1999 NFL Preview
Weekly lineup

 Tuesday, September 7
How the cookie crumbles
By Brian Murphy
Special to ESPN.com

 I used to go to Dionne Warwick for these kinds of things. You know, rent a pony keg, order up the 6-foot sub from the local deli, and have Dionne and Her Psychic Friends help me soothsay the upcoming NFL season.

 Mike Ditka
Mike Ditka, right, and Ricky Williams will make a fashion statement in New Orleans.

No more. Dionne has been given the pink slip after her disastrous help a year ago. This year, I have a new plan: fortune cookies.

That's right. The other day, I crashed a tiny little bash thrown by Commissioner Tags and his Park Avenue suits because I knew the theme -- "NFL 2000: Expansion Team in China" -- would suit my purposes. So while Tags talked about Chinese public funds to build a stadium in Beijing (with plenty of luxury suites and TV sightlines), and the possible inclusion of that squad in the NFC Far, Far East for the 2001 season, I broke into the kitchen and made off with a batch of those cookies.

Now my apartment is littered with little strips of Chinese fortunes, and that's going to be a real problem when I hold my next house party (theme: "Housecleaning 2000: Because It's Been Over A Year").

But, baby, I have the answers!

Now, a look at what I learned for a season where we in NFL Land are going to party like it's 1999:

Week 1
Right out of the gate, Saints coach Mike Ditka goes bull-goose looney. In the opening loss at Carolina, Ditka inexplicably coaches the second half wearing that dreadlocked wig he wore on Draft Day, and can't get his coaching headset over the dreads. Miscommunication causes a 21-14 Panthers victory. In other news, the Browns host a football game and, in honor of their team president, wear helmets made out of Carmen Policy's lustrous mane. Inspired, they beat the Steelers. Football opens in Tennessee's new stadium, and we all take a moment from our DirecTV Daze to ask the unanswerable Zen Question: "Why, again, is there pro football in Tennessee?" There are no immediate answers as the Titans beat the Bengals. The Chargers have a bye, and secretly lobby the league office for 15 more.

Week 2
Panic grips South Florida when the Dolphins' game against Arizona is delayed. Seems the man assigned to assemble ancient QB Dan Marino has lost the suitcase carrying Marino's knees. It is discovered in Little Havana, and recovered for the cost of a Cuban sandwich. Marino is assembled in enough time to lead a mechanical win over the Cards. In other news, the Raiders lose at Minnesota for an 0-2 start, and Al Davis tries to rehire John Madden. Madden quietly explains how he could never leave a gig that has inexplicably made him some sort of avuncular American favorite -- you know, in a "crazy uncle John" kind of way. Davis understands, and asks if he can get a look inside the MaddenCruiser as a consolation prize.

Week 3
The Chiefs win a forfeit against the Lions when Detroit's team plane never makes it to Kansas City. Coach Bobby Ross has held the team charter at the airport, saying he's still waiting for Barry Sanders to make it. "He must be caught in traffic," Ross says, checking his watch. Lions authorities secretly make plans to commit Ross, as this is the third week in a row the Lions haven't suited up. "He'll be here soon. I know Barry," Ross said for the third straight week. In other news, 49ers coach Steve Mariucci awakens dazed in his hotel room in Phoenix, only to see his team losing to the Cardinals on Monday Night Football. On the screen, Bill Walsh strolls the sidelines in a coach's headset. "What happened?" Mariucci asks himself before looking to his nightstand and seeing a coffee mug with a note attached reading: "Steve, drink this before tonight's game. It will calm your nerves. Good luck. The Genius."

Week 4
The Redskins, still distracted by their new owner's attempt to officially change the team name to "Snyder Communications Redskins," lose again, this time to lowly Carolina. Dan Snyder throws a fit in the owner's box, then phones the league office to see if there's still a chance of changing the league name to "The NFL, featuring the Snyder Communications Redskins." Denied, he settles for demoting Charley Casserly to limo driver. In other news, the Patriots go to Cleveland, and New England coach Pete Carroll, fearful of his job security and mindful of his tight relationship with Carmen Policy, holds up a sign on the sidelines reading: "Will Coif Carmen's 'Do For Food."

Week 5
Things are getting worse in New Orleans. This time, in a loss to the Falcons at the Superdome, Ditka tries to take the field in the dreadlocked wig and Hawaiian shirt he wore on Draft Day. He is asked to leave the huddle by Ricky Williams, but Ditka pleads: "Come on, Ricky! We're buds, man! We're tight! Let me stay!" Still asked to leave, Ditka flips out: "I made you, sucker! You're nothing without me, rook!" Ditka is gently guided back to the sidelines by New Orleans police. In other news, the Jags and Jets can't get their Monday Night game under way, because Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin engage in a stare-off in the tunnel to see who's more intense. Neither man makes it to the field.

Week 6
At the Silverdome, ex-Viking Dimitrius Underwood tries to sneak into the Lions' locker room, posing as Barry Sanders. Bobby Ross greets him gleefully: "Barry, I knew you'd make it!" He suits up Underwood. Vikings win.

Week 7
The NFL plays a Thursday nighter, Chiefs at Ravens, and America makes a collective decision via the Nielsen ratings: We, as a nation, would rather see Jennifer Aniston prance around her New York apartment in her collection of snug T-shirts. "Friends" wins. Tags goes berserk, tries to sign Aniston to an NFL contract to eliminate competition. She stays with the sitcom.

Week 8
It is Halloween and the Saints host the Browns. In a pregame speech, Mike Ditka tells his team he has a special trick-or-treat outfit for them, then briefly disappears, only to reappear in the familiar dreadlocked wig and Hawaiian shirt. "Trick or treat!" Ditka shouts before running out on the field, alone. A man from a local institution begins chasing Ditka with a butterfly net. Browns win. In other news, Mike Holmgren refuses to bring his Seahawks to Green Bay for a Monday Nighter until the Packers rename Lambeau Field as The Mighty Holmgren Coliseum. Ron Wolf balks. Packers win a forfeit.

Week 9
The Broncos go to San Diego and Bobby Beathard pulls Mike Shanahan aside before the game to ask if he's interested in a trade: "How's about we give you Ryan Leaf, and you give us Terrell Davis?" Shanahan is speechless until Beathard amends his offer: "OK, how's about we give you Ryan Leaf, and you give us a used ball bag?" Shanahan says he'll get back to Beathard. Broncos win.

Week 10
The Jets go to New England for a Monday Nighter. Pete Carroll refuses to leave his locker room. "Every time we play that meanie Parcells, he wins," Carroll says from behind a closed door. Parcells, meanwhile, presents Terry Glenn with a lovely Prada purse before the game. Jets win.

Week 11
The Falcons return to the state of Florida, site of their Super Bowl demise, to play at Tampa Bay. Dan Reeves puts a chair in front of the door handle to Eugene Robinson's room. Problem: Robinson can't get out by game time, and the Falcons play without a free safety. Bucs win.

Week 12
Thanksgiving dinners all over the nation are ruined when John Madden turns the telestrator to Deion Sanders' injured toe during the Cowboys' loss to Miami. "See, the toe is hurt right there," Madden says, circling Prime Time's bare foot, "right near that bunion, is where the pain really is ... no, not by that toejam there, but closer to the toe hair, that's really where it hurts." Eighty percent of America passes on seconds.

Week 13
The Packers go to Soldier Field, where Cade McNown is legitimately using a handicapped parking space. The guy is on crutches while taking a pounding during Chicago's winless season. Packers win. In other news, the Seahawks beat the Raiders and Al Davis tries to hire Mike Holmgren. Holmgren calmly explains to Davis that he has a deal in Seattle where, every night, he spreads out his cash in a room, takes off his shoes and socks, then wades in it. Davis understands, drops the proposal.

Week 14
The Rams go to New Orleans. Dick Vermeil is on a crying jag during their one-win season, but breaks down again when the team bus pulls into the Superdome and he sees Mike Ditka, in a dreadlocked wig and Hawaiian shirt, being chased by a man with a butterfly net. "I knew Ditka when he was on top of the world," Vermeil weeps. "God, life is so fleeting!" Saints win anyway.

Week 15
Six days before Christmas, Buffalo arrives in Arizona to play the Cards. After losing, the Bills refuse to board the team charter back to western New York. "What, are you nuts?" Doug Flutie says in the hotel parking lot, golf bag slung over his shoulder. "It's 80 here, 8 below there. Forget it, man! Rob Johnson and I have to squeeze in 18 at Troon North, then I have a card game by the pool with Wade Phillips at 3. We're never going back." Bills forfeit rest of season.

Week 16
On Christmas Eve, as the Cowboys beat the Saints at the Superdome, the man with the butterfly net calmly catches a tired Ditka. The man with the butterfly net is named Clarence, and he takes Ditka around the Crescent City that evening, showing him what New Orleans would be like without Ditka. Sadly, it is a city filled with tributes to the Super Bowl champion Saints. This depresses Ditka, but Clarence reminds him: "Remember, Mike, no man is poor who has friends. Especially friends who enjoy a dreadlocked wig and Hawaiian shirt combo."

Week 17
No games. The Y2K bug has crashed the nation's computers, and the Jan. 2 schedule is wiped out. Without the computers, there is no instant replay, there are no official stats, and there can be no canned pregame, rave-type music just before kickoff. "What, no canned pregame, rave-type music before kickoff?" Tags says in New York. "Forget it. Cancel the schedule." This includes the Jan. 30 Super Bowl in Atlanta, and the Commish declares the Minnesota Vikings the champions over the New York Jets. "Why those two?" he says. "Because they were in the conference championships last year, and what prognosticator worth his salt doesn't pick the conference champion losers to go all the way? Now excuse me, I have to go visit Mike Ditka at the home."

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Examiner is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.


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