Thursday, August 31, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Don Hannula

The Hot-Dog Hullabaloo: Dumbest Fine Of All Time

One thousand dollars is peanuts to Seattle Seahawks stars Rick Mirer, Cortez Kennedy and Eugene Robinson. They can afford to plunk down a grand for a hot dog. Particularly when the money goes to a good charity.

But, if ever a mountain was made out of a mole hill, it was Coach Dennis Erickson's slapping $1,000 fines against each for munching frankfurters on the sidelines after they had put in their shift in a meaningless exhibition game against the Forty-Niners in San Francisco.

Erickson finally decided to make a statement about team discipline.

Not from all the mayhem that has occurred off the field, leading Sports Illustrated to label the Seahawks "Team Turmoil."

Not from the car crash in Kirkland involving players and open cans of beer that left teammate Mike Frier paralyzed.

Not from manslaughter charges against all-pro wide receiver Brian Blades for the shooting death of his cousin.

Not from drunken driving charges, including Erickson's own conviction.

Not from charges that star running back Chris Warren manhandled a woman outside a Renton bar at 2:45 a.m. Whatever he did, he shouldn't have been there.

No. Discipline for Team Turmoil finally came from eating hot dogs.

Sure it was on the sidelines. But the three players weren't going back in the game. It was the second half. They were finished for the day.

With a straight face, Erickson said he had no choice.

"We just felt the fine was necessary," Erickson said. "Obviously it wasn't done intentionally and they're great kids. But they made a mistake. They know that better than anybody."

They're not really kids. They're good men - three of the straightest arrows, hardest workers and best producers on the team.

I don't know what Erickson meant by saying it obviously wasn't done intentionally.

How do you unintentionally smuggle hot dogs out of the stands hidden in a helmet and sneak them into your mouth?

That's not the point. Let's put this thing in perspective.

John Madden, the FOX-network color analyst for the game, is the funniest man ever to invade a broadcast booth. He also was one of the best coaches in the National Football League when he was in charge of the Oakland Raiders.

Madden knows the game. He knows life. He knows how to perk up the audience when a game is putting them to sleep. So he did his hot-dog shtick on national TV, gee-whizzing as only Madden can.

At first, he thought the bulge in Mirer's mouth was chewing tobacco and that Mirer had a pouch hidden under a towel wrapped around his hand.

Then Madden saw the hot dogs. He turned the whole thing into a delightful comic opera. It was Madden mirth. Circles appeared on the screen around hot dogs. Cameras zeroed in on clandestine gulping. The game became secondary.

Erickson didn't get it. He must have thought it was a "60 Minutes" investigative piece - and he had to do something to improve the Seahawks' image. Hot-dog miscreants cannot go unpunished. Forget all the other team mayhem.

Robinson, the gifted Seahawk free safety, said: "We can make light of it all we want, but it's embarrassing and it makes it look like we're undisciplined . . . It's serious. It puts a blemish on the Seahawks."

The premier free safety took responsibility for bootlegging the hot dogs. That's because he's such a classy guy, not because this tempest in a teapot deserved an explanation.

Erickson ought to be less concerned about hot dogs and more concerned with what some players are washing them down with.

This was truly trivial compared to the Seahawks's real discipline problems. Erickson should have written the whole thing off as a John Madden joke.

Better yet, Erickson could have just sent $3,000 to First Place, a Seattle school for homeless children, as penance for his own undisciplined drunken driving.

Don Hannula's column appears Thursday on editorial pages of The Times.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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