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Namath headed for Canton; Super Bowl thoughts; Flutie a General?

In the opinion of some, Joe Namath should have been ushered into the Pro Football Hall of Fame three years ago, when he first became eligible. But even though immediate selection to the Canton, Ohio shrine confers additional status, Namath expressed no bitterness when the apparent slight was redressed this week. ``I'm very proud and thrilled,'' he said upon his election by a panel of 29 media representives. Namath, who ended his bachelor days by marrying the former Deborah Lynn Mays in November, will be inducted Aug. 3 along with O.J. Simpson, Roger Staubach, Frank Gatski, and Pete Rozelle. That's pretty esteemed company.

Simpson and Staubach, the other playing superstars of the class, made it in their first year of eligibility, or five years after they retired. Rozelle, commissioner of the National Football League for the past 25 years, was selected for his significant contributions to the game. Gatski, an offensive lineman who played in 11 title games in 12 years during the 1940s and '50s, mostly with the Cleveland Browns, was the recommended candidate of the Old-Timers Committee, which ferrets out deserving players whose careers ended before 1960.

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The earlier reluctance voters showed toward electing Namath reportedly grew out of questions about his statistical achievements. His Broadway Joe image, some may have felt, outdistanced his numerical accomplishments. This sentiment, however, ignores the fact that he passed for more yards (27,663) than eight other Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

But numbers aside, Namath was a ``player of history,'' to quote one writer. His signing with the New York Jets in 1965 hastened the merger of the old American Football League with the NFL. And, of course, he boldly predicted, then helped produce the Jets' shocking upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

If there's an irony in Namath's belated election it is that Fran Tarkenton, the holder of many NFL passing records, failed to secure the necessary 24 votes for the second straight year. Tarkenton is bound to make it eventually, but thus far his statistics haven't won over the hall's hard-to-figure electors. Maybe the skeptics figure he completed too many short passes or count three Super Bowl losses with the Minnesota Vikings as strikes against him.

Reflections on Super Bowl XIX: Miami may need a running back, but a sound game plan still should have produced more than 25 rushing yards.

Give credit to the Dolphins for catching San Francisco off guard early in the game with a no-huddle offense, something we might see other teams employ strategically next season. By the same token, expect more teams to use six defensive backs in likely passing situations, as the 49ers did in snuffing out Miami's air attack.

Joe Montana's fake handoffs were subtle masterpieces.

The halftime extravaganza, like others before it, was heavy on glittering style, light on entertaining substance. Would someone please explain to me what the fascination is with these busy, multi-ring circuses? A classy college band would be preferable, in my opinion.

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How's this for being at cross purposes? With the New Jersey Generals making every effort to sign quarterback Doug Flutie to a United States Football League contract, reports filtered out that Coach Walt Michaels was cool to the idea. Nothing personal, of course, it's just that Michaels is satisfied with the current incumbent, Brian Sipe, and knows the confusion two-quarterback systems cause. The Generals have reportedly offered Flutie $5 million over four years, but with training camp opening Friday and the USFL season slated to begin February 23 they want an answer soon. More and more it looks as though the Heisman Trophy winner from Boston College will sign with New Jersey.

Despite Michaels' thoughts on the subject, team owner Donald Trump has impressed Flutie in their private discussions and made him feel quite welcome. And the posh Trump Tower in Manhattan should be assurance enough that Trump can afford to pay Flutie, even if the league folds.

The Buffalo Bills, who own the top choice in the National Football League's April 30 draft, reportedly have been chased out of the Flutie market by the Generals' high bid. And the same may go for other NFL clubs too, even though Joe Montana's MVP performance in the Super Bowl underlined the value of a quarterback with the ability to run.

Other factors which may have the Heisman Trophy winner thinking USFL include: (1) the chance to play on the same pro team with college roommate Gerard Phelan and other Boston College teammates who are ``territorial'' draftees of the Generals; (2) the proximity of the New Jersey Meadowlands to Boston (it's only about four hours' driving distance from his parents' home in Natick, Mass.); and (3) the opportunity for endorsements and business contacts that comes from playing in the New York metropolitan area.

In pro sports, present accomplishments, not past triumphs, are what count. Herb Brooks, the architect of the storied 1980 US Olympic hockey team, learned this only too well earlier in the week when the New York Rangers fired him. Ironically, the man who terminated his NHL coaching tenure was Craig Patrick, an assistant coach to Brooks on that same `80 Olympic contingent. Patrick, the Rangers' general manager and now the club's new, self-appointed coach, was instrumental in having Brooks hired four years ago. Brooks led the Rangers to their highest season-ending point total in a decade last season, but the team's recent struggles prompted the switch.

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