Mirer-Bledsoe Question A Hot Topic In NFL Circles

At his home in Goshen, Ind., Rick Mirer has an autographed picture that was sent to him by a previous Notre Dame quarterback.

The inscription reads: "Rick, take good care of No. 3 for me. - Joe Montana."

Mirer did. As a result, he and Drew Bledsoe of Washington State are expected to be the first two picks in next Sunday's NFL draft. The biggest remaining question is which one will go first.

New England has the first pick, Seattle the second. Bingo-Bongo. Two quarterbacks off the board. Current speculation is that the Patriots will choose Mirer, but it will be no surprise if he winds up wearing Seahawk blue.

In the past 18 days, Mirer's stock has risen faster than Microsoft's ever did. He capped a March 31 workout in South Bend with a couple of 70-yard passes that had "See, I can throw deep" written all over them.

Until the workout, a word often associated with Mirer as a top-five pick was "gamble," especially for the Seahawks, who have spent two No. 1 picks on quarterbacks in the past five years and come away with little to show for it.

But the word "gamble" in the same sentence with Mirer irritates Lou Holtz, the quarterback's college coach.

"What do you want in a quarterback?" Holtz asked. "He's 6-3 (actually 6-2), about 210 pounds, runs a legitimate 4.6 (40-yard dash), has a strong arm, is accurate, avoids the rush well, is very intelligent and graduated from Notre Dame in 3 1/2 years. He is durable and never missed a game. He has a good football mind, and he doesn't make mistakes to beat you. . . . He's a leader and his teammates voted him captain.

"He's a beautiful human being," concluded Holtz. "If I were building a franchise, I would build it with Rick Mirer."

As predraft hype reaches a crescendo, strong-armed Bledsoe is being compared to John Elway and Troy Aikman. Mirer, who is 3 inches shorter, is being touted as a potential Roger Staubach or Montana.

The "Which One Is Better - Bledsoe or Mirer?" debate is lively in NFL circles.

One poll of eight NFL general managers and personnel directors by The Philadelphia Daily News resulted in a 4-4 split on which one had the most pro potential.

The Seahawks are known to prefer Bledsoe because his height and superior arm best fit their offense, but that doesn't mean they aren't high on Mirer.

"Both of them we feel are outstanding and would help our future along with Dan (McGwire)," said Coach Tom Flores.

A knock on Mirer is that he is less prepared for the pros because he played in Notre Dame's option offense while Bledsoe was winging the ball in the Cougars' pro-style attack.

Mirer averaged only 19 passes a game in his three years as a Notre Dame starter. Bledsoe averaged 34 in his two full years as the Cougar starter.

"Rick has thrown drop-back (passes)," said Holtz. "The important thing is he's read coverages. He understands coverages."

Mirer's accuracy also has been questioned. But Holtz is quick to point out that his quarterback threw only six interceptions last season and that two of them were "Hail Marys" at halftime and two were screens picked off by linemen.

Mirer played in more big games than Bledsoe, has more career starts (36 to 28) and showed he could stand up to the pressure of leading one of the country's most loved and hated teams.

He finished his college career as Notre Dame's all-time leader in touchdown passes (41) and offensive yardage (5,997). Not bad, considering the roll call of Irish quarterbacks includes Terry Hanratty, Joe Theismann and Montana.

Mirer was considered a likely top-five draftee last year but chose to return to Notre Dame for his senior season, well aware that the decision could cost him millions. It will.

The NFL has put a rookie salary cap into effect this year, limiting the average team to about $2 million in salaries and prorated signing bonuses for its draftees. Because they draft second, the Seahawks are expected to have about $2.6 million to divide among draftees. That's slightly more than half of the $5.1 million Indianapolis paid one rookie last year - ex-Husky Steve Emtman, the No. 1 draftee, who left school a year early.

Mirer has said, "Money is not my No. 1 priority."

His father, Ken Mirer, said, "Rick made the decision for all the right reasons. I think too many times we get dollar signs blown out of proportion. Rick had a commitment and a desire to play four years at Notre Dame and enjoy that time of his life, which you can never go back and do again."

Back at Notre Dame, Mirer needed a comeback to bolster his draft status after a miserable 13-for-38 outing contributed to a 33-16 loss to Stanford on Oct. 3.

Seahawk officials believe the bad outing by Mirer and teammates was in part due to a grueling week of little sleep and midterm examinations. The Irish finished the year with seven straight victories, including a 28-3 romp over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, where Mirer was named the game's outstanding offensive player.

Bledsoe spent time with Mirer in New York last week being interviewed by ESPN.

"He's a great guy," said Bledsoe. "We got along real well. We're a lot alike. He grew up in a small town like me. We're both kind of laid back. It's funny, people are trying to make us out as mortal enemies. I think once this whole draft thing is over we'll still be friends."

Both are sons of high-school coaches. Mirer's father coached 20 years at Goshen High School in Goshen, Ind. (population 22,000) and won the 1978 state 2A championship.

Bledsoe's father, Mac, was offensive coordinator at Walla Walla High School when Drew was a prep phenom. The ex-Husky captain now is on the staff at Eisenhower High School in Yakima.

When Rick Mirer was a freshman, Ken resigned as Goshen's head coach to avoid the second-guessing and whispers about preferred treatment he felt would arise.

"My assistant coach took over, and he did things with Rick I probably would have hesitated to do because I was his dad," said Mirer, now a bank executive.

Example: Rick threw an average of 30 passes a game in high school.

Mirer almost accepted a Michigan scholarship but chose Notre Dame, which is 30 miles from home.

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, when Holtz went to Goshen to recruit Mirer, he slipped on the ice outside the high school and went flying. An assistant helped Holtz off the ground, then gingerly led him to a room to meet Mirer.

Holtz started the conversation by saying he would sue Mirer and the school if the quarterback didn't pick Notre Dame. Then Holtz broke into a smile that said he was kidding.

If Mirer is drafted by Seattle and needs lunch money or a loan to buy the heavy-metal band recordings he enjoys, he can call Shawn Kemp. Kemp grew up in Elkhart, eight miles from Goshen. Their high schools were major athletic rivals. Mirer played football and baseball and Kemp concentrated on basketball.

"I think it's kind of amazing that two kids from that close proximity could wind up on professional teams in the same city so far away," said Mirer's father.

It could be about to happen. ----------------- WHO HAS THE EDGE? ----------------- Size and stature Bledsoe. Arm strength Bledsoe. Quickness of delivery Bledsoe. Touch on deep ball Bledsoe. Throw from pocket Bledsoe. Athletic ability Mirer. Scramble and avoid Mirer. Throw on move Mirer. Intangibles Mirer. Football intelligence Even. Footwork Mirer. Toughness Even. High-pressure experience Mirer. Ability to rally team Bledsoe. Source: Pro Football Weekly

------------------------- MIRER-BLEDSOE COMPARISON ------------------------- -- RICK MIRER, Notre Dame Age: 23. Height/weight: 6-2, 210. -- DREW BLEDSOE, Washington State Age: 21. Height/weight: 6-5, 225.


1989 . Mirer 8-0 30 15 50.0 1 180 0 12 32 0 . Bledsoe In high school . ---------------------------------------------------------------. 1990 . Mirer 12-12 231 123 53.2 9 1,965 8 104 196 6 . Bledsoe 7-5 189 92 48.7 4 1,386 9 49 -67 4 . ---------------------------------------------------------------. 1991 . Mirer 13-12 253 146 57.7 11 2,271 20 81 276 6 . Bledsoe 11-11 358 199 55.6 15 2,741 17 104 -94 2 . ---------------------------------------------------------------. 1992 . Mirer 12-12 250 128 51.2 6 1,995 17 81 213 2 . Bledsoe 12-12 432 241 55.8 15 3,246 20 84 -61 4 . ---------------------------------------------------------------. TOTALS . Mirer 45-36 765 412 53.9 24 6,411 45 280 717 17 . Bledsoe 30-28 979 532 54.3 34 7,373 46 237 -222 10 .

---------- NFL DRAFT ---------- -- When: Next Sunday and Monday. First round 9 a.m. No Sunday round will begin after 6 p.m. Draft resumes Monday at 9 a.m. -- TV: ESPN. -- What's new: There will be eight rounds instead of 12. -- Rookie salary cap: The average team can spend no more than $2 million on rookie salaries and pro-rated bonuses. (Example: A three-year contract paying a player annual salaries of $200,000, $300,000 and $400,000 with a $600,000 million signing bonus spread over three years counts as $400,000 against the rookie cap.) The cap for the Seahawks is expected to be about $2.6 million because they draft early and the NFL policy makers realize those players are more expensive. -- Seahawk selections: Seattle will draft second in the first round and first in the second round (30th pick overall). The Hawks have two picks in the eighth round - their own and one from Chicago as compensation for signing linebacker Joe Cain. -- Draft order: 1, New England; 2, Seattle; 3, New York Jets; 4, Phoenix; 5, Cincinnati; 6, Tampa Bay; 7, Chicago; 8, Detroit; 9, Atlanta; 10, Los Angeles Rams; 11, Cleveland; 12, Los Angeles Raiders; 13, Philadelphia (extra pick); 14, Denver; 15, Green Bay; 16, Indianpolis; 17, Washington; 18, Kansas City; 19, Houston; 20, Phoenix (extra pick); 21, Minnesota; 22, San Diego; 23, Pittsburgh; 24, Philadephia; 25, Miami; 26, New Orleans; 27, San Francisco; 28, Buffalo; 29, Dallas. ((Philadelphia and Phoenix get extra first-round picks because the players they designated as "franchise players" signed with other teams; New York Giants forfeited first-round pick to select QB Dave Brown in last summer's supplemental draft.)