Hard on the heels of 14-year-old Freddy Adu signing a six-year contract to play for D.C. United of Major League Soccer, the NFL has made an exception to its policy toward underage players, allowing the Dallas Cowboys to sign the twinkle in the eye of a Taylor, Texas, man to a multiyear deal.
Emmitt Epstein, 27, signed the 23-year, $40 million contract on behalf of his unborn and unconceived son, Roger Troy Epstein, "the Taylor Rifle," who is expected to compete for the quarterback job as a rookie in 2022. The elder Epstein was a Taylor High running back who once scored four touchdowns for the Ducks against Stony Point in a state playoff game before injuries cut short his career.
Epstein says he's unmarried but has been dating a 19-year-old woman named Sherry who works at Mama's Tacos and was second team all-state as a softball pitcher. He declined to give her last name but said, "She's a fast runner just like I was, and plus she's got an arm on her. If you don't believe me, just get her mad when there's a flower vase nearby." The couple had been talking about having kids even before the Cowboys deal came up.
"We're not saying Roger is the future of the Cowboys or the future of football or anything like that," said Dallas owner and general manager Jerry Jones. "We just thought he was a good fit for our club's needs looking ahead, and we think he can win us 10 or 12 Super Bowls. We want to win football games, but our primary concern is the welfare of this young man. This baby, I mean. Or whatever he is. Or I guess whatever he will be. And by locking him up now, we got a real bargain in terms of 2020s dollars."
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the league's policy of not allowing players to sign until three years after their high school class graduates is still in effect, but that an exception had been made. "He doesn't have a high school class," Tagliabue said, "so the rule doesn't apply. But rest assured, the league is interested first and foremost in making sure Roger gets his education. That's the important thing."
Nike is reportedly mulling whether to sign the Epstein twinkle to a shoe deal. "He could be huge in the baby athletic shoe sector," said one marketing expert who asked to remain anonymous, allowing me to skip having to look up the name of a real marketing expert.
A call to Mama's Tacos revealed that Sherry was visiting her aunt in Killeen and could not be reached for comment, and also that Thursday is Soft Taco Meal Day. "We're all really excited for young Roger," said the shift manager. "He may not have been born yet, but he's just the nicest, most down-to-earth little fella you ever want to meet, and we can't wait to see him under center for the 'Boys. We're all already planning to drive up there for the first game in '22."
In other NFL news, I went 9-7 with my picks in Week 11, bringing me to 93-67 for the year. A person could go 79-81 by flipping a coin to pick winners on behalf of his infant child, I can tell you from experience. After an astonishing five straight wins, I have now whiffed on two straight What the Heck Picks of the week, though the Bears came tantalizingly close to beating the Rams Sunday. I considered taking the Jaguars over the Colts as my WTH Pick, which also would have resulted in a tantalizingly close call.
Sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders and say, "Junior! Stop chewing on the remote and get back to your stretching exercises! The NFL scouting combine is only 17 years away!"
Week 12 picks, with winners capitalized as always:
PITTSBURGH (3-7) at Cleveland (4-6): Last week the Browns lost their leading rusher, William Green, to a four-game drug suspension and cut their leading receiver, Kevin Johnson, because of an attitude problem. Then they went out and routed the Cardinals. This week, Green was stabbed in the back, allegedly during a fight with his girlfriend. His injury is not life-threatening. Too bad for the Browns they've already used up that one-game, everybody-has-to-suck-it-up-and-play-better boost that teams get after losing star players. They wasted it on the Cardinals.
INDIANAPOLIS (8-2) at Buffalo (4-6): My basement flooded this week, so the junk all kind of turned over in the cleanup. What was on the bottom of the various piles is now on top. So I saw that Sept. 15 Sports Illustrated with the Bills on the cover. They had pounded the Patriots in Week 1 and were Super Bowl-bound. I have nothing against Buffalo and nothing against the Bills, so I have no idea why I'm taking such pleasure in the sickening thud that their season has become.
Detroit (3-7) at MINNESOTA (6-4): Conversely, I'm taking no pleasure in the disaster that the formerly 6-0 Vikings have become. They've gone from an undefeated Super Bowl contender to a club that looks like it's going to have to seriously turn things around to even make the playoffs. And yet: nothing. I have no stake in Minnesota or the Vikings, but their collapse is doing nothing for me. I don't understand it. I think they'll beat the Lions, by the way, and express relief at having reversed their slide, which will not, in fact, be the case.
San Francisco (5-5) at GREEN BAY (5-5): Regular 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia's injured ankle hasn't healed sufficiently, so sub Tim Rattay will get a third straight start after playing well in wins over the Rams and Steelers. Coach Dennis Erickson had been consulting with Tonya Harding about what to do in case Garcia felt better. Meanwhile, Brett Favre will start his 4,003rd consecutive game, despite having perished in the crash of the Hindenburg 66 years ago. Packers coach Mike Sherman said Favre's recent struggles have nothing to do with his having gone the way of all flesh. "I'll take a decomposing Brett Favre over anybody else any day of the week," he said.
Carolina (8-2) at DALLAS (7-3): You knew coming in to the season that this would be the marquee matchup of Week 12, right? I think Dallas will squeak out a close one. My kid's coin agrees.
NEW ENGLAND (8-2) at Houston (4-6): The Patriots are on a six-game winning streak. The scores have gone 38-30, 17-6, 19-13, 9-3, 30-26 and 12-0. Do you detect a pattern? Yeah, me neither.
SEATTLE (7-3) at Baltimore (5-5): The Ravens are tied for first in the AFC North. Would it be possible to just declare the division championship vacant this year?
New Orleans (5-5) at PHILADELPHIA (7-3): Don't look now, but the Eagles could be on their way to losing their third straight NFC Championship Game.
Jacksonville (2-8) at N.Y. JETS (3-7): It's a shame somebody has to win a game like this.
Chicago (3-7) at DENVER (6-4): Quarterback Jake Plummer came back last week after missing a month with shoulder and foot injuries to lead the Broncos to a 38-7 pummeling of the Chargers. "It's nice to get Jake back and see a little step in everybody's walk," said Denver coach Mike Shanahan. They were walking without stepping? No wonder they lost three straight.
ST. LOUIS (7-3) at Arizona (3-7): The Rams are my hometown team. I unabashedly root for them, but I don't think they're all that good, so I've only picked them to win four times in 10 games. In those games, though, they're 4-0. They're only 3-3 when I pick against them. Since I'm picking them this week, I feel it's my duty to remind you of the folly of using this column as a guide while betting. The Rams are 5-1 when my coin-flipping kid picks them, 2-2 when he goes against them. He's taking the Rams this week too. Let your conscience be your guide.
OAKLAND (3-7) at Kansas City (9-1): What the Heck Pick of the week. I and every other sportswriter in America have been picking against the Chiefs for weeks now, hoping to look cool when they inevitably lost a game. But now that they've dropped one, what prognosticator will have the courage to peg them to lose a second in a row? And against the dismal Raiders? He stands before you.
TENNESSEE (8-2) at Atlanta (2-8): Mike Vick was supposed to come back this week, but someone on the scout team -- perhaps mistaking Vick for Jeff Garcia -- stepped on his ankle in practice, delaying the star's return. Conveniently for that so-far unnamed klutz, there's about to be a maternity leave replacement job opening up at Mama's Tacos in Taylor, Texas.
CINCINNATI (5-5) at San Diego (2-8): "I still don't think we have everybody's respect," Bengals linebacker Kevin Hardy said after Cincinnati's upset win over undefeated Kansas City last week. Well, Kevin, that's because you're the Bengals, and you're 5-5 in a weak division. And after this game, you'll be 6-5 and probably in first place, and you still won't have "everybody's respect," in the sense of everybody thinking you have a legitimate shot at going deep into the playoffs. And that'll be just about right.
WASHINGTON (4-6) at Miami (6-4): Just a hunch. Kind of like the hunch I have that Freddy Adu, fabulous kid that he seems to be, is going to have some serious personal problems by the time he's out of his teens. I had that hunch about Todd Marinovich when I first laid eyes on him, staring out from the cover of a magazine when he was a senior in high school. "This kid is going down in flames," I said to a co-worker in the mailbox joint where we were sorting mail. Maybe 10 years later my band played a gig with Marinovich's band, the name of which escapes me now, at a great little place called Linda's Doll Hut in Anaheim, Calif. It wasn't really his band. He played rhythm guitar and kind of hung in the background, smoking cigarettes as he strummed. There's a joke among musicians about people who seem to be dead weight in bands: "He must own the van." Marinovich clearly owned the van. It was probably a nice van. He was a millionaire. Anyway, the point of all this is that my hunch was right. In only 10 years, he had sunk to my level. That's a fall from grace, which, on a lesser scale, the Dolphins are also experiencing.
N.Y. Giants (4-6) at TAMPA BAY (4-6): You knew coming in to the season that this would be the marquee matchup of Week 12, right? Well, you were wrong. And so was I. My picks to win the NFC East and South battle for primacy in the race to see who can miss the playoffs by less. The Bucs fired Keyshawn Johnson this week because of attitude problems, making it two weeks in a row in which an NFL wide receiver named Johnson was fired for attitude problems. Note to Andre, Bethel, Bryant, Chad, Patrick and Ron Johnson: Mind your p's and q's, men!
Season record: 93-67
Last week: 9-7
What the Heck Picks: 5-6
Quotes in this column that were made up: 7
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