Welcome back. Have a nice summer? Good. Incredible, isn't it, how the lawns are still so green. By now mine usually looks like Mr. Potato Head. So, are you ready for your first day back at work, or back at school? And are you ready, as the headache-inducing Hank Williams Jr. keeps screeching, for some FOOOOT-ball? Unfortunately, not all our rowdy friends are here.

Eric Dickerson, for example. He'll miss at least the first six weeks of the season -- at a cost of $634,000 -- as he and the Colts haggle over which doctor he'll agree to see. Weeks ago, Dickerson flunked his physical because of a hamstring injury. He says the hamstring is fine now, but every time the Colts make an appointment for him to visit the team physician, he cancels; he insists on a doctor of his own choosing. Dickerson, who until last Thursday could not name a doctor other than Julius Erving, is willing to be examined by Cliff Huxtable or Vinnie Goombatz. Knowing Dickerson well, the Colts assumed he was stalling 1) to avoid training camp and 2) to get himself traded. They suspended him.

I don't know the extent of the Colts' examination, but I'd rather balance a bowling ball on my nose than see my doctor put on the rubber glove and hear him say the magic words "Bend over." We can all sympathize with somebody who's reluctant to go through that. On the other hand, $634,000 seems a bit steep for canceling an appointment. Who's the Colts' doctor, Schweitzer?

Consider what a cheesehead Dickerson must be if the Colts, who traded 37 players to get him, are willing to play without him. What's amazing is that no one in the NFL seems to want him. Granted, he fumbles a lot, and Dale Carnegie once took a swing at him, but Dickerson is going to become the league's ALL-TIME leading rusher if someone will just hand him the ball. Nobody needs a runner like that? Everybody's flush? I must have missed the announcements when Atlanta coaxed O.J. out of retirement, and Joe Bugel put Walter Payton in the Phoenix backfield.

Lawrence Taylor is among the missing, holding out for $2 million. L.T. told the Giants he would accept trades to San Diego, Philadelphia, Houston, Minnesota or the Raiders. The Giants open with Philly, Sunday night on TNT, so a trade would be a big ratings-getter. George Young could make the deal, then check directly into the Federal Witness Protection Plan.

The Giants aren't going anywhere without L.T. So L.T. isn't going anywhere. He's stuck at the Meadowlands just like Jimmy Hoffa. Eventually, he'll call and say: "George, I hear there's a game this Sunday. What time does it start?" And Young will say, "Larry, sweetheart, what time can you be there?"

While Dickerson and L.T. are missing, Al Davis and his rootless Raiders are here, there and everywhere. Davis is a pigeon, fluttering around, looking for a roost. I'd like Raiders for $300, please.

"Los Angeles."

Where might the Raiders play their home games this year?

Raiders for $400, please.


Where might the Raiders play their home games this year?

And Raiders for $500.


Where might . . .

Where will the Raiders play their home games? Do they print the tickets and leave the site blank? What do they say at the box office, "Please consult local listings for time and place of game?"

Al, what are you doing? It's like hi-lo poker, Al, you gotta declare.

Tagliabue's probably afraid to give Al an ultimatum for fear he'll take the owners to court and beat them for another $800 million.

Has it occurred to Al to make the Raiders a permanently floating franchise, and play his eight home games in eight different cities? Select cities starving for the NFL: Baltimore, St. Louis, Oakland, Sacramento, Memphis, Jacksonville, Birmingham and, of course, Irwindale. An "Al Across America" tour. Have Sky Box, Will Travel. Commitment To Tourism. Just Pick Us Up At The Airport, Baby. Wire Al.

At present, the league is more concerned with how long the games take than where they take place. You'll remember the games were going on. And on. And on. The Energizer rabbit dropped dead before the Tampa Bay Bucs. Second-grade boys who sat down to watch "Monday Night Football" were shaving by the third period. Group F scored in less time than it took to play an NFL game.

So they changed the rules this season.

Now, the average NFL game takes 18 minutes.

There are seven plays from scrimmage, and they fill the rest of the three-hour time slot with 2,000 promos for CBS's "The NFL Today." (Memo to Brent: Phone home, ask for Irv.)

Last week the NFL modified some of its new rules to squeeze some more plays into the game. This pleased a loopy, splinter group of fans who maintained some people actually tuned in to watch the game, not the Buick ads.

The NFL also restored one minute to the halftime break, which had previously been sliced from 15 minutes to 12. Some good things came out of the cut: Less time for Lynn Swann and no conceivable chance that Up With People and their endless cascades of hair and teeth would have time to perform MacArthur Park. But assistant coaches complained they couldn't get from the press box to the locker room in time to change the course of Western Civilization. So the NFL will allot 13 minutes to halftime.

Will the minute prove critical to the coaches? (It certainly could if the restoration was from 29 to 30 minutes; hungry, underpaid assistants might get $3 off on a late pizza delivery.) Psychologists can use it to kick over another blackboard. Technicians may use it to diagram new plays. Zealots can kneel and say another prayer. Jimmy Johnson, I trust, will use it to stir-fry his hair.