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Around The Afc

September 11, 1998

CENTRAL / What's $34 Million Among Friends?

Now that the Cleveland franchise has an owner, the rest of the league is getting ready to divvy up the $476-million expansion fee--$54 million of the $530-million purchase price goes for the team's new stadium--but not so fast there, Art Modell and Georgia Frontiere. As part of their deals to move to Baltimore and St. Louis, Modell and Frontiere agreed to forfeit their shares of the next expansion opportunity, never dreaming that the fee would go from $140 million for Jacksonville and Charlotte to $476, costing each $17 million.

A month ago running back James Stewart was fighting for a job, but now he's entrenched as Jacksonville's starter, ahead of rookies Fred Taylor and Tavian Banks. Banks ran one play in his debut--and fumbled. Said Jaguar Coach Tom Coughlin, "This is the National Football League. You don't turn the ball over. You don't turn it over."

When the Steelers went looking for a replacement for Chuck Noll in 1992, they got down to Bill Cowher and Dave Wannstedt. Both were from Pittsburgh, but owner Dan Rooney picked Cowher. Smart man, that Rooney. Cowher's teams are 70-38 and have made the playoffs all six years, winning five AFC Central titles, appearing in three AFC title games and one Super Bowl. Wannstedt is 36-45, and the Bears have made the playoffs once.

EAST / Thomas Knows Where Bills' Loading Zone Is

Buffalo running back Thurman Thomas, a starter for the last decade, has been replaced by Antowain Smith. "I'm not going to stand here and say I feel like I'm 25 years old," Thomas said. "I feel like I'm 32 years old. It's been very easy for me to help Antowain. I recognize talent, and he's got talent. I'm still teaching him the tricks of the trade in the NFL, but he's a Pro Bowl-caliber player who can put the team on his shoulders and carry them all the way."

Archie Manning apologized for appearing so upset on TV while watching his son, Peyton, and Indianapolis, lose to Miami. "I was a little disappointed in myself," he said. "I think I should have been more disciplined. I saw early on the running game wasn't going good, and I was just very nervous for him." The senior Manning gave up his Saints' radio job to watch his son play, but said he will watch several games on TV while working as a spokesman for DirectTV. "I feel very strongly that we shouldn't load him up with family every weekend," Archie said. At least until they get Peyton a better running game.

Six weeks ago Oronde Gadsden was playing Arena League football. Now he's a starting wide receiver for the Dolphins, catching passes from Dan Marino. The Dolphins started Gadsden over six-year veteran Charles Jordan. Nine players caught passes from Marino in the opener, and although Jordan was on the field for 27 snaps, he didn't catch any.

WEST / No More Penalties for Holding Thy Tongues

As if anyone really cares, the Denver offensive line has been ordered to speak. The line was silent for the last two seasons until threatened with NFL fines in the playoffs, and Denver Coach Mike Shanahan has ordered his big guys to produce a spokesman each Friday. Guard Mark Schlereth will be the first to speak today. The Los Angeles Times will, of course, stop the presses.

Rich Gannon will start in place of an injured Elvis Grbac at quarterback for the Chiefs, and that should be troubling for Kansas City fans. Gannon started for an injured Grbac last year against Jacksonville and was sacked six times, fumbled four times and threw two interceptions in a 24-10 loss. Gannon then went on to win five straight. "To be real honest with you, I don't consider myself as a backup quarterback," Gannon said, making him the only one in the world who feels that way.

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