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Old-Timers Find Their Way Back To Battle

Norman Chad Syndicated Columnis

Mike Ditka, aka homo neanderthalensis, and Dick Vermeil, aka tyrannosaurus rex, have crawled back to their natural habitat. On this opening NFL Sunday, they’ll stand erect on opposite sidelines, two odd creatures from distant yesterdays determined to roll to boundless victories on not-so-distant tomorrows.

Neither one is Super Bowl-bound again in this or any subsequent lifetime, but they’ll both be pretty darn entertaining on the road to 6-10.

Ditka and Vermeil have much in common: They both enjoyed coaching success with a single team, they both made it to one Super Bowl and they both turned to maddeningly mediocre careers in broadcasting.

On NBC, Ditka barked out bromides like, “Turnovers will kill you,” then wiped his mouth off on his shirt sleeve. On ABC, Vermeil was so relentlessly enthusiastic, he appeared to be one of those bobbing-head dolls on your dashboard.

If Vermeil were any peppier, he’d come in a vial.

Now, Ditka and Vermeil seem destined for misery in New Orleans and St. Louis.

With the Saints, Ditka improbably retained interim head coach Rick Venturi as an assistant. Some guys are insecure about having ex-head coaches on their staff, but, then again, would you worry about Venturi looking over your shoulder?

With the Rams, the 60-year-old Vermeil has hired as assistants Mike White, 61, Jim Hanifan, 63, Bud Carson, 66, and Dick Coury, 67. This is exactly the coaching staff you’d want if you were looking to turn around the 1973 Baltimore Colts.

I don’t want to say Vermeil is a relic, but his resume includes head coach, Philadelphia Eagles (1976-82) and recreation director, The Crusades (1095-99).

Anyway, in this battle of bad teams, I’ll go with New Orleans, a four-point underdog, at St. Louis.

What, you think otherwise? Do you know who I am? Some guys are connected, some guys are wise and some guys are made. But only one guy is The Man. You’re looking at him, pal. Let me remind you that my PUBLICLY DOCUMENTED record the past seven regular seasons has been 115-103-3, 117-99-7, 109-107-4, 112-108-1, 107-103-9, 118-111-8 and 118-117-3. Let me remind you that I’m picking against the point spread. And, finally, let me remind you don’t crowd me, The Man needs room.

As always, all picks are for recreational purposes only and should not be used as the basis for any actual cash wager:

49ers (-6) at Buccaneers: And thus it begins, the unlikeliest metamorph osis: The 49ers who forced out the coach with the winningest percentage in NFL history (George Seifert) and fetched a “Baywatch” extra (Steve Mariucci) begin a surreal slide. Pick: Buccaneers.

Eagles (-2-1/2) at Giants: Giants Coach Jim Fassel may be 0-0, but he’s already a loser. Last Sunday he decides to make final player cuts by phone. In doing so, he thinks he’s talking to C Ryan Smith, but he’s actually talking to LB Ryan Phillips, so he ends up cutting the wrong Ryan! The wrong Ryan tells Fassel; Fassel apologizes and asks him to put the right Ryan on the line. Yo, Jim, babe, see ya in I-AA!!! Pick: Eagles.

Cowboys (-1-1/2) at Steelers: Cowboys just announced new Tuesday routine: Game film in morning, surveillance video in afternoon. Pick: Steelers.

Redskins at Panthers (-3-1/2): Red skins WR Michael Westbrook, over heard in practice huddle: “I’m rubber and you’re glue, everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” Pick: Panthers.

Jets at Seahawks (-6-1/2): Everybody’s “sexy pick” this season is Seattle. But The Man still sees the Seahawks as 7-9 stinkers. Pick: Jets.

Bears at Packers (-15): What, QB Rick Mirer is benched because he can’t pick up the Bears’ complex system? Who’s their offensive coordinator, Deep Blue? Pick: Packers.

Chiefs at Broncos (-7): Chiefs’ West Coast offense stymied in preseason because QB Elvis Grbac kept forgetting to switch his watch to Central time. Pick: Broncos.

Chargers at Patriots (-6-1/2): It says here New England QB Drew Bledsoe passes his way to a 5,000-yard season. Anyone got a problem with that? Pick: Patriots.

Vikings at Bills (-3): Not only have Bills scrapped no-huddle, players don’t even use exact change lane on New York Thruway. Pick: Vikings.

Colts at Dolphins (-6-1/2): As part of continued youth movement, Miami’s Jimmy Johnson hired Doogie Howser as trainer. Pick: Colts.

Falcons at Lions (-7): Lions somewhat taken aback in offseason when QB Scott Mitchell negotiated a “quicksand clause.” Pick: Falcons.

Raiders (-2-1/2) at Oilers: QB Jeff George is now a Raider? That’s like Charles Manson joining the Hell’s Angels. Pick: Oilers.

Jaguars (-2-1/2) at Ravens: Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin is so tough, he imposed 11 p.m. curfew this week on Ravens. Pick: Ravens.

Cardinals at Bengals (-8): Page 146 of Cardinals’ new playbook: “Roll over and play dead.” Pick: Bengals.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Norman Chad Syndicated Columnist

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