Dewey Selmon, the Tampa Bay linebacker, figured he would be a father for the first time by now.
He also figured the Buccaneers would have qualified for the National Football League playoffs by now.
But Kathryn Selmon is a week overdue.
And the Buccaneers are a month overdue.
"My wife's in a holding pattern," Selmon said the other day.
"And so's our football team.
"This is going to be an exciting week."
Even for guys not having babies, this last weekend of the NFL regular season is a big deal. An NFL season only lasts about 17 years, of course. Since they kicked off the first ball of this season, Willie Stargell got famous, Laffit Pincay got $8 million, Billy Martin got fired and Phyllis George got pregnant. Time flies when you're having fun, and nobody is having more fun today than Pete Rozelle, the NFL commissioner who from high above Park Avenue can look over his 28 teams and see 13 of them still in the running for the Super Bowl.
The NFL's 10-team Super Bowl tournament begins Dec. 23 and ends Jan. 20. Seven teams already have qualified for those playoffs. They are Pittsburgh, Houston, Miami, San Diego, Dallas, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
Six other teams are scrambling, scratching, stayin' alive in pursuit of the three open spots. Those six teams are Tampa Bay, Washington, Denver, Oakland, Cleveland, and Chicago.
So in 13 cities, if people aren't cussing the ayatollah, they're talking football. And in the six Stayin' Alive cities, if the ayatollah is the liver on everyone's conversational menu, the chances of Our Team getting into the playoffs is the saving cherries jubilee. c
"Everywhere I go, shopping centers and bars, people come up to me and they don't say, 'I hope you go to the playoffs' -- they say, 'You better go to the playoffs,'" said Lyle Alzado, a defensive end for the Cleveland Browns.
"The whole town became alive," said Tom Flores. He's the Oakland Raider coach. Out of the playoffs last season for the first time in a decade, the Raiders have won three straight games to get back in playoff contention. "Suddenly, it's kinda like the old days here," Flores said.
"This town has been so hungry for so long, they want it so bad," said Alan Page, a defensive tackle in his second season with the Bears after a decade of playoff/Super Bowl experience at Minnesota. "The people are so frustrated (the Bears last played a playoff game at home in 1963). The press, the radio and TV, the fans, they haven't even liked the way we've been winning games."
The Bears need to gain 33 points on the Redskins. In case the teams tie for a wild-card spot, the point differential may be used to break the tie.So the fans in Chicago weren't thrilled the last two weeks with a mere 14-0 victory over Tampa Bay and a 15-14 victory over Green Bay. Not enough point differential.
In Tampa Bay, any kind of victory, by any kind of point spread, would be the stuff of civic celebration.
Once undefeated after five games, the Buccaneers have needed only one victory since Thanksgiving Day to clinch the Central Division championship of the NFL, leaving the Chicago entry in second place.
But Tampa has lost three straight games. They lost one by having four kicks blocked -- a punt, a field goal and two extra points, one of those in the last minute of a 23-22 defeat by Minnesota.
The Chokeaneers, they're calling the Bucs. "They've given the Bears a thread," said Hubert Mizell, sports editor of The St. Petersburg Times, "and the Bears have made it a rope with which they hope to hang the Bucs."
So if the Bears can win at home Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals, while Tampa Bay loses at home to Kansas City, the Bears will have come back from a Thanksgiving Day debacle in which they played with all the verve of a turkey asked to stay for dinner. (They lost, 20-0, to Detroit, a team that had won one of 12 games.)
"Our fans are wondering what in the heck is going on," said Dewey Selmon, who is working on a Ph.D. degree in addition to making tackles and learning diaper folds. "How could we lose to Minnesota that way? How could we lose to San Francisco, a team with a 1-13 record, last week?
"What went on, I think, is that Detroit beat Chicago on Thanksgiving Day. I wish they hadn't. We've only needed to win one game for a month now -- and we haven't played well since. And now we've got a helluva challenge -- to beat Kansas City, with the pressure building and building to a peak.
"But at least we've got a second chance at life. Everybody last year at this time was thinking about loading up the U-Haul and leaving town. We've got a second chance, so we can't go out and blow it."
Selmon said he and Kathryn have chosen a girl's name for their baby: Shannon Nicole. "If it's a boy, I wanted to name it 'Montana,'" he said. "Kathryn, for some reason, quickly overruled that."
Maybe if Tampa beats Kansas City, Mrs. Selmon would got for "K.C." But maybe not, either.
As turkey-plucked as the Bears looked, and as gasp-choke-coughing as the Buccaneers are today, they have nothing on the three American Conference teams contending for the one open spot on that side of the NFL.
"We've had one foot on a banana peel and one foot in the graveyard," said Sam Rutigliano, the Cleveland Brown coach."But we've stayed alive." s
Cleveland's playoff hopes are slim. The Browns must win over Cincinnati while Denver loses to San Diego on Monday night and Oakland loses to Seattle -- and the Browns' victory margin, added to Denver's margin of defeat, must add to 27 points.
"Let's win," Rutigliano said, trying to simplify this, "and if we make it into the playoffs, I'm sure somebody will let us know."
Oakland's chances for Stayin' Alive beyond this weekend are not good, either, but then three weeks ago the Raiders had about as much chance of survival as a beer set down in front of Kenny Stabler.
"Four things had to happen to give us a shot," Flores said. "Denver had to lose to Seattle, New England had to lose on Sunday, we had to beat Cleveland and Houston had to beat Pittsburgh.
"It all happened.
"Now, just two things have to happen. We have to win at home against Seattle and Denver has to lose to San Diego."
As if the beer gods were looking out for their boy Stabler, Denver will go to San Diego without one of its top runners, Rob Lytle, and Seattle has lost its best receiver, Steve Largent, both declared out with injuries this week.
Meanwhile, in Denver, sportswriter-sportscaster Woodie Paige said, "Everybody's confused."
Paige did a two-hour sports talk show the other night. Every minute, he said, was devoted to figuring out what Denver had to do to get into the playoffs. Because the Broncos play on Monday night, they will know what their competitors have done -- and if both Cleveland and Oakland lose, Denver can lose and still be the wild card team.
But if . . .
Look, you figure it out.
Paige has concocted a terrific scenario for the Broncos. If this happens, Pete Rozelle may leap onto Park Avenue. But Paige says, "What if Cleveland wins big? Let's say Cleveland wins by 29 points on Sunday. That gives the Browns a two-point edge in the point-differential."
So now it's Monday night and the Broncos are losing, 7-3. Four points. And the Broncos have a fourth-down-and-three at the San Diego 10-yard line with 10 seconds to play.
"Do you take the field goal that gives you three points? You lose the games, 7-6, but by getting the three points, you move one point ahead of the Browns and become the wild-card team.
"Or do you risk everything and go for the touchdown? You could win the games and be the division champion -- or you could miss the playoffs altogether."
Paige, being enterprising, presented this scenario to the Denver coach, Red Miller, and asked the coach what he would do in such a situation.
"I've never had a decision like that in my whole life," Miller said, flabbergasted at the machinations possible in a sportswriter's mind at playoff time.
All I can tell you, Red," Paige said, "is what a poker-playing buddy of mine always says: 'Never trade a sure thing for romance.'"
Incidentally, such a scenario could be worked up for the Redskins, too, for it Tampa Bay and Papa Selmon finally win Sunday, and if the Bears win while the Redskins lose, the Bears and Redskins get into one of those point-differential things.
Right now, the Redskins are 33 points up on the Bears, so . . .