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franklin county times

Three wishes from me to pro football

By By Stan Torgerson / sports columnist
July 25, 2002
The NFL training camps opened this week. All's right with the world. Another couple of weeks and the colleges and universities will start practice for the 2002 season. Good things indeed come to he who waits.
So now the sweating for the players starts. Daytimes from the hot sun. Nighttimes from the sheer nervousness of will I or won't I make the team. Which is worse?
Somewhere out there there must be one of those magic bottles floating in an ocean or washing up on a remote shore. The kind that when the cork is pulled it releases a genie who expresses his gratitude by giving you three wishes. If I can find the darn thing here's what I want.
First, like the majority of pro football fans in our area, I freely admit to being a New Orleans fan. The Saints start working Friday, attempting to fit a lot of new pieces together. The town is excited. They're convinced the team drafted well, signed excellent free agents to replace those who departed the same way and the year 2000 when they made the playoffs will come back in 2002.
Maybe so. Maybe the newly drafted Dante Stallworth can become another Randy Moss. Maybe the several sorry performances by Aaron Brooks last year really weren't his fault. And maybe Deuce McAllister will be the breakaway running back the Saints have sought for years.
One thing I do know about the former Ole Miss Star. He won't dog it. He'll give you maximum effort on every play. How good is his talent? That may be the number one question being asked as the team heads to camp.
The team did take a big hit when CB Dale Carter drank himself off the field for possibly six games. Two weeks ago I was reading an article in The Sporting News praising the guy's performances in preseason workouts and saying Carter would solve a major problem for the team with his ability and experience. Then last week I picked up my favorite newspaper and discovered the league had suspended him for allegedly going back on the jug. It doesn't seem to me it would be that difficult making a choice between a million dollar contract and a shot of booze. Apparently for Carter it is.
So wish number one is that the Saints are highly competitive in 2002 and find their way into the playoffs again. That doesn't seem like a lot to ask of a genie.
Wish number two concerns Steve Spurrier. The majority of fans probably believe he's an egotistical, self-centered, opinionated smart A who will get his comeuppance in the NFL after taking advantage of college kids all these years.
Don't be so sure.
This guy is bright. Really bright. I've only been around him a couple of times at SEC meetings and at a league golf tournament when his group played immediately in front of mine, but you don't have to talk to him for two minutes before you realize the man has a genuine first-class working-every-minute brain in his head.
How do we know his Fun N Gun approach to football won't work on the pro level as it did in college? We don't because no one in the pros has really ever done it Spurrier's way.
From the things printed and said about the man it's obvious his players like and respect him. He's also flying in the face of the pro belief that practices have to go on until the player's tongues hang out and that coaches have to sleep at their office in order to work late and get up early planning strategy.
His practices, he says, will be shorter and not designed to be out and out tough-man contests. He also has shocked his fellow coaches by saying when the day is over he's going home. The office is a place to work but not to sleep.
There are many doubters about whether he can take two outstanding college quarterbacks who turned into so-so pro quarterbacks Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel and give them back their magic. I confess to being part of that group.
But it will be genuinely fun and interesting to see someone challenge the old beliefs that have shaped the NFL for so long and I, for one, hope he makes it big.
That leaves one wish.
It's a catch-all wish but we've got a lot kids from Mississippi out there playing pro football. Some are already stars. Some are trying to be. Some are just seeking a chance to be. McAllister is one. Fred Smoot, who will play for Spurrier is another. Steve McNair of the Tennessee Titans is on that list. He and Archie Manning are the two best running quarterbacks I ever saw play college football.
There are former Southern Mississippi kids who are trying to make it or keep it. Jackson State players who want to earn the fame and rewards of being in football's big leagues. It's like we're all family. Regardless of the school they represented, we have common roots.
So there we have it. A good year for the Saints. Success for Steve Spurrier. Jobs for former Mississippi players.
And, call it a bonus wish if you like, may my TV set stay healthy on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights.

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