It could turn out to be the play that costs the defending champion 49ers a playoff berth. On Nov. 11 a snowball flew from the stands in Denver just as Ray Wersching was about to attempt a 19-yard field goal. It narrowly missed Matt Cavanaugh, the 49ers' holder, who bobbled the ball and wound up throwing an incomplete pass. Denver eventually won the game 17-16.
Referee Jim Tunney, who has been backed up by Art McNally, the head of NFL officials, did not replay the kick because the snowball did not hit Cavanaugh or Wersching.
Says McNally, "If Cavanaugh had indicated at all any change in his concentration, the referee would have stopped play. Later [Tunney] told me Cavanaugh did not even flinch. There is no provision in the rule book specifically for snowballs, or any objects, unless they strike the players. However, the referee is empowered to make any decision that is not specifically covered by the rules."
Not surprisingly, 49ers coach Bill Walsh disagrees. "The way to stop that [behavior by fans] would be to replay the play," Walsh says. "Then there would be no more snowballs ever. By allowing it to affect a very important play and say their hands are tied—they [the officials] are just inviting the riotous action of fans."
Cowboys coach Tom Landry also feels a replay might have been in order. "When something like that is so obvious to both sides, you shouldn't be penalized by the fans." Hugh Campbell, the Oilers' coach, goes even further. "They should replay it," he says. "And if another snowball comes down, they should award them a field goal."
Hear now from Minnesota linebacker Scott Studwell, who has 168 tackles this season. A year ago he had 215 to lead the team for the fifth straight year. "I constantly feel like I've been run over by a truck," says Studwell, 31. "From Monday until Wednesday it's like I have the flu, with every part of my body aching. I feel all of 31; sometimes I feel 61.1 guess I have a lot of kid in me, and that carries me through. Guys around here, though, will tell you I have a screw loose to play the way I do."
Studwell, who has never played in a Pro Bowl, has never had an incentive clause in his contract for tackles. "I figure that has been at least a $50,000 oversight on my part," he says. In 1986, however, he begins a new, three-year deal which pays him a $10,000 bonus each season he leads the team in tackles.
Gerald Riggs calls himself the NFL Enigma. The Falcons' running back is leading the NFL in rushing with 1,138 yards. The Jets' Freeman McNeil is second (1,093); Riggs also has caught 23 passes for 199 yards. On Sunday he rushed for 123 yards in Atlanta's 30-14 upset of the Rams—it was Riggs's fourth straight game over 100 yards. The others came against Dallas, Washington and Philadelphia, which are not defensive pushovers. Yet Riggs feels overlooked.
A No. 1 draft pick in '82 from Arizona State, Riggs is big and durable, but being the Falcons' only real source of offense is a heavy load. "On Mondays I'm bushed," Riggs says. "I sit in the Jacuzzi and do water exercises for my shoulders. Then I take my 10-speed bike to Piedmont Park and ride for an hour. It saves my knees. After Washington beat us [44-10] a couple weeks ago, for the first time in my career I was emotionally exhausted. On one of my rides, I stopped and sat down in the grass. I asked myself how long I could keep playing so hard and keep coming out with nothing."
Vikings rookie linebacker Tim Meamber has this to say about the famed NFL tradition of watching game films: "Sometimes it gets so boring, it's like watching The Lawrence Welk Show over and over." But not everybody sees it quite that way.
•Joe Bugel, Redskins offensive line coach: "I was so mad the other day—I saw a sack—and I got up to throw a film canister. I wanted to stand up and reach it, and I got up and the damn chair was stuck to my rear end. That was embarrassing." Did any of the linemen laugh? "No, because I was serious at the time. I'm sure afterward they died laughing."
•The Saints tell a story from the '83 exhibition season. Rookie tight end Arnold Holcombe dozed off. "Hey, Holcombe," Bum Phillips shouted from the front of the room. "You sleeping?" Holcombe sat up straight and said, "No, Coach. I'm just praying for the team."
•Tom Moore, Steelers offensive coordinator, on Bud Carson, the ex-Pittsburgh defensive coach who's now with the Jets. "Bud's pistachio nuts caught on fire in his projector. He had them sitting on it and they fell inside. Bud couldn't figure out why smoke was coming out of his projector."
•When the Cardinals see a teammate make the mistake that caused another to get clobbered, they "vote the guy dead," says Joe Bostic. "He ceases to exist for 24 hours. We don't talk to him. We treat him as if he's not there among us."
•Of all coaches, Green Bay's Forrest Gregg seems to strike the most fear in players during film sessions. One day when Gregg was coaching in Cincinnati, quarterback Turk Schonert fell asleep and Gregg threw a canister at him. "They called it Turk's Alarm Clock," Schonert says.
Punter Pat McInally took it upon himself to make Gregg laugh. Gregg was calling roll. A window slid open, and McInally said, "Here I am, Coach." Gregg said, "You've got 30 seconds to get into this room." Says linebacker Steve Maidlow, now with the Bills, "In comes McInally and all he's wearing is a belt, socks and a tie."
Roland James, the Patriots' safety, suffered a compound fracture of his right index finger against the Colts on Nov. 10. James was clipped by receiver Wayne Capers, and he came up swinging. That was all fine and dandy, except.... "A hook to the face isn't too smart a strategy when the face has a mask in front of it," James said. He played Sunday in Seattle—with a specially built covering on his hand.
"I guess you could say I commute to work," says linebacker Chris Keating, who was signed by the Redskins—for the third time this season—on Nov. 12. "Too bad I don't have a New York Air Frequent Flyer Card."
Placed on waivers by Buffalo in August after a holdout, Keating, a seven-year veteran, was working as a stockbroker in Boston when the Redskins first called on Sept. 24. He says, "I had finally decided it was the first day of the rest of my life, and then...."
On Oct. 22, Monte Coleman was set to come off injured reserve and Keating was placed on waivers. "I was disappointed," he says. However, the next day, Coleman reinjured himself, so the Redskins brought Keating back. "I had only been home an hour and a half," he says.
Seventeen days later, on Nov. 9, Coleman was activated, and, again, it was bye-bye Keating. "But I was smart," he says. "I didn't leave town." Sure enough, three days later, the Redskins called and he was re-signed.
So how long will Keating be around this time? "Now that the team is keeping six linebackers, it could be a while," he says. "But just in case, I keep my bag packed, and I only pull out clothes as I need them."
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: Jets Quarterback Ken O'Brien completed 23 of 30 passes for 367 yards and five touchdowns—and led New York to a team-record 41 first-half points—in a 62-28 victory over the Tampa Bay Bucs.
DEFENSE: Linebacker Otis Wilson led a strong Bears defense by forcing an interception (which Mike Richardson ran back for a TD) and making two sacks and five tackles as Chicago defeated Dallas 44-0.
The NFL ranks punters by average yards per punt. Coaches, however, are more interested in opponents' touchbacks and kicks inside the 20 (indicating placement) and average yards returned (indicating hang time). Here are the league's top punters, ranked by the latter criterion:
L. Johnson, Hou.