By the end of last season, the Georgia defense had done just that under first-year coordinator Kevin Ramsey. Despite having some of the most athletic and physically gifted players in the SEC, the Bulldogs fell apart and were last in the league in total yards (382.6) and passing yards (278.1) per game. Georgia also gave up 25.9 points per game (second-most in the conference) and gave up a combined 105 points to its three biggest SEC rivals (Florida, Tennessee and Auburn).
So, a week after national signing day, Donnan hired his old friend Gibbs, with whom he worked during Switzer’s glory years at Oklahoma. Ramsey, hired away from Tennessee a year earlier, called the Gibbs hiring “deceitful” and called Donnan “Pontius Pilate.” That left Gibbs–fair or not–saddled as the Savior.
This is what Gibbs has walked into and why this potential Ambush in the Ozarks is more important than it looks. The Razorbacks are rebuilding, but they’ll ride into the season on an unbeaten streak at home under third-year coach Houston Nutt. Arkansas has one of the SEC’s best tailbacks in Cedric Cobbs, and hotshot red-shirt freshman quarterback Gary Brashears steers Nutt’s passing offense.
For Georgia, the Arkansas game falls one week before the much-awaited showdown with Tennessee in Athens. If the Bulldogs truly are a force in the East Division, winning a game ripe with risk is essential.
“We can’t look ahead of anybody,” says Georgia quarterback Quincy Carter. “That would be ridiculous. We’ve been pretty good the last couple of years about not looking past teams. This year, it’s more important than ever.”
Especially considering Georgia is primed to end years of heartache against Florida and Tennessee. The Bulldogs haven’t beaten the Vols and Gators in the same season since 1988, and Florida and Tennessee haven’t had this many preseason questions in years. Georgia, meanwhile, may be putting it all together.
The Bulldogs always have been proficient on offense under Donnan and are loaded this season with dangerous skill players. Carter a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, and tailback Jasper Sanks is a 1,000-yard back if he’s healthy. For the first time in Carter’s three seasons, Georgia will be able to stretch the field with the addition of speedy wideouts Durell Robinson and Reggie Brown.
It all adds up to the buzz looming over Athens this offseason: Georgia will be as good as its defense. You win big games with defense, and it’s no coincidence the Bulldogs are 3-9 under Donnan against rivals Florida, Tennessee and Georgia Tech.
“I think we all understand what needs to be done here, and I don’t think we’re that far from being there,” says Gibbs, who worked in private business in Norman, Okla., after being fired as head coach of the Sooners five years ago. “But you can’t expect things to go a certain way. You’d better work your tail off to get where you want to be.”
It also helps to have talent and potential-of which Georgia has plenty. It starts with Richard Seymour and Marcus Stroud, who may be the best tackle tandem in the nation. If star sophomore rush end Charles Grant returns from a knee injury, the line will be dominant with the return of starting end Bruce Adrine and injured end Terin Smith.
Speedy linebackers Boss Bailey, Kendrell Bell and Will Witherspoon all return, as does the entire secondary: cornerbacks Jamie Henderson and Tim Wansley and safeties Cap Burnett and Terreal Bierria. As bad as the defensive numbers were for the Bulldogs last season, consider this: Georgia led the SEC in forced turnovers (30).
Simply put, the possibilities are scary. Then again, there are those who insist the Bulldogs have essentially the same players who performed below standards last season. How can a team with so much talent and so many high school All-Americans play so poorly in big games?
The answer may be as simple as Ramsey’s inexperience. Or it may go deeper. The Bulldogs were notoriously out of position last season and looked lost at times against even basic offensive sets. There was arguing between defensive assistants on the field and in the press box, and at one point, former coordinator Joe Kines replaced Ramsey in mid-game to make calls.
So what exactly will Gibbs bring? The subtle changes will include stunts and positioning of Seymour and Stroud to take advantage of Grant’s speed rush, and rolling Burnett and Bierria into double coverage to help corners–who were badly out of position at times last season. Georgia also will use more zone blitzing to take advantage of its speed at linebacker, both in drops and blitzes.
Donnan insists the scheme will be the same attacking style, that Gibbs will tweak things and make the Bulldogs more efficient and confident. He’d better because Gibbs’ job isn’t the only one on the line. Donnan has pleaded for patience from the rabid Georgia faithful, but he can no longer avoid the inevitable.
It has been 18 years since Georgia last won the SEC championship, back in the day when Herschel frolicked and the Junkyard Dogs toyed with opposing offenses. If the Bulldogs can’t get by Arkansas, the championship drought will stretch closer to two decades.
Seymour and Stroud will set the tone against the Razorbacks, stuffing running lanes and limiting Cobb’s impact. Georgia will blitz linebackers–specifically, Bell, one of the SEC’s best pass rushing linebackers–to confuse Brashears and create turnovers. The Bulldogs’ offense will then take over to set up the Tennessee game and a chance to make an early statement in the SEC race.
Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh firmly installed Banks as the starter in the 2000 offseason. Then, they signed Sharpe, who wanted out of Denver after 10 years, seven Pro Bowls and two Super Bowl victories, to improve upon the 34 catches the Ravens squeezed out of the tight end position last season. “I told Shannon that we were going to install a system that puts oxygen in the room,” Billick says with a grin.
Then, they used first-round draft picks on running back Jamal Lewis of Tennessee and wide receiver Travis Taylor of Florida. All of a sudden, you could see the blueprint and the brainstorms, and Billick was spending hours on his computer drafting plays around a better short passing game that widened the field.
Then when Coates, a free-agent, five-time Pro Bowler who wasn’t re-signed by New England, was brought in, you could see Billick rubbing his hands like some madman in a lab coat.
Billick, who retooled the Vikings’ offense three times in the six years he was their coordinator, is an offensive guru who can produce a solid game plan from almost any variation of personnel. But gurus are only as good as the people playing for them, and when Billick and Cavanaugh broke down the Ravens’ offense, they saw three immediate areas of concern: instability at quarterback, an average running game and the lack of a short passing attack.
“Brian has said so many times since he got here that he’s not a guru who, all of a sudden, is going to have this magic formula in which we can do it this way or that way and win every time,” wide receiver Qadry Ismail says. “But, you know, we had three quarterbacks (Banks, Stoney Case and Scott Mitchell) and never had a chance to get into sync with any of them until Tony settled in at the end of the year. Then, we started winning games.”
Though adding Taylor (who reported to camp almost two weeks late in a contract dispute and likely will open the season as a backup) and Lewis (who may miss the first two games of the regular season because of a dislocated elbow) addressed important needs, the wild card for Billick’s plans for 2000 is Banks, a former second-round pick of the Rams. It’s not lost on anyone–especially Banks–that the Rams won the Super Bowl with Kurt Warner the year after he left. The Rams grew tired of waiting on Banks to fulfill his considerable potential. They got tired of the interceptions, the fumbles, the sacks and the poor decision-making. “I knew I had to improve, I knew I had to compete, and maybe I tried to prove too much,” Banks says.
But he was furious that the Ravens had him third on the depth chart at the end of the 1999 training camp. Banks had started 43 games for the Rams over three years, and he felt he had had a better camp than Case and Mitchell.
“I told coach Billick flat out that before the season was over that he was going to need to come to me: `You’re going to need me to win some games,’ “Banks says. “I think that showed him a little bit of my personality. He gave me a way out, and I didn’t take it.”
The decision to bench Banks can be looked at two ways–it mined the Ravens’ 1999 season but might have preserved their future. Banks didn’t start until Week 7, but that might have been the best thing for him. He had more time to prepare himself in a new offense, and he avoided the pressure that would have come as the opening day starter. Limping along at 2-4 behind Case and Mitchell, the Ravens gave Banks a starting shot against Buffalo. Banks didn’t play well in a 13-10 loss, but by Week 10, he was coming of age. He helped engineer a wild 34-31 victory at Cincinnati in which the Ravens scored 31 consecutive points. They went 4-2 the rest of the way, including a 41-14 victory over Super Bowl-bound Tennessee.
“I think the way coach Billick thought about the quarterbacks and their strengths was he had a different game plan for each of us,” Banks says. “Once we got a little consistency in the position and some comfort level with me, we took off.”
Billick doesn’t disagree. When the season was over, he looked at Banks’ statistics–17 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 53 percent completion rate and 2,136 yards in just 10 starts. Not bad. Then you add Sharpe, Taylor, Lewis and Coates, and Billick’s computer mind starts buzzing. If Banks can take his 1999 stats and project them over 16 starts, you get 27 TD passes, 13 interceptions. “That’s not bad, and there’s the fact that he’s got a few more weapons around,” Billick says.
“Does that lead to more offensive potential? I like to think so. But I will tell you this: Improvement at the quarterback position is what everyone is looking at for us, why a lot of people will put an asterisk beside their predictions on us. It all comes down to how Tony Banks does.”
Billick is probably playing it smart when he says: “It’s not in the best interests of our team to yank Tony Banks if he hits a rough spot, particularly knowing he’s going to hit a rough spot.”
In the kindest and fuzziest manner Billick can muster, this is his way of saying the Ravens’ season and new offense are built around Banks, and he has faith Banks will continue to improve steadily. It’s an assessment Sharpe, Ismail and running back Priest Holmes agree with. “We’ve got a lot of plays drawn up where, with Tony’s deep-ball threat, we’re going to get some mismatches and have the middle of the field wide open,” Ismail says.
Specifically, the team will make much use of a two-tight end alignment featuring Sharpe and Coates. Billick has grand visions of getting 100 receptions from his tight ends and Sharpe and Coates throwing defenses into a scrambled mess.
“Me and Ben have made our living beating the linebacker and safety coverage,” Sharpe says. “In the meetings, we’re telling Tony to give your tight end a shot. He’s not used to throwing to the tight end, and that also comes from wanting to throw the deep ball. Picking up 15 yards to the tight end is not as fabulous as a 40-yard bomb to the wideout, but if he’ll look at me and Ben as first options, he’ll get yards.”
Cavanaugh has been working with Banks on improving his short and medium passes, a problem area since he arrived in the league in 1996. Banks often has been guilty of hanging onto the ball too long while waiting for receivers to spring open downfield. He has been reluctant to switch off and throw underneath, and his accuracy in the short game has been lacking. “I have to be honest, checkoffs haven’t been my thing,” Banks says. Cavanaugh put together a tape of passes Banks should have completed last season, and it came out to more than 30. “It was easily four a game,” Banks says, sighing.
So Billick is asking Banks to complete two more passes a game, “which doesn’t seem like much when you consider the weapons we’ve given him,” Billick says.
Taylor is an excellent over-the-middle receiver who makes big plays after the catch, and his skills should complement the outside speed of Ismail and Jermaine Lewis. Billick also envisions Jamal Lewis and Holmes finding running lanes in the two-tight end set while defenses focus on the dual receiving threat of Sharpe and Coates. Billick has a modest goal of improving the team’s rushing from 110 yards a game to about 118.
“Me and Ben are proven commodities, and defenses know what we can do,” Sharpe says. “So early on, they’re probably going to try to stop us, and the other guys will have to make plays. But once Tony gets comfortable knowing where we’re going to be and where we say we’re going to be, we’re a viable first option, and it’ll make him comfortable throwing to us.”
It’s already happening. After a recent practice series in which Sharpe and Banks were connecting like two dots on a line, Banks turned to the sideline, held up four fingers close to his chest and mimed, “Four passes a game.” Billick and Cavanaugh smiled.
Of course, this master plan reads wonderfully on paper–or Billick’s computer desktop. But whether Banks can avoid mistakes; whether Sharpe, 32, and Coates, 31, stay healthy; whether Jermaine Lewis returns to his Pro Bowl form of two years ago as a kick returner; and whether Taylor and Jamal Lewis contribute quickly will determine if the Ravens can compete in the NFL’s toughest division.
That’s a lot of ifs, ands and buts. “I’m not ready to jump up on a table and say, `Damn! We’re unstoppable!’ “Billick says.
Step 1: Perform an under-the-hood investigation
After raising the hood, remember your role as an expert investigator. Take the time to look closely at all the brake system components before touching anything. Like a crime scene, sometimes you can visually determine the cause of the problem before you touch anything. When beginning your investigation, the first thing to consider is the brake fluid level. Most brake master cylinders provide a viewable brake fluid level indicator. Note the fluid level and color: If the brake fluid is dark in color, it is an indication that the fluid may be contaminated or beyond the recommended maintenance service limits. Look to see if there are signs of brake fluid leakage anywhere around the master cylinder. If you notice brake fluid seepage or oily dirt formations around the master cylinder, it could be an indication of internal seal failure. After cleaning around the master cylinder cover, remove the cover and note the condition of the cover gasket. If the gasket is swollen and disfigured, it may be an indication that someone put the wrong type of brake fluid into the system or that the brake fluid was contaminated.
Keep in mind that brake fluid attracts moisture, just like those little packets of silica gel they put in boxes with electronic devices. This means you shouldn’t allow a brake fluid container to sit around the shop with the lid off.
There are lots of questions about the compatibility of different brake fluids. The best rule is to always refill a master cylinder with the brake fluid specified by the vehicle manufacturer. Here are some rules concerning brake fluid compatibility and their differences:
* DOT 3 and DOT 4 are glycol-based and will absorb moisture.
* Never use DOT 3 in a system that calls for DOT 4.
* In most cases, DOT 4 is an acceptable substitute for DOT 3. DOT 4 has a higher boiling point. Check published service information to be sure.
* DOT 5 is not compatible with DOT 3 or DOT 4.
* DOT 5 is silicone-based and does not absorb moisture. It is usually purple in color.
Your investigation should include a thorough inspection of the vacuum lines and check-valves leading to the vacuum brake booster. Check to see if any of the steel brake lines have been bent or crimped. Crimped brake lines may cause improper or no application of brakes related to a particular hydraulic circuit. It also may cause the brake pedal to be harder to apply than normal. Check the combination valve or proportioning valves for leakage. Check any electrical connectors associated with the master cylinder or brake valves. If the master cylinder has a fluid level sensor, the dash light can illuminate intermittently during hard turns or stops if the fluid level is lower than normal.
If the vehicle is equipped with an antilock brake system (ABS), look closely at the ABS hydraulic unit to see if there are any signs of brake fluid leakage or oily dirt buildup. Make sure all electrical connections are good. Most systems will have locks on the ABS electrical connectors. Remember, a good thorough under-hood inspection can tell you much about possibly needed repairs.
STEP 2: Perform an under-the-vehicle investigation
After performing the under-hood inspection, safely raise the vehicle on a lift to begin the under-vehicle inspection. Make sure to obtain a good light source to allow for a close inspection of the components related to the brake system. During this inspection, you are going to use your sense of hearing as well as sight and touch. Before taking anything apart, begin your investigation by rotating the tires at each corner. You should feel a slight drag while spinning the wheels. Properly adjusted brakes will have some drag, but should not require lots of effort to spin. If, while spinning the tires, you hear any strange noises, such as metal rattling or scraping noises, make a note. This can indicate hardware problems or broken parts.
While investigating the underside of the vehicle, look for leaks in the hydraulic system. Some of the more obvious leaks are from the wheel cylinders or rear axle seals in the rear of drum brake vehicles. It isn’t hard to determine why the insides of the rear tires are shiny — major leaks, whether oil or brake fluid, will be slung from the rotating wheels. Inspect the flexible brake lines at the front calipers for cracking and hardness. If the lines are not flexible, they can create hydraulic problems. Sometimes the inner lining of the rubber hoses will break loose and create a `checkvalve’ of sorts. When applying the brakes, the line may close off, causing no apply on that wheel, which may result in directional pull during braking. If the `flap’ inside the line closes on fluid return or brake release, the brakes can drag, causing a non-braking directional pull and premature brake pad failure.
Like the under-hood inspection, look closely at all the steel brake lines to assure proper routing and no physical damage. If the vehicle is equipped with a height-sensing valve, inspect to verify linkages are not bent and that no leaks exist. Check the parking brake cables and hardware closely. A word of safety here: You probably will want to wear a good set of gloves when pulling on the parking brake cables. Like many steel cables with exposure to harsh road conditions, the cable may begin to show broken strands. These broken strands can cause cables to stick in housings and also can inflict cuts to your hands. You should be able to pull one of the parking brake cables and stop a tire spun by hand. Perform this on both sides to verify proper parking brake operation.
STEP 3: Perform the on-vehicle inspection
When performing the on-vehicle inspection, it’s a good idea to use a tire crayon to mark the various components that rotate together to ensure that tolerances and run-outs remain matched. This will help eliminate any unexpected vibration resulting from your brake service. To begin the inspection, mark the wheel-to-lug orientation. After removing the lug nuts and wheel from the vehicle, inspect the wheel studs and lug nut threads. Note any lugs or studs that should be replaced. After removing the front wheel, secure hubless rotors to the hub using two lugs. The lugs should be only snug. This will secure the rotor for making the proper run-out and parallelism measurements.
With the wheel removed and the rotor secured to the hub, you should be able to spin the rotor. You should feel a slight drag on the rotor as it is turned. At this point in the investigation, you should perform a close visual inspection of all the related brake components. The first inspection to be made of the caliper is to try moving it back and forth on the mounting hardware. If the caliper moves freely, chances are you will not have to replace any of the caliper’s mounting hardware. If it does not move easily, the caliper hardware could be binding. A close inspection of the disc brake pads will give further evidence of caliper hardware binding. Inspect the thickness of the disc brake pads and note if either pad is worn more than the other is. If the outboard pad shows more wear than the inboard pad, binding caliper hardware is indicated. If the inboard pad shows more wear than the outboard pad, a binding or sticking caliper piston is indicated. Binding caliper pistons also will result in excessive brake drag. This may provide an answer to a directional pull problem. When inspecting disc brake pads, never compare just the inboard to outboard pad thickness. Another comparison should be made between the right and left sides of the vehicle. The brake pads and shoes should wear similarly on both sides.
After removing the caliper from the mounting surface, suspend it from the vehicle with a pipe hanger. Note: The flexible hose should never be used to suspend the caliper as this may cause damage to the flexible hose and build problems into your repair. After removing the worn pads from the caliper, examine them closely. Worn pads can tell a story about the braking performance of the vehicle. Look closely at the friction surface of the pad. If the surface is hard and glazed, it may indicate overheating. A close look at the edge of a brake pad can confirm an overheating problem. The edge of the pad will appear burnt and metallic pads in particular will display a blue coloring at the edge of the friction surface. Overloading the vehicle, panic stopping or harsh city driving can cause disc brake overheating. A close inspection of the shims on the back of the pads can help determine if pad movement may have been causing noise-related problems. Braking noise is primarily the result of vibration. Anything that causes the disc brake pads to vibrate during brake apply can cause noise. That is why the rotor finish is one key to stopping or reducing brake noise. Every rotor should be sanded after machining, using a sanding block with 150-grit sandpaper, to produce a smooth non-directional finish.
Inspect the surface of the rotor for proper finish, grooves, discoloration, hot spots or cracking. It is highly recommended that if a rotor shows signs of cracking, it should be replaced. After inspecting the surface of the rotor, a dial indicator attached to an adjustable mounting base should be set up for measuring the lateral run-out of the rotor. The dial indicator should be placed in the center of the rotor friction surface and preloaded by pushing the dial indicator into the rotor until the needle moves about half a rotation. The rotor should then be turned until the needle moves to its most counter-clockwise position. Zero the dial indicator at this point, and rotate the rotor again noting the amount of rotor surface deflection. Using the tire crayon, mark the spot of greatest deflection on the outer edge of the rotor.
After the rotor has been measured for lateral run-out, the next measurement should be rotor thickness. Rotor thickness can be measured using a micrometer. The measurements should be made in eight different locations about 45 degrees apart. This measurement will provide information regarding any variations in the parallel surfaces of the rotor. Rotor thickness variations of more than 0.0005 inch can cause brake pedal pulsation or vibration when braking. If any of the thickness measurements are equal to or less than the allowable minimum specification stamped on the rotor, it should be replaced. This measurement is known as parallelism. After all the rotor measurements have been made, the next step is a close inspection of the caliper and disc brake pads.
After inspecting the calipers and front rotors, you should turn your attention to the rear brakes. The vehicle may have rear drum brakes, or it may have rear disc brakes. If it has rear disc brakes, the inspection should follow the same procedures as the front with perhaps a slight difference: Most rear disc brake systems are designed with a different piston assembly to allow for parking brakes. The mechanism may be a ratcheting device, and manufacturer-recommended service procedures should be followed closely while servicing.
When inspecting the rear drum brake system — but before removing the brake drum from the axle — use the tire crayon to reference mark the drum to the wheel studs. After removing the brake drum, use a brake drum micrometer to measure the drum in several different locations. This will show you if the drum is out-of-round. A close visual inspection can reveal if the brake drum is bell-mouthed, or if it has grooves, scoring, hot spots or cracking. The diameter of the brake drum should be compared to the manufacturers’ specifications to determine if the drum should be turned. Most brake drums have the discard specifications stamped right on the drum. After inspecting the drum, the next item is to inspect the shoes and mounting hardware. Look at the springs and mounting hardware carefully for wear patterns. Sometimes the brake shoe hold-down springs will collapse due to heat and age. Rusted, pitted springs and mounting hardware should be replaced to ensure the proper operation of the rear brakes. Sometimes weak return springs can cause brake drag and premature brake shoe failure.
Other essential components in the rear brake system include the wheel cylinder apply pins and the adjustment mechanism. Apply pins that are bent or that show signs of wear should be replaced. Bent apply pins indicate improper brake shoe movement during application. Adjuster assemblies that are frozen and do not operate properly will allow too much brake shoe travel inside the drum. This will give the driver a low brake pedal sensation. Rear brake adjusters, when operating properly, should keep the rear brakes adjusted so that there is a slight drag on the drum when ro-tated. Be certain to inspect the pads on the backing plate where the brake shoes rub for excessive wear and grooving. Problems here may cause complaints of noise or brake drag.
When inspecting the wheel cylinders and axle seals, look closely for any possible fluid leaks and replace leaking or damaged parts as needed. When servicing wheel cylinders, it may make more sense to replace rather than rebuild them. Leaky axle seals will ruin perfectly good brake shoes, so make sure this doesn’t happen to your customer.
STEP 4: Customer follow-up to the inspection
Now that you’ve completed a thorough inspection and noted everything that needs to be repaired or replaced, take the time to describe to the customer your findings. If needed, escort the customer to the vehicle and show them the things you have identified. This allows for a clear understanding of what repairs you will be performing and leaves no question in the customer’s mind as to the expected costs. As a result, you will be able to address the exact repairs without wasting time and effort, and your customers will have their complaints addressed the first time around.
WEEK 1: With the Bills trailing, 28-24, and time running out, Flutie scrambles toward the right sideline and encounters a wall of defenders. The resourceful Peter Pan-in-shoulder-pads hurls a lateral across the field to an unattended Peerless Price, who easily goes the final 55 yards for a winning touchdown to be forever known as Musical-Chairs-QB City Miracle.
The Titans protest, but instant replay shows Flutie’s lateral to be legal. It also reveals something strange in the shape of a pepper mill stuffed in Flutie’s sock.
WEEK 2: Whiny figure skater Nancy Kerrigan and HBO’s leg-breaking crime boss Tony Soprano perform a national anthem duet, then swap cartilage and patella tendon tales at midfield with Jamal Anderson and Terrell Davis. In this reunion of Super Bowl 33 running backs, both of whom missed most of last season with serious knee injuries, Davis’ Broncos defeat Anderson’s Falcons, 5 Mile-High Salutes to 3 Dirty Birds.
WEEK 3: Dan Snyder, owner of the 2-0 Redskins, fires coach Norv Turner during the second quarter of the Monday Night game against the Cowboys after Washington’s offense goes three-and-out on its first three possessions. Snyder installs defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes as head coach pro tem and demands that Jeff George replace Brad Johnson as the ‘Skins QB.
WEEK 4: Buccaneers receiver Keyshawn Johnson gets reacquainted with his old teammates when the Jets visit Tampa Bay. Johnson fumbles away a reception late in the game, allowing the Jets to recover deep in their own end, then run out the dock on a 12-6 showcase of defense and kickers. After the game diminutive Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet tells the media: “We want to thank Keyshawn for giving us the damn ball.”
WEEK 5: Kurt Warner is intercepted five times during a loss to San Diego as the Rams’ quarterback continues an early-season slump while his wife and inspiration, Brenda, serves a one-year ban from the Trans World Dome. Team owner Georgia Frontiere boiled over when she was informed that she got less TV face time than the camera-magnetic Mrs. Warner during last season’s Super Bowl.
WEEK 6: As the 49ers continue to pay the bill for salary-cap deferments in the ’90s, team management comes under fire from the league about its latest rumored accounting maneuver: paying signing bonuses to a youthful squad in Pokemon cards.
WEEK 7: Bill Romanowski is late for Denver’s game against the visiting Browns. The Broncos linebacker arrived at the cash register at Wal-Mart and discovered he forgot his health insurance card and cash for the prescription deductible on his pregame meal.
WEEK 8: A PBS documentary team follows Patriots coach Bill Belichick 24/7. Belichick’s idea of “letting loose” is ignoring the rinse-and-repeat step on his shampoo directions because it allows more time for breaking down game tape. By kickoff on Sunday against the Colts, members of the PBS camera crew are begging producers for reassignment to the more rousing caterpillar-to-butterfly documentary.
WEEK 9: U.S. Senate candidate Hillary Clinton makes an election-eve visit to Buffalo to stump at a Bills-Jets game. Wearing a blue Buffalo jersey with Eric Moulds’ number and the white helmet of Jets’ fanatic Fireman Eddie, Mrs. Clinton is asked where her allegiance falls. “I did marry a Bill,” she says, “but I understand what it’s like being a Jet, you know, representing New York despite coming from another state.”
WEEK 10: After Cowboys defensive lineman Chad Hennings is flagged for roughing the passer, he returns to the huddle and is lectured by his linemates: fresh-from-rehab Leon Lett, bipolar-disorder patient Alonzo Spellman and manic-depressive Dimitrius Underwood.
Underwood: “Don’t get too down on yourself, Chad.”
Spellman: “Yeah, and try to keep control of your emotions, Chad.”
Lett: “Chad, buddy, it’s beginning to look like you have a problem with abusing dru … dru … dropback quarterbacks.”
WEEK 11: Raiders rookie kicker Sebastian Janikowski converts his seventh field goal of the game-an NFL-record 70-yarder–with two seconds left that lifts visiting Oakland to a one-point win over the Broncos on Monday Night Football. That prompts Dennis Miller to exclaim: “Wow! That had more leg on it than the bar in Coyote Ugly.”
WEEK 12: No time to shave off three weeks of untended facial hair, Jason Sehorn is rushed back into the Giants’ lineup after a sabbatical to take part in the CBS reality-based TV event Survivor III. The cornerback is looking thin, feeling hungry and smelling like the bottom of a seafood restaurant dumpster in late July. The Lions’ receivers are dizzy from the stench, and Sehorn returns his third interception of the afternoon for a game-winning touchdown.
WEEK 13: Continuing their rebound from an 0-9 start, the Bengals defeat the Steelers for their third straight victory-and first in spiffy new Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati fans celebrate by tearing down the goal posts, and Bengals management rewards coach Bruce Coslet with a contract extension for two more seasons.
WEEK 14: Several teams straggle to operate their so-called West Coast offenses after a Federal judge shuts down Bill Walsh’s Napster-like website, where teams went to download the latest and hottest offensive plays and formations from the Confucius of the intermediate passing game.
WEEK 15: Four touchdowns and 223 rushing yards in a victory at San Francisco are not enough for Saints running back Ricky Williams. After his biggest day in the NFL, Williams makes a brief stop on the way home in Las Vegas, where he meets and quickly weds Darva Conger.
The impulsive nuptial lasts only until Conger gets a look at the disastrous contract Williams’ ex-agent negotiated for the former Heisman Trophy winner before his rookie season. As grounds for the divorce, Conger claims: “I got stuck with the only NFL rookie who isn’t a millionaire.”
WEEK 16: The starless, struggling Dolphins attempt to bolster home attendance by honoring the Jimmy Johnson em in Miami’s pro football history. Children attending the game receive commemoratives such as the Zach Thomas wind-and-go, the Tony Martin laundry bag and the limited-edition Lawrence Phillips Beanie Baby. A retired Dan Marino joins the ex-coach on the field for the ceremonial coin toss, but Johnson insists that the future Hall of Fame quarterback just hand it off.
WEEK 17: Coach Wade Phillips of the 15-0 AFC East champion Bills announces that Rob Johnson will replace healthy starter Doug Flutie at quarterback. The Bills then lose their final regular-season game and first-round playoff game.
AFC PLAYOFFS: Another brilliant regular season is wasted yet again by the Jaguars with a loss to the Chargers and NFL Man of the Year Ryan Leaf in the conference semifinals.
Only hours after the upset, National Enquirer photos reveal Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin supping with notorious Notre Dame alum Regis Philbin in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus in South Bend, Ind. Coughlin resigns from the Jaguars on Monday. The next day he is introduced as both the football coach at Notre Dame and the new co-host of Regis’ morning television show.
NFC PLAYOFFS: An apparent Vikings touchdown pass from Daunte Culpepper to Randy Moss is ruled incomplete during the fourth quarter of the NFC championship game against the visiting Panthers. The officials spend 10 momentum-killing minutes examining the replays as if they were looking at the Zapruder film. They meet, discuss, phone a friend and exhaust their final lifeline by polling the audience before giving their final answer. (Not that it matters, because they still don’t get it right.) The play stands as called, and the Panthers win the game.
SUPER BOWL 35: After last year, no wild ending and no team’s rise to champion out of the quagmire of parity can surprise the NFL, including the Steelers’ 23-21 victory over the Panthers, thanks to the heroics of backup quarterback Kent Graham. A stumbling scramble through Carolina arm tackles and a fully extended lunge by Graham as time expires barely gets the last long yard to the winning touchdown.
Most normal people try to give you some idea why the vehicle is in for service. They call before they come in, or they leave a note with the vehicle. These individuals realize that the more information they give us, the faster we can zero in on the problem and return the vehicle in a reasonable period of time. The other folks just don’t seem to understand that in order for the system to work they have to participate. Otherwise, the whole process screeches to a halt. The two vehicles in question had no such information accompanying them. They were just there.
In California, there isn’t a hell of a lot I can do with a vehicle that is just ‘there.’ Without a signed, written repair order, I’m dead in the water. That authorization must be for specific automotive service work and it must come from the registered vehicle owner in order to safely remain within the law. Remaining within the law roughly translates to retaining any hope of getting paid if there is a problem. Consequently, we’re pretty careful about who we trust when a vehicle appears without its owner or a clear, written authorization to proceed. We have to be.
The two cars left in the driveway were left without an appointment, authorization or instructions. Nevertheless, they were blocking the driveway and we had to do something with them or effectively remain closed for the rest of the day.
Reinforcing my theory that crazies love company, both owners turned up at precisely the same moment.
Both had been to the shop with other cars and other work in the past and had left the two vehicles in question of for prepurchase, used-vehicle inspections. That might not seem strange to you. But, it did seem a bit strange to us! You see both cars had been towed to the shop and even as crazy as I sometimes get, I still couldn’t understand anyone buying a car that wouldn’t start or wouldn’t run! After all, neither of these vehicles were ‘classics.’ Unless, of course, you count ‘classically trashed’ as a category! They were, however, both “great deals,” according to their prospective owners. They were described as, “once in a lifetime opportunities,” and we were given the authorization to proceed.
You may not know either of these two customers or their families, but I know you know both vehicles. One was the car that’s been on your street or out in front of your neighbor’s place for years just waiting for the ‘restoration’ to begin. It’s the vehicle that is ‘perfect’ in every way save the fact it doesn’t work! The other is the car you just told one of your customers to get rid of — as soon as possible — because the cost of the last breakdown had already exceeded the value of the vehicle and the next one was both imminent and sure to be equally as expensive. One had been given to a local church as a tax-deductible donation and the other came from the ubiquitous ‘next door neighbor.’
The neighbor’s car hadn’t been registered, started or run in years. But, this was neither a consideration, nor a deterrent. Cosmetically, it was pristine: Body, paint and interior were all like new, and that’s all that seemed to matter.
Despite the fact that both families were behaving in the same irrational fashion — paying for prepurchase inspections on cars that wouldn’t start or run — they were very different in almost every other way. One of the families was acting crazy out of desperation. They have little or no money to spend. Consequently, they can’t always afford to make rational decisions because rational decisions often require a financial commitment they are incapable of making. Desperation, however, can drive strange behavior and this family was in desperate need of another vehicle even if it meant exercising something less than their best judgment.
The other family is just plain crazy, a kind of crazy you and I know all too well! They have money; not a lot, but enough and they spend it. They just spend it on things you and I can and will never understand: a thousand dollars for wheels and tires on the kid’s car or eight hundred on an audio system that can shatter glass a block away or vibrate manhole covers off the street. Then, they’ll go on an endless search for the ‘perfect’ $49.95 brake job! Aside from the basic contradictions inherent in everything they do, they don’t communicate well. Regardless of what you say, they hear what they want to hear. And, it isn’t long before you realize that you haven’t a chance of understanding them or of being understood.
I hate being forced into a corner. I hate making decisions I know are not prudent or rational. I hate doing things I know can blow up in my face or bite me in the … assets! I hate a lot of things. But, more than anything else, I hate being confronted with a waiting room full of crazies at nine o’clock in the morning, especially when the only way to get them out is to accept these two vehicles for service! And, before I realized what had happened, we were trying to get both vehicles started.
One of the vehicles was a 1985 Audi 5000S, and the list of known problems would have been comical if the family interested in buying it had the resources to restore the vehicle. The windows didn’t go up and down properly. The lights didn’t work and neither did the instrument cluster or a half-dozen other critical functions on the vehicle. It wouldn’t start, and, according to the original owner, when it did start it wouldn’t idle. It had been donated to a local church without a moment to spare. Regardless, the prospective owner wanted it checked. I wrote the estimate for just over $150 and assigned a technician.
By the end of the day, the vehicle was running and we had a laundry list of problems totaling over $1,800. That wasn’t bad considering age and mileage, but it might as well have been $1,000,000 because it was far more than these folks could realistically afford.
The other vehicle was a later model Infiniti G20. But, like a piece of fruit you might mistakenly bring home from the market, it looked great on the outside despite being nearly rotten on the inside.
The estimate for the G20 was fairly straightforward: Clean the posts and cables, charge the battery, check the charging system and then proceed with the inspection. All in all, the total for initial work plus the inspection came to just over $120. I thought I was going to have to call 911 when I passed the estimate across the counter for a signature! The prospective owner almost had a stroke right there in the waiting room. “Can’t you just look at it?” I told her I did look at it, when I got there in the morning and couldn’t figure out what to do with it because it wouldn’t start or run! Looking at it was free; I could see it from the office. Finding out what was wrong with it was going to cost someone a few bucks.
The sunroof wouldn’t work, the left rear window wouldn’t go up and down, the vehicle wouldn’t start or run and the battery was dead so we knew there would be some initial charges for diagnosis and testing. At the very least, the vehicle would need to have the battery charged and the electrical system tested. Her response was simple. “I don’t want to spend any money on this car. I’ll just have my son put a battery in it!” If only our world was that simple!
When all was said and done, we did almost a thousand dollars worth of work on the Infiniti and a few hundred dollars worth of work on the Audi. And, my guess is that we’ll see both these vehicles again because there was still quite a bit of work left to do on both vehicles.
That may sound crazy, but fixing cars is what we do and sometimes we have to remind ourselves that sanity is not a prerequisite for vehicle ownership. Neither is it for good mechanics (see PFM Automotive). If it were, there wouldn’t be as much traffic as there is in L.A. It isn’t a prerequisite for being in this business either. Otherwise, I’d probably be working for someone else and you would be getting pretty lonely!