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Finally, Dan's the Man Again

NFL SPOTLIGHT / WEEK 11

November 22, 1999

It took one loss and one injury for Dan Marino to become the most important Miami Dolphin again.

After weeks of speculation over whether Marino would get his job back from Damon Huard when his injured neck healed, the Dolphins went to Buffalo and gained 101 yards in a 23-3 loss to the Bills on Nov. 14. Then, Sunday, Huard was injured, breaking his nose during a 27-17 victory over New England. He was replaced by Scott Zolak, who reminds many of Billy Kilmer. Of course, Kilmer is 60.

Huard, who was 18 for 30 for 131 yards, said he could play Thursday in Dallas, but Johnson said he hopes Dan Marino will return from a pinched nerve in his neck.

Suddenly, the return of Marino once again is critical to Miami's hopes in the AFC East, where four teams are within two games of the top.

Sunday, Dolphin Coach Jimmy Johnson said speculation he might keep Huard at quarterback over Marino is a distraction to the team and announced that Marino, who has missed the last five games because of a pinched nerve in his neck, will return to practice Monday and split repetitions with Huard, even though Marino is still at only "90%."

That's an interesting comment, considering two weeks ago, Johnson said: "We will keep Marino out of practice and not start him unless he's 100%."

But that's not the only time Johnson has backed away from statement earlier this season.

Sunday, Johnson said of Marino: "Sure, it's nice to have a quarterback with a lot of mobility, but Dan brings a lot of things to the table that some mobile quarterbacks lack."

Compare that to what he said two weeks ago, after a 17-0 win over Tennessee: "With Damon, we can see him on the practice field and we know that he's got mobility, which is a key asset."

No matter how you look at it, Johnson seems to have finally realized what most fans already knew: Marino is better than Huard, and the Dolphins need him for any playoff run they plan to make.

CLICK YOUR HEELS THREE TIMES AND SAY: THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

The first time the Pittsburgh Steelers visited Tennessee, Titan Coach Jeff Fisher joked that a friend thought he had taken a wrong turn and wound up in Pennsylvania.

Steeler fans flooded the Liberty Bowl in Memphis and turned the final game of the 1997 season into a home game for Pittsburgh.

The scene so infuriated Tennessee owner Bud Adams that he abandoned plans to play a second year in Memphis, moving the team to cramped Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville for the 1998 season. The team found fans more supportive there but still was last in the NFL in attendance.

This year, everything has changed. The Oilers became the Titans, a new stadium in downtown Nashville opened and huge crowds have turned out. The combination has invigorated the Titans, who are 5-0 at home and 8-2 overall after defeating the Steelers, 16-10, Sunday.

"To see the difference, it's amazing," safety Blaine Bishop said. "I think a lot of guys didn't realize how important home-field advantage was until this year with the fans and how loud they've been cheering for us."

Tennessee will break the franchise home attendance mark of 60,431 fans a game set in 1991, when the team played at the Houston Astrodome. The Titans are averaging 65,769 through five games and the final three games are sold out.

TIME IS UP

When Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys in 1989, he kept Tex Schramm as general manager until the two could devise a buyout agreement. When they did, part of it was providing a luxury suite for Schramm at Texas Stadium.

So for a decade, Schramm, who as team president created the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and marketed the Cowboys as "America's Team," was a regular presence at the team's home games.

No more.

"The agreement was for 10 years and 10 years is up," Schramm said Sunday. "Now I watch on television like everyone else."

WHEN YOU ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY HAVE TO PLAY A GAME OVERNIGHT

Three years ago, the Washington Redskins' home was the venerable RFK Stadium in the heart of the nation's capital. Now it's a place called FedEx Field, sitting on a big parking lot in the suburbs at Landover, Md.

A transition swayed by politics, an ownership struggle and a couple of name changes was completed Sunday when the Redskins officially gave their stadium a corporate sponsor name before their game against the New York Giants.

Last week, the Redskins and Federal Express finalized a record 27-year, $205-million naming rights deal. That is worth more than the estimated $180 million it cost to build the 80,116-seat stadium.

The new moniker was evident in blue, orange and green FedEx Field banners that ringed the stadium. There was no mention of FedEx on the turf itself, but the change was one more blow to the traditionalists among Redskins fans.

"There's no soul in it," said lifelong fan Kim Clanton. "I can't believe they sold the name of the field. Can FedEx sub-out the end zones? What's next? Saran-Wrap stair banisters?"

NOTE TO RUPERT MURDOCH: MY FAVORITE FLAVOR IS LEMON

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