Not even a grinch could go away from Sunday's Denver-Cleveland AFC championship game without feeling bad for Browns tight end Ozzie Newsome.
Newsome, the NFL's all-time leading tight end receiver, said this week he may retire, and if so he would end his career as the Ernie Banks of pro football, without having won a major championship.
The University of Alabama won national championships in 1973 and 1978, but none from 1974 to 1977 when a tight end named Newsome was leading the Crimson Tide to a 42-6 record, including three 11-1 seasons. In Newsome's senior year, Notre Dame (11-1) got the No. 1 vote despite losing to Mississippi, while Alabama lost a nail-biter to Nebraska early and trounced Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. Newsome's teams finished No. 2 twice and No. 3 once.
In the NFL, three of Newsome's Browns teams went into the playoffs feeling strongly they could win the whole thing. But in 1980 Brian Sipe threw an interception in the end zone that helped keep Newsome out of the Big One. Last year it was The Drive by Denver, and last Sunday it was The Fumble by Earnest Byner, also against the Broncos.
Newsome was devastated by The Drive in the 1987 AFC title game, saying, "After the game, I was at home in bed by 7 p.m., with the pillows over my head trying to shut out the world." He hardly had words to describe his feelings after The Fumble. "It hurts twice as much as last year," Newsome said.
Newsome will turn 32 in March, and always has said he doesn't want to hang around until his skills diminish greatly. With no touchdown receptions this season -- for the first time in his 10-year career -- Newsome now has to decide whether to take one more shot at the Super Bowl.Phoenix Heat a Problem
The Cardinals' move from St. Louis to Phoenix could cause all sorts of problems for the league. In fact, the move could cause one major problem for the team's players: when to play the games.
Certainly, the Phoenix Cardinals can't play on Sunday afternoons in the desert. A spokesman at Arizona State University -- the Cardinals will play home games there, at 70,000-seat Sun Devil Stadium -- said the afternoon temperatures through the end of September are "much higher than 100 degrees. Yes, we have the mid- to upper-90s sometimes, but that would be a cool September."
For that reason, the Sun Devils almost never play an afternoon game in September, and not in October if it can be avoided. The temperature at night is "still in the upper-80s to low-90s" the ASU spokesman said.
So, the Cardinals either will have to play a lot of away games early, since they are unlikely to be on "Monday Night Football" more than once, if that. The Arizona Outlaws of the USFL thought they could sneak in a couple of day games (for television) but had to switch them to night because of the heat.
"Yeah, but it's a dry 119 degrees," said Joe Browne, the league's director of communications.
The heat is only one problem. What about Phoenix playing in the NFC East? It would seem simple to just move Tampa Bay or Atlanta into the East, put Phoenix in the NFC West and New Orleans in the NFC Central.
Not so fast. A league source said today Commissioner Pete Rozelle still is hoping the league will expand by two teams -- which would give the league 30 teams -- by 1989 or 1990, and that realignment could wait until then.
In 1970, when the AFL and NFL merged, it took five meetings, including one all-nighter, to finalize the realignment, the league official said. Finally, the league came to a conclusion by putting five alignments in a glass vase and having Rozelle's secretary pull out one slip.
There's also the problem about how much money Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill will have to pay the NFL for taking away an expansion opportunity. Reportedly, Bidwill's move to Phoenix would increase revenue by $10 million a year. But the league could cut heavily into that sum.
Yesterday, Bidwill said he will ask the league to call a special meeting so club owners can vote on the team's proposed move sooner than scheduled.
"We can't do anything on a permanent basis until we have the vote of the league," Bidwill said in his first news conference in Arizona since announcing his plans to move the club. "That won't be until at least the next league meeting."
After a 30-day waiting period, Bidwill must have the approval of 21 of the 28 league owners to make the move. A vote on the matter currently is scheduled to be taken March 14 at the league's annual meetings in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale.Rice Named MVP
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice, who set league records for touchdown catches this season despite playing in just 12 games because of the strike, yesterday was named the league's most valuable player by the Professional Football Writers of America.
Rice, 25, became the first wide receiver to capture the Schick Trophy, now in its 13th year. Last year, New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was the first player other than a running back or quarterback to win the award.
The NFC's 1985 rookie of the year, out of Mississippi Valley State, Rice set NFL records in 1987 of most touchdown receptions overall (22) and in consecutive games (13). He began the streak last season.
Rice said he was honored to win the award, but added not reaching the Super Bowl made his season a disappointment.
"It's really tough," Rice said. "We thought we were peaking at the right time. Against Minnesota (in the playoffs) we played well, played hard -- things just didn't work out."Packers to Interview Roland
Johnny Roland, running back coach for the Chicago Bears since 1983, is scheduled to be interviewed by the Green Bay Packers, whose head coaching job was left vacant when Forrest Gregg departed to rebuild Southern Methodist's program.
Roland, who started his coaching career with the Packers in 1974 under Dan Devine, would have to be considered a longshot for the job, which would make him the first black head coach in the modern NFL. Lindy Infante, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Browns, is a strong candidate . . .
On Thursday in New York, the league's owners or their representatives will meet to discuss the New England Patriots franchise, which is having massive financial problems under the leadership of the Sullivan family. And at some time, the owners' executive committee could decide that San Francisco 49ers owner Ed DeBartolo be stripped of a first-round draft choice for giving his players a $10,000 bonus for making the playoffs.
Rozelle fined DeBartolo the maximum, $50,000. But other club executives are saying the penalty should be stiffer, especially since each of 50 players could give the owner back $1,000 to pay the fine, which has been suggested by more than one 49er.The Upset Pick
The Redskins, America's Strike Year Team, will beat Denver in the Super Bowl, let's say 31-28, and the Upset Pick will be 2-2 in the playoffs.