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SPORTS WEEKEND

WEEK 3 PRIMER / T.J. SIMERS : Buccaneers Get New Test : GAME OF THE WEEK: TAMPA BAY AT MINNESOTA, Sunday, 10 a.m., Channel 11

September 12, 1997|T.J. SIMERS

Take note, Cheeseheads, this is for all the marbles in the NFC Central Division in a battle between the two best teams. The Bucs have knocked off San Francisco and Detroit, and although the Vikings have won five of the last six meetings between these teams in the Metrodome, Tony Dungy knows all of Minnesota's secrets after working there for four years.

Quarterback Trent Dilfer has shown remarkable progress for Tampa to date, helped in a large part by rookie running back Warrick Dunn, but the Vikings couldn't be more pleased with the switch from Warren Moon to Brad Johnson. So what we have here are two happy teams, already one game up on the Packers. If the Bucs win here, there might be no catching them.

Line: Minnesota by 4.

Key stat: The last time the Bucs started a season 3-0 was in 1979.

Are you kidding--edge to Minnesota.

Five Things to Look For:

1. A Tony Banks fumble. Just like Sunday follows Saturday, the St. Louis Ram starting quarterback is going to fumble. Banks, who fumbled an NFL-record 21 times as a rookie, dropped the ball three times last week against San Francisco. In a high school move, he's now carrying a ball around with him during the week wherever he goes. "I'm holding the ball, trying to do some things to get used to it," Banks said.

2. Heath Shuler at quarterback for New Orleans--for at least a few plays. The pressure's on Coach Mike Ditka to pull Shuler and try out Danny Wuerffel after two poor performances and a home-town crowd already booing Shuler's every move.

"When I brought Heath in I brought him in with the idea that I was going to give him a shot," Ditka said. "I told him when I brought him in I wasn't going to jerk him around every time he did something wrong. I've done that in the past too. I'm going to give him a chance. Two games don't make a season."

Three might.

3. Detroit wide receiver Johnnie Morton not being the first player taken in the expansion draft by Los Angeles' new football team. Morton, a former Trojan, has now begun jumping into the stands as the players do in Green Bay.

"Coming out here from L.A., you've got die-hard fans out here, that's what I've noticed," Morton said. "It means something to them if they can be near a player, talk to him, touch him. If you do that in L.A., they're just like, no big deal. They don't even know who you are."

Johnnie What's-His-Name has got a point there.

4. The opening of Raljon Stadium. The Redskins will play the Cardinals in their new 80,116-seat Maryland stadium--less than 18 months after construction began--named after late owner Jack Kent Cooke's two sons, Ralph and John.

5. Boos in Atlanta. The only one who might get booed more than Bill Parcells returning to New England is Jeff George coming back to Atlanta with the Raiders. George, suspended after three games last year for the Falcons, has not had many kind things to say about the city's fans.

AROUND THE NFC

EAST

Wide receiver Alvin Harper, a free-agent bust at Tampa Bay after playing for Dallas, came to Washington for more money and still doesn't have a catch. "It's going to be hard to keep everyone happy," Harper said. "But we have four good wide receivers, and we all have to deal with it." Would someone please name those four good receivers? . . . They might want to think about installing cheap goalposts at Sun Devil Stadium. After the Cardinals beat the Cowboys, fans tore down the goalpost at the north end of the field and carried it down 5th Street and dumped it into a dry Salt River bed. Fans did the same thing twice last year--after Arizona State beat Nebraska and California. Arizona quarterback Kent Graham dropped to his knees after the win, lifted his arms to the heavens and then cried. . . . The NFL instituted the "Emmitt Smith rule" this year penalizing a team 15 yards if a player removes his helmet. Smith used to do it after every touchdown. Against Arizona he got nailed for 15 yards for taking his helmet off to argue a holding penalty. "I see guys doing sexual gestures after sacks and they're not getting [penalty] flags," Smith said. . . . The Giants were last in the league in third-down conversions last year, and with new whiz kid Jim Fassel directing the offense, they have hit on only seven of 27 third-down attempts. Guess it wasn't all Dan Reeves' fault. . . . The Eagles' first-round draft pick, defensive end Jon Harris, has been on the team's inactive list for the first two games because of his poor work in the preseason.

Noteworthy: If the Cardinals beat the Redskins, they will be 2-0 in the NFC East for the first time since 1984.

And the rest of the story: It has been reported in several places that a frustrated Ray Rhodes will ask out of his contract as coach of the Eagles at year's end because Philadelphia won't spend money on free agents.

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