One day before the start of the '84 season, San Francisco's Bill Walsh got to thinking about Jack (Hacksaw) Reynolds, his 36-year-old linebacker. And he started to worry. "The guy's going into his 15th season," Walsh mused. "He's getting a little old. He might get hurt out there." So Walsh tried to talk Reynolds, the 49ers' defensive field general the past few years—when San Francisco is on offense, Reynolds diagrams plays on the sideline on what's known as Hacksaw's Chalkboard—into a coaching job. Reynolds would have none of it, saying he would look elsewhere—even the USFL—just so he could keep playing.
Walsh relented and decided that on first downs and on short yardage situations he'd start Hacksaw at weakside inside linebacker—the Plugger, as the club refers to the player in that position. And the Plugger he has been. Even with his limited playing time, he has 28 tackles in eight games, and the 49ers are 7-1. "Jack was right," Walsh says. "I was premature."
On their first day of nursery school, 2-year-old Evan Dennard, the son of Buffalo receiver Preston Dennard, and his classmate Kristen Ferguson, also 2, the daughter of Bills quarterback Joe Ferguson, got into a little skirmish. Upon hearing about the tiff from his wife, Jackie, Dennard admonished his son, "No! No! Don't fight with her. Daddy's got to get some passes."
If Chuck Muncie continues to show progress in his rehabilitation from alcohol and cocaine abuse, doctors for the San Diego running back plan to meet with Pete Rozelle in the next two weeks to recommend that Muncie be reinstated this season. And to prove his drug days are over, Muncie says he'll submit to random urinalyses.
"The doctors feel if Chuck is to recover completely that it's best that he play football," says George Deane, Muncie's attorney. "He has got to get back into the real world, to get on with his life."
Rozelle, who's proud of the NFL's drug rehab programs, is likely to give Muncie the O.K. "Art Schlichter's doctors advised that Art return as soon as possible to football as part of his rehabilitation [from compulsive gambling]," says Joe Browne, an NFL spokesman. And Colt quarterback Schlichter was reinstated this season. "Rozelle has always felt gambling is more serious; it goes to the heart of the game. If Chuck Muncie keeps up his aftercare, it's possible the commissioner will let him play this year."
Muncie, who spent from Sept. 17 to Oct. 17 at the Schulte Institute in Scottsdale, Ariz., is now an outpatient at San Diego's Scripps Clinic. He is also scheduled to attend several Alcoholics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous meetings each week.
"We're all to blame," Deane says. "Robyn [Muncie's wife], me and everybody on the Chargers. We were all aware of it, but we let him go merrily on his way with a problem. Why? Because society coddles athletes; they're spoiled. We take care of them, and we excuse them.
"Chuck liked to drink a few beers. He smoked joints for a long time. But until he went to Miami, he never tested dirty. I told him before he got there, 'Your urine is clean 72 hours after you do cocaine. Don't screw this up.' So, he flunks his physical. Only then did I realize his intense drug hunger. I'd always thought it was recreational.
"When did he become an addict? Which drink put him over? Which line of cocaine was the turning point? I don't know. He might not even know.
"I do know this: Right now, Chuck looks healthier than he has in years. He was finally able to admit to himself that he had a problem and to say he needed help. He's embarrassed about what happened. And he's ready to start living again."
The Bills sold only 19,179 season tickets this year, and they're averaging but 46,214 spectators a game at Rich Stadium, which seats 80,290. Despite temperatures in the low 70s most of last week—that's a heat wave in Buffalo—the Bills sold only 34,061 tickets for Sunday's game against Denver. Owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. wasn't surprised. "I don't expect we'll sell more than 15,000 season tickets for '85," he says.
Pete Rozelle wasn't surprised, either. "The stadium seems too big for Buffalo's market size," Rozelle says. "I know it's hindsight, but I would've preferred that Rich Stadium had been built with just 65,000 seats and the balance of the construction money be used for a Silverdome-type roof."
Something other than an 0-8 record might help, too.
When Charger cornerback Gill Byrd collapsed in the end zone after returning an interception 99 yards for a touchdown against the Chiefs on Oct. 14, doctors cited a condition called tachycardia, an accelerated heart beat (approximately 140 beats per minute well after he'd finished his run), for Byrd's collapse.
"They wouldn't let me back into the game until my heart was well under 100 beats per minute," said Byrd, who has been receiving medication for the condition for about a year. "I went back in for one play, but I couldn't really focus on anything."
Last week Byrd was given a battery of tests, and the San Diego doctors identified what may have been a contributing cause to the episode: the caffeine in the Snickers and Hershey bars Byrd scarfs down daily.
A couple of seasons back, a buzz word around the NFL offices was "parity." Well, that state has certainly been reached in the AFC Central, although not exactly the way commissioner Rozelle envisioned.
Pittsburgh, at 4-4 after a 17-16 loss to Indianapolis, is the only one of the division's four teams that doesn't have a losing record. Cincinnati, Cleveland and Houston have won a grand total of three games—while losing 21. And in Sunday's snoozer of the week—somebody had to win this one—the Bengals ended up with a 12-9 victory over the Browns. The two teams committed six turnovers in the field-goal fest.
How can any division be so bad?
•New quarterbacks are starting for all four teams.
•New coaches in Cincinnati (Sam Wyche), Houston (Hugh Campbell) and, as of Monday, when Sam Rutigliano was given the gate, Cleveland (Marty Schottenheimer).
•No big, strong, young running back on any team.
•The loss of capable assistant coaches—Lindy Infante, the Bengals' offensive coordinator, and Woody Widenhofer, the Steelers' defensive wiz. Both went to the USFL.
Bob Gries Jr., a minority owner of the Browns, says, "It's management. The best teams—the Raiders, Dolphins and Cowboys—are run by a head guy who knows football. The worst teams—the Colts, Eagles and Browns—are run by guys who don't know football."
And who benefits the most from all this? The 49ers. They play both Cleveland and Cincinnati later this season.
Keith Fahnhorst, an offensive tackle for San Francisco, had played in 90 consecutive Niners games when it appeared that back spasms would keep him out of San Francisco's Oct. 14 game with Pittsburgh. He was offered the chance to start and take part in a few plays just to maintain the streak, but declined. "It would have been a cheap way to keep it going," said Fahnhorst. "There's no incentive clause in my contract for extending the streak."
Rod Humenuik, Kansas City's offensive line coach, was asked before Sunday's 28-7 loss to the Jets to compare defensive ends Art Still and Mike Bell of the Chiefs and Mark Gastineau of New York. "That's like trying to decide between Miss America last year, this year and next year," Humenuik said. "You know darn well you'd like to meet all three."
After linebacker Ricky Hunley, the Bengals' top draft choice (No. 7 in the NFL overall), held out for 86 days, Cincinnati traded him to Denver on Oct. 9. Which didn't dent his market value. He appears to have wound up with the third most lucrative rookie contract for '84. The top two are generally assumed to have gone to Irving Fryar of the Patriots ($3.4 million for four years) and Kenny Jackson of the Eagles ($3.3 million for four years).
Hunley signed for a reported $3.2 million—with a salary of $150,000 this year, increasing to $400,000 by the fourth year. About two-thirds of each year's salary will be deferred.
He also received a signing bonus of $1.425 million, most of which is deferred over 19 years; a $600,000 loan at 15% interest, repayable between 1999 and 2000, and an additional $200,000 loan, which will be forgiven—you might call it another signing bonus. Not bad for a guy who'll probably see most of his action this season on the special teams.
But most players and club officials took a very different stance when they heard that McMahon received another injection on the sideline during the second half, with his teammates standing around him to screen him from the spectators' view. Charlie Waters, the former Cowboy defensive back, said, "That's gruesome." Said Ric McDonald, the Chargers' trainer, "We have a club policy that we don't give painkillers on the field."
"The doctor doesn't want me to take the shots," McMahon says. "But I'm not going to sit out. If you can play, you play."
Most players say they've never been forced to take shots. The impulse comes from within. "When I was being tested by scouts, I had a separated shoulder and a fractured vertebra," says Howie Long, Raider defensive end. "I shot up every day for a month. I'd do it again in a minute."
THE CARDS HAVE GOTTEN THE GREEN LIGHT
Every Friday morning, St. Louis offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower gives his troops a quiz. "It covers the whole game plan in capsule form," Dowhower says. It also covers 10 pages of legal-size paper. "I must admit the first time I pulled it, the receivers looked at me as if I was nuts," Dowhower says. But his students concede that the quizzes are a big reason why quarterback Neil Lomax has connected so well this season with receivers Roy Green (81 in the above diagram) and Pat Tilley (83) on plays like this one, called Split Right 428.
Through eight games, Lomax has completed 160 of 264 attempts for 2,368 yards and 15 touchdowns, with only five interceptions. Green has caught 40 passes for 892 yards (a 22.3-yard avg.) and eight TDs, including two in the Cards' upset of Washington last Sunday. Tilley has caught 30 passes for 488 yards (16.3 avg.) and three TDs.
There are other reasons for the Cards' aerial success:
•Lomax is more at ease without veteran Jim Hart, now a Redskin, around. Hart, 40, wasn't about to shorten his own career by taking Lomax, 25, under his wing.
•Green is taking a cue from the workhorse Tilley and spending time after practices running routes.
•Lomax and his receivers are finally synchronized in their thinking. Lomax, who had been a run-and-shoot quarterback at Portland State, could read defensive schemes faster than his receivers and at times would cut his pass drop short and throw. What made that style tough on Green was that he is a former defensive back who had a tendency to make his adjustments off the defense's initial movement. So, while Lomax was throwing. Green was reacting, and the two weren't meshing well. Lomax now holds his fire until he gets a Green light.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: Quarterback Marc Wilson completed 24 of 37 passes for 332 yards and five TDs—one fewer than the team record shared by Tom Flores and Daryle Lamonica—as L.A. beat San Diego 44-37.
DEFENSE: Mark Gastineau of the Jets, alternating between right and left end, scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery, forced another fumble and was in on two sacks as New York beat K.C. 28-7.
If you're keeping score, here are the five teams with the best sacks—sacks-against records at midseason:
And then there are the sad sacks, those with negative records: