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This Spurrier innovation creates one fine mess

"We're here at FedEx Field for today's game between the Patriots and Redskins," said the announcer, "and we're awaiting the official's call because on the first play from scrimmage, there's been a penalty. Let's listen in . . ."

"Holding, No. 77 offense," said the referee. "It's a 5-yard penalty and $250 fine. First down, Washington."

"Whoa, what's that about a $250 fine?" said the announcer.

"Well, that's coach Steve Spurrier for you," said the color analyst. "Always innovative. He got fed up last week when the Redskins were flagged for 17 penalties, so he thinks it's a good idea to fine guys for making these mistakes. Five yards means nothing to these guys. But $250 does."

"But No. 77 is coughing up the dough right now. On the spot -- and Spurrier is collecting the cash. I've never seen anything quite like it."

"Well," said the analyst, "Coach thinks this will teach them all a lesson. I mean, it's embarrassing to stand there in front of 76,000 people and have to tear off $20s and $50s to give to your coach."

"Are the infractions all $250?" asked the announcer.

"No, Spurrier has a scale and the players all know the range. Some stuff like a false start is $100. Holding, encroachment, offside, stuff like that is in the $250 range. Personal fouls are upward of $500. It goes on up and if you commit pass interference in the red zone, for instance, you may as well sign over your weekly paycheck."

"You're kidding? That much of a fine?"

"Spurrier means business. Hey, if you're the 12th man on the field when the Redskins get flagged for having too many men on the field, well, let's just say that you better get a second job."

"It seems quite excessive. First of all, does that mean these guys all have to have cash with them at the game?"

"Indeed, it does. That's why you can see most of the players wearing those fanny packs around their waists. It gives them a place to carry the money. Most of them are coming onto the field with $500 to $1,000. Some offensive linemen are real antsy and are bringing $5,000 with them."

"Look, there's another whistle and another flag," said the announcer. "We'll have to see what the call is. It looks like it's against the Redskins because several of them are reaching into their fanny packs, but here's the referee's call."

"Illegal forward pass, No. 11, Washington. Five yards and loss of down. No fine."

"No fine?" said the announcer.

"Correct," said the analyst. "Spurrier refuses to fine the quarterback on this one. He doesn't believe that there is such a thing as an illegal forward pass."

The picks

New England at Washington (-3) -- How contagious is this injury bug? The Patriots lose a starter during the midfield pregame ceremony when the wind blows the coin into his eye. His eyesight is spared, but he tears cartilage in his knee trying to avoid contact. Pick: Redskins.

Arizona at St. Louis (-10 1/2) -- You have to go back to 1909, Larry Wilson's rookie season, for the last time the Cardinals won two straight. Pick: Rams.

Tennessee at Pittsburgh (-3) -- Titans coach Jeff Fisher awarded a game ball to right guard Benji Olson after last week's win over New Orleans and count me among those happy to see an offensive lineman cited in such a way. Only thing is: What if Olson doesn't give the ball back? Do they have to get another ball for this week? Pick: Titans.

Jacksonville (-3) at Houston -- Wich left? Leftwich. Byron Leftwich, he's our man, if he can't do it, no wich can. Pick: Jaguars.

Philadelphia at Buffalo (-3) -- The Bills had one first down, 98 yards passing, 118 net yards, and had the ball for 19 minutes a week ago in Miami. On the bright side, just think how rested Drew Bledsoe & Co. are. Pick: Bills.

Cincinnati at Cleveland (-4 1/2) -- Sources have confirmed that collegiate representatives will be at this game, possibly to extend an invitation to one of the clubs to become the 12th member of the ACC. Pick: Bengals.

San Francisco at Minnesota (no line) -- Easy there, you silly Purple People Eaters. Yes, the record is 3-0, but the wins have come over the Packers, Bears, and Lions, so if you factor in inflation and the exchange rate, it is more like 1.9-0. Pick: 49ers.

Kansas City (-3) at Baltimore -- Cornerback Chris McAlister is expected back in the lineup after being reprimanded by coach Brian Billick, who then ordered McAlister to apologize to the entire team for missing curfew and skipping a team meeting last week. But because McAlister has not formally apologized to me, I cannot formally support his team. Pick: Chiefs.

San Diego at Oakland (-7) -- Lyle Alzado, John Matuszak, Ted Hendricks. You never had a problem with those guys upholding the Raider myth by getting into barroom brawls. Heck, it was in their contracts. But a guy named Sebastian Janikowski? He's not even a football player; he's a placekicker. Pick: Chargers.

Dallas at NY Jets (-3) -- Go ahead and laugh. But the Dan Stryzinski-to-Kevin Mawae connection clicks for a pair of touchdowns off fake field goals and some longtime Jet supporters say it reminds them of Joe Namath-to-Don Maynard. Pick: Jets.

Atlanta at Carolina (-6) -- Warrick Dunn led the Falcons in rushing a week ago, gaining 7 yards on nine carries. This week, the goal is modest -- say, 9 yards on seven carries. Pick: Panthers.

Detroit at Denver (-12) -- There are two sure bets come fall and winter: A daily bowl of soup and the Lions lose on the road. Pick: Broncos.

Indianapolis (-1 1/2) at New Orleans -- Each of these teams plays in a "South" division, but one of them is an imposter. Go with the real thing. Pick: Saints.

Green Bay (-4) at Chicago -- It's a proud night in Chicago because a renovated Soldier Field is unveiled. Speaking of renovations, has anyone noticed that Mike Sherman has changed the Packers into something very ordinary, like a 5-6 club their last 11 games? Pick: Bears.

Last week: 7-7, which pretty much wraps up a berth in the NHL playoffs.

Season: 26-18-1, although, quite honestly, most of those 18 losses were not bad picks, but good picks that ended badly thanks to guys making mistakes for which I will never forgive them.

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