BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer
It's unrealistic to imagine that Weeb Ewbank's death last Tuesday left the New York Jets in a reflective mood. After all, an entire generation separates them from Jan. 12, 1969, when Ewbank coached the Jets to their landmark victory in Super Bowl III over the Baltimore Colts.
But since the Jets report daily to a headquarters on the Hofstra University campus named Weeb Ewbank Hall, you'd like to think that Ewbank meant something to them.
For a few players, he did.
All spoke respectfully of Ewbank, the Miami University graduate who resided in Oxford, though not everyone was aware of his accomplishments. Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson's reaction was typical: "He was like a coach or something, right?"
Quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who adored the Jets while growing up in Elmont, N.Y., was a refreshing exception.
Testaverde, who was 6 when the Jets won the Super Bowl, said he didn't know whether his teammates knew anything about Ewbank. "But I know I do, and I know I'll remember him for the rest of my life, just because of what he's done for me as a Jets fan," Testaverde said.
One of Testaverde's most cherished memories was having lunch with Ewbank and the legendary Joe Namath at a golf tournament eight years ago. "As a big fan of the Jets and of his as a kid, sitting at the same table as him (Ewbank) over lunch, well, it doesn't get any better than that," Testaverde said.
Fullback Keith Byars, who has a well-known appreciation of history - football and otherwise - lamented his teammates' benign ignorance.
"Anything that you're getting paid for, that's your job, and you should know as much as you can about it," Byars said. "You should know about your craft. And young guys just don't know. It's not just football. You look at baseball, and you've got guys who don't know who Jackie Robinson was. That's a shame.
"All the great things Weeb Ewbank did, unfortunately, don't necessarily fall on young guys' ears. Somebody won world championships in two different leagues and brought the Jets their only Super Bowl, you should know that. A lot of these young guys don't know who played in 1980, let alone who coached in the 1960s. They don't really know what's happening now. They probably don't know this was called Weeb Ewbank Hall."
Coaches must attend some sort of school where they learn to issue the same responses in sticky situations.
In announcing why he was replacing quarterback Danny Kanell with Kent Graham, New York Giants coach Jim Fassel echoed Bruce Coslet, who named Paul Justin to start in place of Neil O'Donnell today.
Fassel: "(Graham) gives us the best chance right now, in my opinion, to win. I want to get this team playing better. Right now he gives us the best chance to start playing better. And I have an eye on the future. I need to find out about Kent Graham, be it as a backup or as a starter. It's my chance to evaluate him."
Coslet: "I'm putting Paul Justin in to give us the best chance to win. That's it in a nutshell. (Next year) was a factor. But we would like to know about Paul Justin before we have to make those type of decisions."
The coaches also matched each other on the permanence of their respective moves.
Fassel: "I don't have a time frame, whether it's one game, two games, three games or four games."
Coslet: "We'll take it on a game-by-game basis. It isn't for the rest of the season; it isn't for nothing. We just want to see how it goes."
Wisely, neither coach dumped on the deposed starter. He might be needed later.
Fassel: "I'm giving Danny a timeout. I'm not ruling him out as a starter in the future."
Coslet: "I'm not giving up on Neil whatsoever. He's a good football player and a good quarterback."
Now that the Denver Broncos are 10-0, veterans of the 1972 Miami Dolphins club that finished 17-0 (including postseason) are starting to make noise.
"I hope someone beats them soon," said safety Dick Anderson, who annually pops open a bottle of champagne when the league's last undefeated team loses.
"They've got everybody's attention, including mine," Hall of Fame coach Don Shula said.
At least one ex-Dolphin wouldn't mind seeing the Broncos remain perfect.
"There's a part of me that hopes somebody would go through the season undefeated so everyone would stop asking and talking about it," defensive lineman Manny Fernandez said. "I'm 52 years old, and I just want to retire and deer hunt and bass fish and teach my grandkids to deer hunt and bass fish."
Fernandez may get his wish, at least in the regular season. Denver's last six opponents have a combined 30-30 record. Only two of those opponents have a winning record: Oakland and Miami, which faces the Broncos on Monday night, Dec. 21. Imagine the hype for that game if Denver's still undefeated.
ODE TO A FALLEN STAR:
Anybody who watched the Oct. 25 Bengals-Oakland Raiders game knows how good 11-year veteran Eric Allen is. The Raiders cornerback defended Carl Pickens superbly, perhaps better than any individual has in recent seasons.
So after Allen suffered a torn knee ligament last week that will sideline him for the rest of the season, the Raiders expressed profound remorse.
"It's devastating news," quarterback Jeff George said. "The guy is one of the leaders on the team, and this is only his first year (in Oakland). He just took over that defense. It's a huge loss for us. I feel more badly about this loss than that of any player I've ever played with."
"He has been as good as it gets," safety Albert Lewis said. "He was on his way to Hawaii (the Pro Bowl)," running back Harvey Williams said. "He's had a heck of a season. To see him cover is a thing of beauty."
Lewis Merlotti, the Cleveland Browns' new director of stadium and security affairs, needed to explain to his boss why he was switching jobs.
Because Merlotti had been head of the Secret Service since June 1997, his boss was President Clinton.
"I could see a look of concern on his face," Merlotti said. "Then I told him I was going to the Cleveland Browns. His face lit up and he said, 'My God, you can't walk away from an opportunity like that.' "
Browns fans won't have to worry about a bunch of guys in drab suits wearing sunglasses and frowns while speaking into lapel microphones and patrolling the aisles and corridors.
"In the Secret Service, our goal is to provide security in a subtle way," Merlotti said. "I will work closely with the Cleveland Police Department and we will not impede the game in any way."
Tennessee Oilers players are probably more curious than anyone about next year's nickname switch to "Titans."
Said safety Blaine Bishop, "I think most of the guys are excited to see what the logo and colors are going to be. We want something to make us look a little mean."
Bishop and his mates will get their answer in a few weeks, since the logo and uniforms are expected to be in Tennessee-area stores, just in time for the holiday shopping season.
STOPPED IN THEIR TRACKS:
It could be worse, Bengals fans. You could be rooting for the Carolina Panthers.
Carolina is averaging 71.1 yards rushing per game, far below the league average of 112.2. The only team to finish a season in this decade with a worse average was the 1992 Indianapolis Colts, who amassed 68.9 yards per game on the ground.
The Panthers (1-9) have exceeded 100 yards rushing twice. In their eight other games, they topped 67 yards just once.
"I guess we're really bad," Carolina offensive lineman Frank Garcia said. "We've done some good things, but we haven't done them as well as we would like."
Injuries that have forced Carolina to use six different offensive-line combinations haven't helped. Priorities also could be a factor. Bent on improving their passing game entering the season, the Panthers have averaged 222.4 yards passing, sixth-best in the league.
Said coach Dom Capers, "Don't judge us until the season's over, OK?"
That partially torn medial collateral ligament Jerome Bettis suffered in his left knee during Pittsburgh's Oct. 11 game against the Bengals has bothered him more than anyone will admit. Bettis has failed to rush for 100 yards in five of his nine games, compared with only four sub-100 games last season. In '96, Bettis fell short of 100 only three times before missing the final two games with injuries.
More fodder for Bengal-bashers: Tampa Bay won five of its last seven games in 1996 and made the playoffs the following year. Atlanta, which finished 5-1 last year, is 8-2 and bound for a NFC West title. What have the Bengals done with their season-ending 7-2 and 6-2 surges in the past two years?