Sam Wyche, you are hereby entitled to trade in your Timex for a Rolex; all your problems with clocks are forgiven. Frank Gansz, you are allowed to wear whatever silly sideline hats you want while your Chiefs go 2-10. Darryl Rogers, congratulations. Despite your own 2-10 slate, Mr. Ford has now guaranteed that you will stay around Detroit longer than the Edsel.
Yes, this department is declaring a holiday amnesty for coaches. Let no strident criticism drown out the festive carols of the season. Deck the halls with forgotten blunders. 'Tis the season to be . . .
We interrupt this happy message with a bulletin. One coach will get no forgiveness. He happens to be one of the nice people in pro football, a man who has won innumerable friends in two decades as a highly capable assistant. But as my colleague and fellow handicapper Skylab says, "There's a reason why Jerry Burns was an assistant for so long. He can't count."
Here are a few facts that were ascertained during the performance of Minnesota Coach Jerry Burns against the Chicago Bears last week. First, he has his guys playing hard. Second, if it weren't for the sorry scab team that went 0-3 for him, he would have his guys in first place. Third, he can't count.
Those who laid 1 1/2 points with the Vikings against the Bears scarcely need reminding of this sorry scenario.
Leading, 24-23, the Vikings recovered a fumble on the Chicago 2-yard line. What ensued was less suitable for Christmas than for Halloween. It was a horror movie.
Three straight times, the Vikings surged forward, seeking a chink in the Bears' defensive armor. They probed at the same place each time. The place occupied by Mike Singletary. Not unexpectedly, the great middle linebacker repulsed each charge.
What was more unexpected was the next move. Jim McMahon was injured. If the Vikings took the chip-shot field goal to go ahead by four points, they would have challenged Mike Tomczak to drive the length of the field for a touchdown. I liked their chances. I suspect that Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev, who undoubtedly had this crucial tilt beamed into their plane en route to the summit, liked their chances. Let's face it, the rebels in the mountains of Afghanistan liked their chances.
Jerry Burns didn't. He passed up the field goal. Worse yet, he called a play that proved once more that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (If Santayana created a sports cliche with that one, let's at least give him credit; it is reported that he never told his philosophy students that he couldn't give them an answer until he looked at the films.)
In any case, the Vikings tried Darrin Nelson off-tackle, a play eerily similar to the Sammy Winder slant that Carl Banks buried in the pivotal play of last year's Super Bowl.
This time it was Todd Bell who stuffed the play for a loss. Coach Burns, who unlike Santayana had benefit of the films, reported later that the play might have gone perfectly if rookie running back Rick Fenney hadn't mistakenly rammed into the pulling guard. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?
The horrid result of all this was that the Bears got the ball back, trailing by only one point. The Vikings defenders suddenly appeared dispirited. So the Bears marched down the field to win it.
My outrage at Burns is still at full flame. I hope he loses the rest of his games. Most importantly, I hope he loses this week.
The Vikings are 4-point favorites against Green Bay in Milwaukee. For all their northern tradition, they have also become a dome team unaccustomed to cold weather. The Packers play almost everyone tough. Last week they battled a near-perfect Joe Montana and lost to the 49ers, 23-12. In games after they have lost and been held to 14 or fewer points, they are 7-1. Minnesota is not a good road favorite. Take the Packers plus 4.
During the strike, Gary Hogeboom crossed the picket line to lead a Colts humiliation of the ragtag Buffalo scab team. This is revenge time. The Bills suffered an understandable letdown last week against the Raiders, but I look for them to rise to this occasion. At home, Indianapolis is favored by 3 1/2. Take the Bills.
The Cincinnati Bengals, 7 1/2-point underdogs at Cleveland, have nothing to play for but pride. Notorious slow starters, the Bengals are 7-4 in recent years as road underdogs in the final month of the season. They also have two wonderfully obscure statistics working for them. First, the last six times a team has been favored after playing the Colts -- as the Browns did -- it lost. Second, when the Browns have lost at home, as they did last week, the underdog has covered six straight times. This is the week for the Bengals to bark at Cleveland's dogs. Cincinnati plus 7 1/2.
The Patriots, favored by 4 over the Jets, were robbed of a cover last week when a key pass to Irving Fryar inexplicably was ruled out of bounds. The Jets were lucky to come as close as they did to the Dolphins Monday night. And in short work weeks, the Jets are the worst team in New York except Columbia. (Every week is a short one for the Lions.) Take the Patriots minus 4.
At last, there's a Redskins game I can bet on. The Redskins are favored by 9 1/2 over the Cowboys. The line is vastly inflated, presumably because oddsmakers feel the Cowboys have quit. I don't think either team quits in this rivalry. It's the Redskins' final home game -- and they haven't covered in a final home game since 1982. Cowboys plus 9 1/2.
Last week: The Patriots, getting 7 1/2, lost to both the instant-replay machine and the Broncos, 31-20. The Eagles, getting 5, covered by losing in overtime to the Giants, 23-20. The Chargers, a runaway public choice and a stupid pick at any price, lost to Houston, 33-18. The Browns, laying 7 against the Colts, lost, 9-7. The Dolphins, laying 4 1/2, saved me from disaster by whipping the Jets, 37-28.
Record for week: 2-3.
Record for season: 26-18-1. My first losing week since the strike, but it still feels better than running line plunges into Mike Singletary.