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In-Season Socializing Not Part of Playbook


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Jim Fassel and Mike Holmgren were buddies at the University of Southern California. Holmgren was the starting quarterback, Fassel the young junior college transfer.

Holmgren took Fassel under his wing. They were roommates.

Now Fassel coaches the New York Giants, Holmgren the Green Bay Packers. How often do they talk?

"I'm not big on talking to other coaches during the season," Holmgren says. "Jim knows I wish him well, except (when their teams meet), and we'll talk after the season."

After the Packers' 37-3 victory over the Giants, Holmgren and Fassel shook hands, Holmgren offered a few words of encouragement, then it was "see you at the coaches meetings ..."

And that suits Fassel fine.

"I never talk to other players, other coaches during the season," Fassel said. "I don't call to chit-chat, and I warn my other coaches and players not to talk either. Sometimes you do that, and the other guy is doing more information-gathering than information-giving, you know what I mean?"

During World War II, posters were everywhere imploring people not to chat about what they were building at the plant or where their son in the service might be heading next. One never knew where the enemy's ear might be. "Loose lips sink ships" was the motto.

In the NFL, where players move around far more than they used to, where nearly every pair of coaches has crossed paths somewhere and the high pressure of the profession bonds people together, loose lips have become an issue. Among the fears:

* Someone from Team A could discourage a player from Team B from signing a contract extension by intimating that Team A would have interest in him as a free agent.

* Precious game plan, or draft plan, information could leak out.

* Information about an injury could be released sooner, or in more detail, than a team would like.

* A coach could, inappropriately, offer advice to a struggling player on another team.

Two weeks ago, Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan did not include news of quarterback John Elway's rib injury on the team's injury report and was fined $15,000 when Elway sat out the game at San Diego. Shanahan later explained he preferred paying the fine to letting opponents know Elway had sore ribs so that, if he did try to play with the injury, they could aim for the sore spot.

On Oct. 19, Bill Parcells' New York Jets played the New England Patriots. Parcells and Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who had a stormy relationship when Parcells coached the Patriots, met on the field after the Jets victory and, in effect, mended fences.

Parcells was touched by the gesture, and called Bledsoe Oct. 21 to say how much he appreciated it. During the course of their conversation, Bledsoe told Parcells that Patriots receiver Terry Glenn was more seriously injured than was generally known, and probably wouldn't play against the Miami Dolphins the following Sunday. The Patriots did not release Glenn's injury status until Thursday. But several sources reported that Parcells passed the information on to Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson.

The Dolphins held the Patriots without a touchdown and won, 12-9, on Oct. 25.

Lombardi reported that the Patriots filed tampering charges against the Jets. The NFL has said that is not the case, but the league has "made an inquiry," according to spokesman Greg Aiello, into the Parcells-Bledsoe conversation. Such conversations, harmless as they seem, are avoided -- or at least that's what many players say.

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