Coach's Corner

Where's the pixie dust falling? In a mid-season NFL wrapup, Coach looks at the season's surprises thus far.

It's been a strange, weird year in the National Football League, beginning with the Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams, who, up until the very instant of their still inexplicable ascendance to the top of the football heap, were habitual pigskin poster children for how to screw up a sports franchise. How nobody saw the coming of this offensive panzer unit from the rubble of another 4-12 year astounds me still, a year later. Most of the offensive weapons (all of the receivers and most of the offensive line) were there. Yet there wasn't even a rumble of thunder in the distance, forewarning the storm ahead, the pixie dust season that was '99-00. This year the Rams again detonated out of the gate. Every Sunday produced another 50-point offensive explosion. They looked unbeatable. Then, as suddenly and inexplicably as it came, the dust fell away. This weekend the Rams lost to a mediocre Carolina team, their third loss in four games. The offense scored three points. The gilded carriage has turned back into a pumpkin. Where goeth the pixie dust? Not to New Orleans, another perpetual dog show in the NFC West. After a nightmare rookie season, Ricky Williams -- running fast and hard -- was looking like the star everybody thought he'd be. Then he shatters an ankle. The Saints (8-5) are tied with St. Louis for the lead in the West -- a miracle in itself -- and still have their two games to play against the suddenly vulnerable Rams ... but no running game.

If you want to know where the pixie dust went let's look at Miami coach Dave Wannstedt ... whom it's covering from head to toe. Wannstedt, the former Bear head coach, went from a Chicago messiah to another devotee of the Chicago cult of the 6-10. I follow the Bears. I read the papers. I heard and saw the interviews. A postgame interview with Wannstedt was like listening to a groundhog talk. In Chicago, his idea of a creative offensive series was: Run two plays for three yards and throw a three-yard pass to the tight end. He came to Chicago with the reputation as a defensive genius and proceeded to turn out a bottom-three defense each year. Now, out of the blue (see the pixie dust fall), he's turned into a Hall of Fame blend of Vince Lombardi and Don Coryell. The Dolphins can do no wrong. This is why the X-Files has had such a long run. Some things you just can't explain.

The AFC's cousins to the Rams are the Indianapolis Colts. From the same long years of front-office bungling, to the racetrack indoor dome homes, to the check-my-skid-mark offenses and porous defenses, these teams are mirror images. The differences are two: True, the Colts only won three games in '98, but with Peyton Manning, you could see them coming. Also, they play in the polar opposite division to the NFC West: the Eastern quadrant of the AFC, a cutthroat place where every game is a bloody alley fight. Last season's 12-4 Colts were the Super Bowl pick of many experts this year, but they won't make the playoffs.

And back we swing to the stodgy old NFC. Honest to God, I thought, for years, that Minnesota Vikings head coach and GM Denny Green was an idiot. I was certain that Green played Pin the Tail on the Donkey and just kept blundering into piles of riches. Three years ago, he convinced Randall Cunningham to come out of retirement (where he'd spent the past year as a carpenter!) to run his team. Totally desperate. Stupid! Then, with the 21st pick in that winter's draft he picks up Randy Moss to go along with all the other druggies and drunks that seemed to gravitate to the Vikings. Stupid again! So Cunningham's the league MVP, and Moss immediately becomes the best receiver in football. Minnesota goes to the NFC Championship game. What dumb luck! That winter, Green wastes the 11th pick in the draft on some 300-pound quarterback out of -- hello! -- Central Florida, when he could've had Cade McNown. Moron! The next year he unceremoniously dumps Cunningham for the most unpopular player in the NFL (except for Ryan Leaf), Jeff George. George, a career loser of epic proportions, has a Pro-Bowl career year before barely losing to eventual champ St. Louis in a second-round shootout. That winter Green -- how dumb does it get? -- lets George go and hands the starting quarterback job to the 300-pound QB he drafted the year before ... a freak who'd thrown a total of six passes in his rookie year! That be Daunte Culpepper. This, sportsfans, is why I write a weekly column for a hundred bucks a week and Green is a genius making millions.

Well, out of space and so many more odd things. So I'll be quick. The Baltimore Ravens are going to allow the fewest points in the history of the game. Quick, 10 seconds, name two guys on the Ravens not named Ray Lewis or Priest Holmes. Case closed... Elderly journeyman QB Rich Gannon is going to be the league, maybe the Super Bowl MVP for the Raiders... Trent Dilfer's a star... A look at a future shock: Steve McNair is highly overrated. The Titans will lose in the first round of the playoffs.

This just in: Norv Turner may be the swell guy and the brilliant mind all his friends say he is, but the criticism of Redskins owner Daniel Synder is just wrong: Turner deserved to be fired. It probably should have happened before this year. Hired by the late Jack Kent Cooke in 1994, Turner -- with glowing credentials from the Cowboys where he was the offensive coordinator for two Super Bowl teams -- was given a carte blanche to return the Redskins to their past prominence. With a record of 49-59-1, Turner simply did not get the job done. This year Snyder paid $100 million for a batch of old superstars. Turner's participation in this spending spree is unclear. Nevertheless, the media crowned Washington the Super Bowl champions before training camp began. All the bullets were chambered and the trigger was cocked. Nothing short of a long playoff run was going to be acceptable. Today, standing at a horribly depressing 7-6, the Redskins probably won't make the playoffs. You can question the timing of a midseason firing if you want, but in the high-pressure, high-pay world of professional sports, it's amazing Turner lasted as long as he did.

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