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THE NFL

Oct. 08, 1990
Oct. 08, 1990

Table of Contents
Oct. 8, 1990

Books
Viewpoint
Focus
Red Sox-Blue Jays
Baseball Probe
NFL Rushing
NHL Preview 1990-91
Yak Attack

THE NFL

A TURN FOR THE WORSE

This is an article from the Oct. 8, 1990 issue Original Layout

Less than two months after the Jets fired Joe Walton as their coach last Dec. 26, he was hired as offensive coordinator for the up-and-coming Steelers. He couldn't have been happier. The move meant leaving the back pages of New York City tabloids for the backwoods of his beloved western Pennsylvania. He would be near his hometown of Beaver Falls. What's more, his son, Frank, would be attending Pitt on a football scholarship.

But all has not gone well for Walton, not by a long shot. On Sunday, as he jogged off the field and into the tunnel leading to the Steelers' locker room at Three Rivers Stadium, a group of fans in the end zone seats peppered him with the chant he grew to hate as the Jets' coach: "Joe must go!"

The Steelers were 1-3 after losing 28-6 to the Dolphins, but, worse, the Pittsburgh offense—the new Walton offense—had failed to score a touchdown for the fourth week in a row. An hour after this latest debacle, Walton sat in his office, chewing on an unlighted cigar. He chewed on it so much and so hard that he had to pull out another one. Three minutes later, the second cigar looked like the first. "Damn!" Walton said to the wall. "I wish we could do something!"

The Pittsburgh offense has had the ball 46 times this year, but it has penetrated the opponent's 30-yard line only eight times. The Steelers' two touchdowns have been scored by the defense and the special teams. Total output by the offense for the season: 18 points on six field goals. Walton is taking the heat for this. Quarterback Bubby Brister has publicly complained about the complexities of the new attack, which has more passing plays and more formations than the Steelers are used to, plus all new terminology and a new system for calling audibles. Brister says it gives him no freedom to improvise. Mistake-prone Tim Worley, who might be a terrific running back some day, has been benched for long stretches and last week asked for a trade.

Walton's biggest crime seems to be that he doesn't relate to today's player very well. Although he discarded a number of his new plays and formations a week before the regular season began, he still gave the players too much to learn in too little time.

In a larger sense, Walton's woes are symptomatic of many coaches' difficulties with athletes. ESPN analyst Joe Theismann, who was the Redskins' quarterback when Walton was Washington's offensive coordinator, is still a Walton fan. "Athletes today feel like they have a say," Theismann says. "Although these guys are making beaucoup bucks, this isn't a democracy. The coach says, 'Go out and do it,' you do it."

Privately, some in the Steeler front office think Brister should be doing exactly that. Coach Chuck Noll supports Walton. "We're on the course we're on, and it's that way for the year," Noll said Monday. "Maybe we're trying to do too much. That's one of the things we have to address. We have overestimated the ability of our people to assimilate what we're trying to do."

Against Miami, Pittsburgh did not make a first down for the first 29 minutes, and Brister could be heard yelling at his linemen to give him better protection. He still thinks the offense is too restrictive, but he's not talking about it anymore. "It doesn't matter what I think we should do," said Brister after throwing three interceptions and being replaced by Rick Strom in the fourth quarter. "I'm not going to give you anything to write about. I don't know——."

Walton has tried to get the offense on track by calling more trap plays, which traditionally have been a Pittsburgh strength. However, the Steelers are running even those plays poorly. "I don't think it's the system anymore," Walton said. "We're just not making any plays. Maybe in the beginning, it's possible it was too much. But not now."

As he talked Walton's hands were shaking ever so slightly and his unlighted cigar was getting soggy. "The most disappointing thing is I came here to help, and it doesn't seem like anything can help right now," he said. "I just haven't done anything to help."

A HARD JOB TO FILL

Ever since Nov. 18, 1985, when Lawrence Taylor and Gary Reasons of the Giants ended Theismann's career with a tackle on a blitz that broke his leg, Washington has changed starting quarterbacks—because of injuries and coaching decisions—more often than Al Davis has threatened to change cities. Here's a comparison of how stable the Redskins were at quarterback in the 75 games of the Theismann era with how stable they have been in the 75 games since he was injured.

Changes in the Theismann era, September 1981 to November 1985:0.

Changes since November 1985:14. The succession of quarterbacks, in order, was Theismann to Jay Schroeder to Doug Williams to Schroeder to Williams to Schroeder to Williams to Mark Rypien to Williams to Rypien to Williams to Rypien to Williams to Rypien to Stan Humphries, who started in Sunday night's 38-10 victory in Phoenix.

You've got to like Humphries' confidence, if nothing else. He grew up in Shreveport, La., when another hometown signal caller, Joe Ferguson, was starting for the Bills. One off-season, Humphries went to Ferguson's house and asked him to come out and throw the ball around. Now, with Rypien out for as long as two months following knee surgery, it's time to see whether the scouts who said that Humphries—a sixth-round draft pick out of Northeast Louisiana in 1988—was better than Rypien were right.

ON THE DOLE

Wake up, Chris Doleman. Where are you, big fella? These games count. Last year the Vikings had 71 sacks, one short of the league record, and their dominating front line—ends Doleman and Al Noga, tackles Keith Millard and Henry Thomas—contributed 59.5 of them. But after four games this season, Minnesota has seven, and Doleman, who led the NFL with 21 sacks a year ago, has none. Including last season's playoff loss to the 49ers, he has gone 20 quarters without a sack-not one since last Christmas night.

"No doubt about it, he's been frustrated by what offenses are doing to him," says Minnesota defensive coordinator Floyd Peters. "He's got to turn up his game. That's what the great ones have done when they get double-teamed."

Here's one more reason for Doleman to turn up his game: Millard, who was carted off the field with a knee injury during Sunday's 23-20 loss to the Bucs, will be lost for the season. The Vikings learned Monday that Millard, who had 18 sacks in '89 and two this season, needed major reconstructive surgery.

CHAPTER AND VERSE

The inaugural season of the World League of American Football (WLAF), the NFL offshoot that will have 12 teams in Europe and North America, is less than six months away, and the league has yet to sign its first player or coach. In terms of game strategy, though, the league knows where it's going. "What we'd like to do is turn the two-minute offense into our 60-minute game," says WLAF vice-president Joe Bailey.

The task of designing the WLAF game is in the hands of two coaching veterans: former Bronco defensive coordinator Joe Collier and well-traveled college coach Mike Gottfried. They are designing the defensive (Collier) and offensive (Gottfried) playbooks that the league's 480 players will use as their basic guides. Individual coaching staffs in the WLAF's 12 cities can modify the schemes, with the only proviso from the league being that they keep the game wide open.

In addition to the 12 franchises, an auxiliary team will be stationed in Dallas. When any of the 12 real teams runs short of players because of injuries or whatever, the Dallas "team"—which will practice but never play a game—will supply replacements who are already familiar with the schemes.

Gottfried, who was fired as Pitt coach last December, and Collier, who was dismissed as Denver's defensive coordinator after the '88 season, should be finished with their project in about a month.

Both agree on one thing: The new league is not going to be a defensive coach's dream. "They want a game like Loyola Marymount plays in basketball, a fast-paced, no-huddle game," says Gottfried. "That's the kind of playbook I'm trying to put together."

DISPATCHES

Colt coach Ron Meyer on his team's 1-3 start: "We're not shooting ourselves in the foot. We're actually amputating both legs."

...Count former college coach and TV analyst Ara Parseghian as one who thinks the Saints made the right move in trading for former Cowboy quarterback Steve Walsh last week. "Walsh isn't 6'5", he's not 225 pounds, he's not Terry Bradshaw," Parseghian says. "But he's got supertouch. He's got the arm to win in the NFL."

...How to ruin a franchise department: When Bill Bidwill moved the Cardinals from St. Louis to Phoenix in '88, the first home regular-season game was a sellout. Since then, none of the 16 home games have been shown on local TV because none have sold out....

Atlanta and Houston (those strange bedfellows) are talking about a deal that would send Oiler running back Mike Rozier to the Falcons for a draft pick. The trading deadline is Oct. 16....

Is it the two-minute warning for 49er running back Roger Craig, who turned 30 in July? He had 11 attempts for two yards or less against Atlanta on Sept. 23, and he's averaging only 2.5 yards a carry for the season.

THE END ZONE
What a swell guy, this Bill Fralic. He was one of four Falcons who recently taped messages for American troops in Saudi Arabia. Here's what Fralic said in his: "When you get back, I'm sure our owners, the Rankin Smith family, would like you to be their guests at one of our home games. They'll fly you in from anywhere in the country—probably your family, too. So get home safely and come visit us." He was only kidding, Rankin.

PHOTOJOHN W. McDONOUGHWhen it comes to the Steelers' new offense, Brister and Walton haven't seen eye-to-eye.PHOTOMITCHELL LAYTONBruce Smith made Elway fumble, but it would get worse for Denver.PHOTORICK STEWART/ALLSPORT USASack artist Doleman has been a sad sack rushing the passer this fall.

THE WEEK THAT WAS

IT WASN'T EVEN THE SUPER BOWL

This condensed version of the play-by-play of a 77-second span in the fourth quarter of the Denver-Buffalo game tells the season's strangest story so far: Four minutes into the quarter at Rich Stadium, with the Broncos leading 21-9, Denver placekicker David Treadwell lines up a 24-yard field-goal attempt....

Bills cornerback Nate Odomes blocks the kick....

Bills linebacker Cornelius Bennett runs 80 yards with the ball....

Touchdown, Buffalo. Denver, 21-16....

Two plays later, on the Denver 30, Bills defensive end Leon Seals deflects John Elway's pass....

Bills strong safety Leonard Smith intercepts and runs 39 yards....

Touchdown, Bills. Kick fails. Buffalo, 22-21....

Crowd (74,393) flipping out....

On the next play from scrimmage, Elway fumbles the snap on his own five....

Bennett recovers at the Denver two....

Bills running back Kenneth Davis carries for two yards....

Touchdown, Bills. Buffalo, 29-21.

"In all my life," said Bills owner Ralph Wilson, 71, after his team had prevailed 29-28, "I've never seen a game change that rapidly."

NOW WE KNOW HOW WOMAN FEEL
There was such a crush of reporters around Boston Herald sportswriter Lisa Olson before the Jet-Patriots game that she sought refuge in the women's room of Foxboro Stadium's press box. Rachel Shuster of USA Today, Diane Bruno of the New York Daily News and Barbara Barker of The Record of Bergen, N.J., followed, leaving a bevy of male reporters outside. Olson, who was sexually harassed by a group of Patriots players in the New England locker room on Sept. 17 (page 21), stayed in the restroom for about 15 minutes while the three women reporters interviewed her. Outside, the New York Post's Steve Serby paced. "Whatever happened," he asked with irony, "to equal access?"

BUT CAN THEY STOP QBs NAMED MONTANA?

The Giants, who are 4-0 after a 31-17 victory against the Cowboys, have limited running backs named Smith—Emmitt Smith of Dallas, Sammie Smith of Miami and Emmitt again—to a total of 50 yards on 25 carries. But beginning with an Oct. 21 date against the Cardinals, the Giants have to keep up with receivers named Jones:

View this article in the original magazine

, and I thought our team had been exorcised," says Browns executive vice-president Ernie Accorsi. "Then the AFC Championship Game happened." In that one, a 37-21 Bronco victory, Denver beat the Browns for the seventh straight time at Mile High Stadium and for the third straight time in the AFC title game. Accorsi says the noise and intensity generated by the Denver crowd make it hard to play at Mile High during the season and even more difficult in a playoff there. "You not only can't hear much of the time," Accorsi says, "but the the crowd is so close to the field that it can really affect how you play." The way the 1-3 Browns are playing, their streak in Denver looks safe.

DATE

OPPONENT

RECEIVERS NAMED JONES

Oct. 21

Cardinals

Wideout Ernie

Dec. 3

49ers

Tight end Brent

Dec. 9

Vikings

Tight end Mike
Wideout Hassan

Dec. 23

Cardinals

Wideout Ernie

Dec. 30

Patriots

Wideout Cedric