retire after this season, even though his contract runs through 2001. Walsh, who's 68, has never been fully comfortable with coach Steve Mariucci or CEO John York.

        But the reason for early retirement could be what Walsh feels comfortable about — turning over his job to assistant general manager Terry Donahue after what Walsh believes was a good 2000 draft.

        This is Walsh's third stint with the club.

        TAKE THAT, CLEVELAND: Ravens owner Art Modell is pretty happy about his 2000 team. How happy?

        “With unusual constraint for me, I want to be very, very sober with this thing. But I think this could very well be the best football team I've had in 40 years,” he said.

        That statement includes early 1960s teams in Cleveland coached by Paul Brown.

        CLEVELAND, PART II: Jim Brown didn't make any friends on the shores of Lake Erie when he visited Ravens camp, hugged Modell and said the man who took the original Browns out of Cleveland deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

        “Art is a friend of mine,” Brown said. “He has African-American representation throughout his organization. The people of Cleveland have to love me for what I gave to them. And I love them for what they gave me. But no way will the people of Cleveland govern my life or moods.”

        Said Brown of Modell: “He's the first owner to leave the name and colors when leaving. I think that's fantastic.”

       



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