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Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

Miller's Value Is Clear

January 16, 2002|Sam Farmer

The starting quarterbacks still around in the NFC playoffs: past most valuable player Brett Favre, current MVP Kurt Warner, future MVP Donovan McNabb ... and Chicago's Jim Miller.

One of these things is not like the others.

OK, so Miller has the third-lowest passer rating in the conference and has only 13 touchdown passes--almost three times fewer than Warner (36). Still, he has done a marvelous job of running Chicago's ultra-conservative offense, which inspires such stirring nicknames as the "Run & Shoop" (offensive coordinator John Shoop never met a handoff he didn't like) and the "Take a Knee."

Chicago is the City of Big Shoulders, but the Bears don't rest their entire game plan on Miller's. That strategy will help them in the playoffs. Green Bay would be lost without Favre. St. Louis is in trouble without Warner. And, simply put, McNabb is Philadelphia's offense. As for the Bears, however, they could keep cruising along if they had to use Shane Matthews at quarterback.

That's not to say Miller is just a guy taking up space in the huddle. He's a good pocket passer who, unlike Matthews, can throw deep when asked. His touch is questionable, though, and he has been known to fire passes he should have floated. The Bears don't ask him to throw too much, though, instead relying on him to make a few plays a game and otherwise protect the football.

"If you don't make mistakes," he said, "you're going to win a lot of football games."

There is talk the Bears will make a run at New England's Drew Bledsoe after the season. But he will be far more expensive than Miller and might not be able to do much more in Shoop's restrictive system.

Not only has Miller helped the Bears to a 13-3 record and the NFC Central title, he has stayed uncharacteristically healthy. He blew out his Achilles' tendon and sat out the second half of last season, missing his chance to take over the team in the wake of Cade McNown's shoulder injury.

A year before that, Miller served a four-game suspension after testing positive for steroids, a mess he still blames on a simple misunderstanding.

There were plenty of times he thought a chance like this would never come. A year ago this week, he was whizzing around on a snowmobile, his foot in a cast, contemplating his life after football. Now, he's full throttle into the playoffs. Go figure. Maybe that's why he seems especially calm as he prepares to face Philadelphia's blitz-happy defense.

"There's a lot at stake," he said. "But at the same time, you've got to just go out and play football and enjoy yourselves. It's nothing we haven't done over the last seven months."

*

As expected, the widow and family of Minnesota Viking tackle Korey Stringer filed a $100-million lawsuit against the franchise Tuesday, saying coaches made him practice the day after he fell ill at training camp and didn't attend to him fast enough when heatstroke set in.

One new tidbit: the suit alleges then-offensive line coach Mike Tice called Stringer a "big baby" for struggling in the heat on the first day of camp. Tice, now the head coach, denied saying that and, in a statement through the club, said he was "disappointed and hurt" by the allegation.

*

Ram guard Adam Timmerman began his NFL career with the Green Bay Packers, who flew him out before selecting him in the seventh round of the 1995 draft. First stop: Lambeau Field, a place Timmerman thought was more odd than awe-inspiring.

"One of the scouts and I were driving over from the hotel, and I just remember pulling up in the car and saying, 'Holy Smokes!'" said Timmerman, who will be reunited with his old teammates when the Rams play host to the Packers. "It's kind of in the middle of nothing else. There probably is not a three-story building within a mile of there. The stadium kind of rises up from the houses and Kmart."

Timmerman, you see, was used to a more cosmopolitan setting. He went to South Dakota State.

*

To illustrate how differently coaches and owners view things, former Cincinnati coach Sam Wyche tells the story of an afternoon spent with Bengal owner Paul Brown. The two went to watch the Cincinnati Reds.

Wyche spent nine innings studying then-manager Pete Rose, watching the way he talked to players, looking for any adjustments he was making, soaking in the nuances.

"Paul turned to me and said, 'Not a lot of fannies in the seats today,'" he said. "It struck me that we were watching the same game but looking at it in two totally different ways."

*

Even when he was coaching at a small-time football school, Steve Spurrier had big-time swagger. He became coach at Duke in 1987, and stayed there for three seasons, leading the Blue Devils to a 20-13-1 record and their first bowl appearance (All-American Bowl) since 1960.

Duke beat North Carolina in each of their three meetings during the Spurrier era; the Tar Heels have not lost to their bitter rival since.

In the 1989 season finale, after his team put a 41-0 spanking on the Tar Heels, Spurrier led the Duke players out of the visitors' locker room and in front of the scoreboard for a team photo.

Word is, Washington Redskin owner Dan Snyder has already cleared a spot on his wall for the group shot at Texas Stadium.

Fox is expected to lose as much as $20 million on its Super Bowl broadcast because NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics will compete for advertising dollars, an analyst predicts.

Welcome to Motel 6, Howie, can we get your bags?

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