It was, as Ram coach John Robinson said later, a stage fit for Joe Montana. Only, Los Angeles had the ball, and the 49ers were on defense. The Rams were on their own 19, trailing 12-10 with 2:59 left and the Candlestick Park crowd screaming all kinds of anti-L.A. stuff. Ram quarterback Jim Everett jogged up to the silent huddle. "This is what we play for," Everett told his teammates. "National TV...in San Francisco...and they're the world champs. This is what it's all about. Let's go do it!"
Rah-rah talk doesn't work for many teams, but these Rams are emotional. Earlier in the quarter, L.A.'s defense had stopped running back Roger Craig twice at the Ram one-yard line, thereby forcing San Francisco to kick a field goal. Five or six plays into L.A.'s final drive, tight end Pete Holohan went to the huddle and noticed something he had never heard before. "A bunch of guys were saying, 'This is what it's all about,' all at once," said Holohan.
Everett and the Rams were up to the task. They got a 26-yard Mike Lansford field goal through a gusting crosswind—"a [49er owner Eddie] DeBartolo wind," one Ram called it—with two seconds left to win 13-12 and take a one-game lead over the 49ers in the NFC West.
This nine-play, 72-yard march may have been Everett's coming-out party. He underthrew wide receiver Henry El-lard on the first play of the drive, but that was his last mistake. Everett then connected with tight end Damone Johnson for six yards and lofted a 19-yard spiral to wideout Willie Anderson on third-and-four. Everett called the play again, but this time he looked off Anderson and found Holohan for a 31-yard gain to the San Francisco 25. Two plays later, with 54 seconds to go, he hooked up with Holohan for 16 yards, to the Niner 11. That set up Lansford's boot. "The biggest difference in their team is Everett's confidence," said 49er safety Ronnie Lott later. "And this is only going to give him more."
"Usually, if there's any life left down at the end of the game—bang!—the 49ers take advantage of it," said Robinson after the game. "We stole that scenario. We rose up."
A WHOLE LOT OF HOLDING
Philadelphia defensive end Reggie White says he's being held on 95% of the plays this season. Washington assistant head coach Joe Bugel says offensive linemen don't know how much they can use their hands from week to week, because officiating crews are inconsistent in their calls. Buffalo coach Marv Levy says there's "anarchy" on the lines. The issue of holding is provoking more controversy this season than it has in years.
Line play in the NFL has become a matchup of speed and quickness on defense versus plain old bigness on offense. The league has tried to make it a fair fight: Beginning in 1984, offensive players in the pocket area were allowed to block and push defensive players with extended arms, and in 1987 the use of extended arms became legal anywhere on the field.
Play in the trenches, many in the NFL feel, has gotten to be like NBA play in the pivot—anything goes until you get caught. "Sometimes you've got to hold or you can't get the job done," says San Diego's 14-year-veteran center, Don Macek. Defensive players say what bothers them most is that even the liberalized rules aren't being enforced. Says Cincinnati defensive end Jim Skow, "Against Cleveland [in Week 3], I'd say I was held—really held—15 times, and it wasn't called."
Bugel insists that holding is inevitable: "When you've got an average guy going against a great guy, the great guy has got to expect to be held. You're going to get held every play in the NFL. If you can't accept that, you're not going to make it here."
Some veteran NFL observers, including Houston general manager Mike Holovak and Giants general manager George Young, maintain that holding is no worse than it has ever been. Art McNally, the NFL's supervisor of officials, acknowledges that officials sometimes miss holds, but he also argues that the rules are often misunderstood. Quick grabs are legal. Restricting the defensive player by hugging or tackling or hanging on to the jersey isn't. "The key is. Do you restrict?" says McNally. "I'm telling you, if the official can see it, he'll call it. If we see it on film and the official hasn't seen it, he's graded down. If an official is continually graded down, that affects whether he gets a playoff game, and he could, very quietly, be out of the league after the season. But we have seven men looking at 22, and they're not going to see everything."
Still, players on both sides of the line say they're not sure what to expect from week to week. Bengal center Bruce Kozerski says, "The way it is now, you've got to spend the first quarter not only feeling out the defense but the officials, too. Maybe the solution is to send the full crews to training camps for a week to work with the teams and show them how the rules are going to be called. I just know they've got to do something."
THE CLEMSON CONNECTION
In 1981, a soccer player named Donald Igwebuike, a walk-on with the Clemson football team, made a 52-yard field goal on the first offensive series of his first college game. Igwebuike went on to kick for four seasons for the Tigers, and then, in 1985, he was succeeded by another soccer player-walk-on, named David Treadwell, who made a 36-yard field goal to win his first college game. Tread-well played three seasons for the Tigers. Today he's with Denver and Igwebuike is with Tampa Bay, and they're the top performers in SI's new kicker efficiency rating (box, page 100). "It's an honor to be up there, especially with my old Clemson buddy," says Treadwell.
Igwebuike (pronounced Ig-way-BWEE-kay) was born and raised in Nigeria. A boyhood friend, Obed Arid, who kicked for Clemson from 1977 through '80, persuaded Igwebuike to succeed him. "At first, I hated football," says Igwebuike. "When it came on TV, I'd change channels. But then came that 52-yard field goal. I said to myself. Hey, I might like this sport."
The Bucs drafted Igwebuike in the 10th round in 1985, and since then he has struggled to put points on the board—he has yet to score 100 in a season—because the Bucs' offense has rarely put him in position to attempt field goals. Igwebuike has a .738 career success rate on all field goals and is a perfect 31 for 31 from inside the 35-yard line. He has made seven of his eight field goal attempts this year, including a 52-yarder, despite having a new snapper (Sam Anno) and a new holder (Chris Mohr). "One thing people don't realize is that kickers contribute about 50 percent to the points," says Igwebuike. "The snapper and holder do the rest."
Treadwell, who's from Jacksonville, was Clem-son's fourth-string kicker in 1984. He won the starting job when Igwebuike left, and he became an All-America in '87, though he wasn't drafted. This summer the Broncos gave him the chance to replace Rich Karlis, one of their most popular players. "I couldn't think about that," Treadwell says. "I just had to let my kicking do the talking for me." It has been eloquent so far.
GOOD SEATS AVAILABLE
Cardinals owner Bill Bid-will is feeling the effect of the Cards' $38.56 average ticket price last year. Season-ticket sales in Phoenix fell from 55,000 in 1988 to 36,928 this year.
Al Davis hates it when his team makes mistakes. If he decides to fire Raider coach Mike Shanahan, it will be in part because me Raiders are a sloppy team. They rank 21st in the league in turnover ratio (having allowed three more fumbles and interceptions than they have taken away) and they lead in penalty yards (307)....
Trade winds: The Oilers, who have a bigger surplus at running back than any other team, might deal unhappy Mike Rozier before the Oct. 17 trading deadline. Phoenix is a logical place for Rozier, because the Cards have lost Stump Mitchell—who had reconstructive surgery on his left knee last week—for the year and maybe forever. But Phoenix will first give last year's fifth-round pick, Tony Jordan, a chance to win the job....
If Cleveland owner Art Modell negotiates the NFL's next TV contract, he'll try to lock in an 8:30 p.m. starting time for Monday-night games. The league wants 8:00, so its games would end earlier, and ABC prefers 9:00, so Modell figures 8:30 is a good compromise....
One insider's theory on why Eagle coach Buddy Ryan no longer allows Cunningham to call his own plays, as Cunningham did during the preseason: Ryan doesn't like players to think they know it all. He likes them to think they have to prove themselves time and again. Cunningham's not happy about it. He wants more freedom, especially around the goal line....
Giants running back Ottis Anderson on being left unprotected, and then going unclaimed, under the Plan B free agency system: "Plan B? I was Plan C. I was the only one who wanted me."
THE WEEK THAT WAS
THE MAJIK MAN
Last year in Green Bay, fans started calling quarterback Don Majkowski the Majik Man. Not that he performed much magic: The Packers won four games, and Majkowski, a 10th-round draft pick in 1987, threw for only nine touchdowns. The sobriquet simply fit his last name. Now it fits his play as well.
In Week 2, Majkowski rallied Green Bay from a 24-7 second-half deficit to beat New Orleans 35-34. In Week 3, the Pack trailed the Rams 38-7 in the third quarter, and Majkowski almost pulled out that game too, but L.A. won 41-38. On Sunday, Atlanta led Green Bay 21-6 at the start of the fourth quarter. Three scoring drives later, the Packers had a 23-21 victory and a 2-2 record. "I don't know how the guy does it," said Atlanta defensive end Mike Gann after the game. "He gambles a lot." In the second halves of his four games, Majkowski has completed 75% of his passes and has had a huge 128.7 quarterback rating.
Although he has hardly done enough in his career to be considered in Dan Marino's class, the following stats, which compare Majkowski's play over the first quarter of this season with Marino's, are revealing:
"I think I can compete consistently with the great quarterbacks." Majkowski says. He thinks a separated shoulder he suffered as a college senior is the main reason he went so low in the draft, and his development was slow last year because of new coach Lindy Infante's complex offense. Now he believes he's ready to shine—without mirrors.
THE (NOT SO) MAGIC FLUTIE
New England owner Victor Kiam will pay his four quarterbacks at least $2.38 million this season. The cash register adds $25,000 to that each time Doug Flutie (base salary: $375,000) starts a game, thanks to a clause in his contract. Although Flutie completed only 15 of 41 throws against Buffalo in his first start of the season, which the Pats lost 31-10, the Patriots will stick with him in part because Steve Grogan, 36, and Marc Wilson, 32, are now strictly insurance guys. The erstwhile starter, Tony Eason, who will turn 30 on the bench Sunday, has probably thrown his last pass for the Pats, who will try to deal him before the Oct. 17 trading deadline. Finding a taker, however, won't be easy. Eason is making $1.1 million and his confidence is shot.
STRATEGIES OF THE WEEK
1) Houston played some eight-defensive-back formations in its 39-7 win over Miami. Result: Marino had his least-productive game—103 yards passing—as a pro. Houston dared Miami to run. It couldn't. In the previous two weeks, San Diego's Jim McMahon (389 yards) and Buffalo's Jim Kelly (363) had enjoyed NFL career-high days against Houston. "We knew if we didn't improve, Marino would throw for 500 yards," says Oiler defensive end William Fuller.
2) Before facing San Francisco, the Rams decided that above all, they had to keep Niner wideouts Jerry Rice and John Taylor from catching deep passes. So L.A. played lots of six-defensive-back schemes and double-covered Rice everywhere. Result: Rice, two catches for 36 yards; Taylor, three catches for 33 yards: Rams 13, San Francisco 12.
MIRAGE OF THE WEEK
It was 95° in Phoenix, and during the first half, San Diego defensive end Burt Grossman looked at the 50-yard line and saw a pool full of beer on ice. "No lie," said Grossman.
STATS OF THE WEEK
•In the past year, Dallas has gone 0-8 at Texas Stadium.
•Before San Francisco running back Roger Craig broke loose for 63 second-half yards on Sunday, his previous 19 carries—over three games—were for 0, 0, 2, 0, 4, -1, 3, 2, 1, 2, 4, 0, 1, 1, 0, 2, -1, 0 and 3 yards.
•In Detroit's 23-3 loss to Pittsburgh, Lion tackle Lomas Brown, who had one carry for three yards, outrushed running back Barry Sanders, who ran five times for one yard.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Giants at Eagles. This game pits linebacker Lawrence Taylor against quarterback Randall Cunningham, perhaps the best individual matchup in the NFL. It began in earnest two years ago in Philadelphia. Before that game Taylor heard that Eagle coach Buddy Ryan suggested Philly might finally have a quarterback who could outrun Taylor. With 25 seconds to play and the Giants leading by three, the Eagles faced third-and-four at the New York 26. Cunningham took off running for the first down. Sprinting from behind him, Taylor leaped—popping a hamstring in the process—and tackled Cunningham a yard short of the first down. The Giants won. Grimacing in pain afterward, Taylor said, "I guess I can still do it." He still can. So can Cunningham.
Bills at Colts. Eric Dickerson faces linebacker Cornelius Bennett a few weeks short of an anniversary they share. Bennett was the key to the three-team deal that sent Dickerson from the Rams to Indianapolis for a slew of draft picks on Oct. 31, 1987. Bennett went from Indy to Buffalo in that trade. It's still tough to say which AFC East team fared better. The Colts are 17-12 with Dickerson, who has averaged 104 yards a game for them. The Bills are 19-10 with Bennett, who has had 18½ sacks. In the end, age may be the decisive factor: Bennett is 23, Dickerson is 29.
Forty-niners at Saints. Because the baseball Giants will play Game 4 of the National League playoffs at Candlestick Park on Sunday, this game was moved to the Superdome. Just what the 49ers need—another early-season road game, their sixth in the first eight weeks. The switch does have a bright side for the Niners. In November they will have the longest home stand of any NFL team since 1976, playing four straight games—including the return match against the Saints—at Candlestick.
Selecting the NFL's best placekicker can be as hard as picking its best tackle. How do you judge? Do you give the most weight to long field goals? To all field goals? To kickoffs not returned? To points? For years, the league's leading point scorer has been considered the best kicker. Ridiculous. Scoring is so heavily tied to a team's overall offensive performance that a kicker on a bad team gets ignored.
SI asked the Elias Sports Bureau to devise a kicker-efficiency formula that better reflects a kicker's performance in field goal accuracy, touchbacks on kick-offs, and extra-point efficiency. The formula awards and deducts points based on that performance. On field goals, special weight is given to success from long range: For example, a 25-yard field goal is worth three rating points, while one from 46 yards (the distance at which kickers on average begin to miss more than they make) is worth 15; a miss from 25 costs a kicker 27, and one from 46 costs 15. A touchback is worth five points, and a missed extra point costs the kicker 10 points. One factor that's not accounted for: the weather. "It's a crucial factor," says Pittsburgh Steeler kicker Gary Anderson, "but you can't measure it."
Below are the top five and bottom five kickers through the first quarter of the season, according to this kicker-efficiency formula (in field goal accuracy only long attempts, from 46 or more yards, are included in the chart):
The Top Five
David Treadwell, Broncs
Donald Igwebuike, Bucs
Mike Cofer, 49ers
Chris Jacke, Packers
Raul Allegre, Giants
The Bottom Five
Paul McFadden, Falcons
Pat Leahy, Jets
P. Stoyanovich, Dolphins
Greg Davis, Patriots
Jim Gallery, Bengals