Three weeks into the season the debate over the new instant replay system rages throughout the NFL. Does the replay clear up bad calls or does it only add to the confusion?
On Monday, there was plenty of confusion, especially in Miami, where Dolphins coach Don Shula was claiming that the Jets' Michael Harper had fumbled the kickoff return at the beginning of overtime the day before at Giants Stadium.
At the NFL offices in Manhattan, Joe Browne, the director of communications, was insisting that the instant replay system should not be faulted in this case. He said an official on the field blew the play dead, thinking that Harper's knee had touched the ground. Browne said that replay official Tony Veteri did not have the "indisputable visual evidence" needed to overrule the decision on the field.
Shula, a member of the NFL's competition committee, wasn't buying. "It was a fumble," he said. But he added that he has not soured on the replay system: "This will be a year of trial and error. Hopefully, all the bugs will be ironed out."
It was the second time in a week that the instant replay system was a source of confusion. On Sept. 15, IR wiped out an obvious Broncos TD in a game with Pittsburgh. Line judge Boyce Smith ruled two forward passes; the replays showed the play was legal, but replay official Paul Trepinski neglected to contact the field in time. In the end, the incident wasn't that crucial. Denver wound up winning 21-10.
Chargers wide receiver Charlie Joiner, in his 18th year in the NFL, is nearing a milestone: He needs just 39 yards to break Don Maynard's career receiving yardage record of 11,834. Joiner is already the league's alltime reception leader with 722 catches. "If you play a long time, you're bound to break records," says Joiner, in his unassuming style.
Well, then, which record means the most? "The longevity record," says Joiner, who will be 39 on Oct. 14. He is the oldest wide receiver ever to have played the game.
"I'm sure no one thought I'd play this long," Joiner says. "I never thought I'd play this long. Since I was 31 or 32, I've worked out hard in the off-season. That's the key to playing a long time, especially in a very physical sport."
How old does he feel? "Looking down the roster and seeing guys' ages listed at 22, 23 and 24 can be a shocker," he says. "I'll take some of the younger generation on the team out to dinner once in a while, just to keep abreast of everything they're doing."
When Joiner was with the Houston Oilers in his first year in the league in 1969, he actually played some defense and covered Maynard, the man whose record he will soon break. Says Joiner, "Don was very fast, tall and lanky. And he had the best quarterback in the game, Joe Namath. I was scared to death he might beat me."
And did he? "Not really," says Joiner.
The death of Cleveland Browns safety Don Rogers from cocaine intoxication last June may have scared some NFL players. Several say that cocaine use in the league appears to have decreased this season. Their reasons why:
•Cardinals running back Earl Ferrell, who has undergone rehabilitation for drug abuse: "When I heard what happened to Don Rogers, I realized it could have been me. I even envisioned myself in the casket, with my family looking down at me and crying. I realized how much I would have hurt my mother and my loved ones, how I would have let everyone down by dying in such a stupid way."
•Niners linebacker Milt McColl, who is in his fourth year at Stanford medical school: "I think drugs are definitely on the decline because people are openly being very strongly antidrug. It's not a matter of just being noncommittal or lethargic, but taking a stand against it."
•Chiefs kicker Nick Lowery: "A combination of the Len Bias and Don Rogers deaths underlined the fatal consequences of using drugs. It burned into everyone's consciousness that there's no such thing as a recreational drug."
•Seahawks cornerback Dave Brown: "Nobody talks about drugs, even kiddingly. There's nothing to joke about, nothing to talk about at all. It's a killer, and I think these guys realize that."
On the other hand, when it comes to anabolic steroids, some players believe usage has increased:
•Bills tight end Pete Metzelaars: "I've seen more [steroids] in the last year and a half or so, more than I had seen in previous years, and heard a lot more about them. It's unfortunate, I think, for people who don't use them because it puts them at a performance disadvantage on the field. And a lot of people end up having to use them just to compete against the people who are."
•Falcons kicker Mick Luckhurst: "[Steroids are] more detrimental to the health of the player and his family than some of the other drugs we've talked about."
Scott Nicolas could be one of the most valuable players on the Cleveland Browns roster. Don't recognize the name, you say? Nicolas, a 12th-round pick from Miami in '82, is a utility guy who can play a multitude of positions. In the era of the 45-man roster, there's no underestimating the value of a player like him. He's a backup inside linebacker in short-yardage and goal-line situations, and a wedge on returns. Nicolas is especially adept at snapping for punts, extra points and field goals—he has had no bouncers or over-the-head jobs in five seasons.
Here are some other players whose versatility counts a lot these days:
•Trey Junkin plays tight end, punt snapper, linebacker and on special teams for the Raiders.
•Rick Dennison is the only Bronco besides Karl Mecklenburg who can fill four linebacker positions without a drop in performance.
•Steve Baack of the Lions plays guard on offense, defensive line, tight end and fullback. "I'm still waiting to catch a pass," Baack says. His nickname, a la the Fridge? "I'm the Igloo Playmate," he says, referring to the portable ice chest.
•Quarterbacks Jeff Hostetler of the Giants, Frank Seurer of the Chiefs and Reggie Collier of the Cowboys also practice at wide receiver. Hostetler played the position against San Diego Sept. 14.
Then, of course, there are the emergency quarterbacks:
•Jeff Gossett, Browns punter, kicks with either foot, and passes well with either arm.
•Rohn Stark, Colts punter, is a left-footed kicker who throws righthanded. Once, in practice, he threw 55 yards while on his knees.
•Rocky Klever is the Jets' backup tight end. In addition to possibly playing QB, he is an emergency punter, placekicker and holder. He also is a standout on special teams and may play running back this week.
The biggest threat at quarterback? Russ Grimm of the Redskins, a 6'3", 275-pound, All-Pro guard. "I'm dead serious," says Skins coach Joe Gibbs, who points out that Grimm played quarterback at Southmoreland (Pa.) High. "If you get a pass rush, so what? He'd take 'em all on."
On Oct. 1, the USFL Players Association office will close. Doug Allen, the executive director of the USFLPA, will return to the position of assistant executive director of the NFL Players Association.
"We will continue to talk to USFL players," says Allen, who just has to move his files to another part of the Washington, D.C., offices that have been shared by the two unions since 1984. "We aren't giving up the hopes that the USFL will play again. We aren't decertifying. It's just that we've been operating the last 15 months on 1985 dues income. The money is getting low. I just don't want the players to pay more dues."
On another matter, the Sept. 15 deadline for USFL teams to sign 10 players (at a minimum of $1,500 a month for four months, plus insurance) has come and gone. So the USFLPA will wait until Oct. 1. "If by then we don't have 80 players signed," Allen says, "we may file a grievance."
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: The Jets' Ken O'Brien (29 of 43 attempts for 449 yards, 4 TDs) and the Dolphins' Dan Marino (30 of 50 for 435 yards, 6 TDs) combined for a record 884 yards as New York beat Miami 51-45.
DEFENSE: Chiefs defensive end Art Still deflected a Warren Moon pass and had seven tackles and two sacks—one that forced a fumble that led to a field goal—as Kansas City defeated Houston 27-13.
Call them the game-breakers, those receivers who seem to rack up long yardage every time they catch the ball. Here are the past and present stars of the long-gain game.
*Through Sunday's games