New Orleans Saints Coach Mike Ditka, 14-31 in the Big (Not So) Easy, said when he was first hired that if he couldn't get his team into the playoffs by his third season, he should be fired. With the Saints 2-11 and seemingly losing fan interest by the hour, it might just happen.

Team owner Tom Benson promised major changes next season just last week, and while he did not mention Ditka's name, his firing certainly is a possibility. If Ditka does stay, it's virtually a foregone conclusion that offensive coordinator Danny Abramowicz will be long gone.

One player was quoted anonymously last week as saying that 60 percent of the players believe a coaching change should be made. When he heard that, quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver said, "I don't know if we've got anybody smart enough to figure out what 60 percent of 53 [players] is. How many is that? Do any of you guys know what 60 percent of 53 is?"

On Dec. 5, local television ratings indicated that many fans tuned out the Saints-Falcons telecast at halftime to watch native son Peyton Manning and the Colts beat the Miami Dolphins. In a telephone poll of 2,673 callers, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that 74 percent were in favor of Ditka resigning.

Hand-Off Pays Off

Jim Fassel is getting high marks in New York for yielding the play-calling duties to quarterback coach Sean Payton in the week before the Giants played the New York Jets Dec. 5. With Payton handling the offense, the Giants scored a season-high 41 points. They followed that up last Sunday with a 19-16 upset victory at Buffalo, with quarterback Kerry Collins throwing for 240 yards a week after totalling 341 against the Jets.

Fassel made the switch in a week when he left the team to attend the funeral of his mother in Arizona. His assistants handled the bulk of the game plan preparation on Tuesday and Fassel said he felt he was in no shape mentally or physically to handle play-calling and game management against the Jets.

Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi, who wanted Fassel to play Collins over Kent Graham much earlier in the season, said he greatly admired Fassel's decision to take off the headset on game day for the first time in his three-year tenure as head coach.

"I'm a big believer, and Jim knows this, that the head coach just be the head coach," said Accorsi, who grew up in football working as a team publicist for Joe Paterno at Penn State and Don Shula in Baltimore. "To me, he's the commander. To me, you're in command when you don't have all that stuff to worry about. I think it was a great move by Jim. It's two distinct jobs. On game day, the great coaches are great game-day coaches. The head coach has too many other things to worry about. That's the way I was raised."

Pulling a Rosenbloom

Tampa Bay owner Malcolm Glazer apparently tried to pull a Carroll Rosenbloom last month by trying to sell his own team in order to buy the New York Jets. According to a report in the New York Times, Glazer asked his investment banker, SG Cowen, to find a buyer for the Buccaneers, the team he purchased four years ago for a then-record $192 million. Glazer then would have purchased the Jets, now in the process of being sold by Goldman Sachs for the estate of the late Leon Hess.

A Bucs spokesman last week denied the report, but other league sources confirmed Glazer's desire to buy the Jets. Other league owners discouraged the maneuver, however, and when it became apparent Glazer could not get enough votes from fellow owners, he abandoned the plan.

The deadline for final bids on the Jets was last Wednesday. Robert Wood Johnson IV, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, is said to be the leading candidate to buy the team. Other contenders are Charles Dolan, chairman of Cablevision, and Sam Grossman, a Phoenix real estate bidder who also tried to purchase the Redskins earlier this year.

Rosenbloom engineered a swap of franchises in 1972 when he sold the Baltimore Colts to the late Robert Irsay and bought the Los Angeles Rams, now owned by his wife at the time, Georgia Frontiere.

Tampa Bay fans have never been enamored with the Glazer family's purchase of the team. The team's ticket prices are among the highest in the league and Glazer has a sweetheart deal on a $168 million new stadium financed in large part by a half-cent sales tax increase in 1996.

The Glazers also are known as "The Glaciers" in the Tampa Bay area because they take forever making major decisions involving the franchise. The team still hasn't broken ground on a new training complex that was supposed to be built next to Raymond James Stadium, with a completion date now at least two years away.

King-Sized Difference

Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb and Tampa Bay quarterback Shaun King became good friends when they both played in the Senior Bowl. McNabb was a first-round pick, the second quarterback taken off the board; King was a second-round choice, the sixth quarterback taken with the 50th overall pick.

Asked last week about the difference in their paychecks, King laughed and said, "I can buy all the same things Donovan can, but then I can't eat." . . .

Cris Carter, a Mr. Nice Guy spokesman on those national commercials for a major brokerage firm, made few friends in the media last Monday night after his team's loss to Tampa Bay. With several camera crews and reporters waiting several minutes while he got dressed, Carter departed the locker room without uttering a single word. Nothing like a spokesman who doesn't speak. . . . The throat slash has been banned, so Lions cornerback Robert Bailey has a new in-your-face gesture, the "bone-breaker." He raises one knee and brings both hands down, as if to break a stick (or a bone) over his leg. . . . Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, with a team-record 34 touchdown passes and only 10 interceptions, leads the league in quarterback rating with 111.8. Former Redskin Gus Frerotte is fourth, at 90.3, for the Detroit Lions.