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The quarterback's handicap

A day after he signed a $22-million contract with the Chicago Bears, rookie quarterback Cade McNown pulled into the Bears' Platteville, Wis., training camp for the first time _ and parked his truck in a handicapped space.

It was late at night and the parking lot was almost deserted, but there was still reason to expect McNown to be more sensitive to the impression that is left when a healthy professional football player parks in a spot reserved for handicapped motorists. You see, during his recently completed career at UCLA, McNown was one of several Bruin athletes who got in trouble when they managed to acquire handicapped-parking placards they didn't deserve.

Just before McNown reported to camp, nine of his former UCLA teammates pleaded no contest to charges stemming from their illegal possession of the placards. Each was fined $1,485 and sentenced to two years' probation and 200 hours of community service.

McNown says he was injured during the months he had a handicapped-parking placard, but he never missed a practice or scrimmage during that time. Apparently, playing quarterback was easier for him than walking from his vehicle to his classes.

McNown is expected to become an immediate starter for the Bears, who, as usual, play the Buccaneers twice this year. Maybe Warren Sapp and his cohorts will leave McNown with an honest-to-goodness excuse for using a handicapped-parking placard for at least a couple of days after each of those games.