The NFL season reaches the halfway point this weekend, prompting our annual midseason review.
Offensive MVP--Kurt Warner, the first-year starting quarterback of the St. Louis Rams, has thrown more touchdown passes--21--than any other player in the first seven games of any season.
Defensive MVP--Warren Sapp continues to wreak havoc for the stingy Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leading the league with seven sacks. Too bad the Bucs offense is going nowhere, and neither are the Bucs.
NFC Coach of Year--Dick Vermeil of the Rams gets the call for rallying his team to a 6-1 record after losing starting quarterback Trent Green in the preseason. Bobby Ross in Detroit is a close second, especially without Barry Sanders.
AFC Coach of Year--Gunther Cunningham of the Chiefs has his team back in contention and playing disciplined football a year after it all unraveled under Marty Schottenheimer. Jeff Fisher of the Titans is 1A, getting his team to 6-1 without starting quarterback Steve McNair for five games.
Rookie of year, defense--Who else but Champ Bailey, a ballhawking terror who should be manning a corner spot in Washington for many years (and perhaps see a little action as a wide receiver and return man, as well).
Rookie of year, offense--Edgerrin James in Indianapolis has justified the Colts' decision to take him ahead of Heisman winner Ricky Williams in the draft, though Williams is getting healthy and getting the ball more often now that Mike Ditka is starting to call the plays.
Owner of year--Bob McNair, the Houston businessman who will pay a record $800 million to bring pro football back to his adopted city. He may become the most media-friendly owner in league history, and you've got to like a guy who also has two horses running in the Breeders' Cup on Saturday.
Best idea of year--Most networks using that electronically induced yellow line to demark where a team must advance for a first down.
Worst idea of year--Instant replay. Sorry, just let 'em play. Despite all the grand advances in technology, reviews still take too long, and the sight of a referee's head disappearing under camera canvas a la Matthew Brady is just a bit much.
Surprise of year--Alvin Harper is back in the NFL, followed by the rise of the Rams and the free fall of the Broncos.
Bust of year--Bill Parcells, who stubbornly refuses to add a legitimate quarterback to his roster.
O'Donnell: Team Player
Everyone knows about Warner's phenomenal season, but, quietly, former Maryland quarterback Neil O'Donnell was also having a banner year in place of injured Steve McNair, who missed five games while recovering from minor back surgery before starting Sunday in the Titans' 24-21 victory over St. Louis.
O'Donnell had eight touchdown passes in five starts and had completed 60 percent of his throws in engineering four wins in his five starts, helping his team get a share of first place with Jacksonville in the AFC Central.
Fisher said O'Donnell had no qualms about taking a seat last Sunday in favor of McNair and "handled it just the way I expected him to. He's a team guy, and he was the first one on the field to congratulate Steve. You need two good quarterbacks in this league, and we've got two."
Brett Favre had one of the worst performances of his career Monday night in a dismal 27-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, throwing four interceptions in a game for only the second time. Favre continually tried to make big plays down the field, only to throw into double coverage or have his receivers drop at least a half-dozen balls.
Both teams had trouble holding on to the football, combining for eight fumbles in the first half and 10 overall. Afterward, many players were grumbling about the not-so-frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, which they said resembled more of a sandbox.
Two weeks ago, the Packers replaced their SportGrass field--a combination of real and artificial turf--with natural turf. Monday night's game was the first played on the new surface that included 87,000 square feet of matured bluegrass blend turf.
By the way, Mike Holmgren's return to Green Bay as coach of the Seahawks marked the first time a former Packer head coach returned to Green Bay as head coach of another team during the regular season. Curly Lambeau, a co-founder of the Packers who resigned as their coach in 1949, faced the Packers as coach of the Washington Redskins in 1952, but that game was played in Milwaukee.
Randall Cunningham, who led the NFL in passing last year, on his benching in favor of Jeff George last week: "It was a very smart move by Denny Green," he said. "We're a team, and if one of the guys isn't doing the job, Denny has to make a decision. I have to applaud Denny." . . .
Kordell Stewart threw his first touchdown pass at home since last Nov. 22 in the first quarter of last Monday night's victory over Atlanta. Stewart entered the game with a streak of 108 straight passes in five homes games without a scoring throw. . . . Troy Aikman widened the lead in victories by a quarterback in the '90s with Dallas's triumph over the Redskins two weeks ago. He's got 87, with Dan Marino and Steve Young stuck at 84 and still out with injuries. Aikman also broke a tie with Joe Montana as the winningest starting quarterback of any decade.