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THE NFL

Sept. 23, 1991
Sept. 23, 1991

Table of Contents
Sept. 23, 1991

On The Scene
Michigan-Notre Dame
Braves-Dodgers
Buffalo Bills
Tyson
Young Gun
College Report
Reporter-At-Large
Focus
Books
Point After

THE NFL

Now Hear This

This is an article from the Sept. 23, 1991 issue Original Layout

On Sunday, for the first time in his four months as coach of the Super Bowl champion Giants, Ray Handley got so angry with his players that he yelled at them. It was halftime at Soldier Field, and the Giants, trailing 13-0 to the Bears because of a few shoddy plays, were on the way to their second loss in three games. Mount Handley finally erupted.

"You outplay them for 27 minutes, and for three minutes you get your butts kicked, damn it!" Handley railed, according to a team member. "No excuses for it! You're better than they are!" A bookish Stanford man, Handley even threw in some curse words for emphasis.

Handley's screaming session was a necessary wake-up call for his team. The Giants almost won the game in the second half—Chicago hung on for a 20-17 victory—and they controlled the ball the way the 1990 Giants did, holding it 37 minutes for the game. It's not time to write off New York, but it was time for an alarm to go off.

"Last year, we win this game" said Giants cornerback Mark Collins, one of this season's early goats, after the game. "Mentally, we knew we would pull out a game like this one."

If New York had gone into the locker room under similar halftime circumstances during Bill Parcells' eight-year tenure as coach, he wouldn't have merely railed at the players; he would have threatened them with the loss of their jobs. Further, you can bet that midweek preparation would be more physically challenging than it is now. Collins, observers say, has been getting beaten deep in practice, and Bears wideout Wendell Davis blew past him for a 75-yard touchdown pass on Sunday. In the preseason, one offensive player was heard to say to a teammate, "Isn't practice nicer this year?" Handley was so concerned about the practice tempo before the Chicago game that he called the players together after one session and chastised them for not being ready to work.

The Giants have probably changed as much the season after winning the NFL title as any league champion ever has: Besides having a new coach, they have a new owner, Bob Tisch, who bought 50% of the team; a new starting quarterback, Jeff Hostetler, who beat out the incumbent, Phil Simms, in the preseason; a new, more relaxed approach by the coaching staff; and new offensive and defensive strategists. Last year Ron Erhardt made the offensive game plans—he's in well-paid exile now as the Giants' assistant head coach—but this season Handley and new quarterback coach Jim Fassel put the offensive package together. Former defensive whiz Bill Belichick is now coaching the Browns, so his successor, former linebackers coach Al Groh, draws up the defensive game plan.

Give the new architects these first three weeks as mulligans. But the next five weeks on the schedule—in that span the Giants have games against Cleveland at home, at Dallas, Phoenix at home and at Pittsburgh, and a bye—will allow time for the newness to wear off, and we'll see if New York is good enough to make another run at the Super Bowl. The Giants need an alarm, not a life raft. Yet.

Stats of the Week

•Sounds like a Wash to Me Dept.: Last season the Broncos started 2-1, scoring 67 points as running back Bobby Humphrey totaled 296 rushing and receiving yards. This year Humphrey is a holdout, but the Broncos are again 2-1, having scored 74 points as running back Gaston Green has picked up 270 rushing and receiving yards. Green had 102 total yards in Denver's 16-10 victory over the Sea-hawks on Sunday.

•Cardinals coach Joe Bugel is 0-3 against the Redskins, with whom he spent nine years as an assistant. In those three games, Phoenix has been outscored 103-10, including 34-0 on Sunday.

•In the first 50 minutes of their 15-13 win over the Bucs on Sunday, the Packer offense advanced as far as the Tampa Bay 32-, 4-, 13-, 26-, 22-and 31-yard lines on six of their 10 possessions—and scored a total of three points.

•The Falcons' 19-game road losing streak, which ended with a 13-10 victory in San Diego, lasted 1,029 days, was accomplished in 13 states and was witnessed by 1,044,323 fans.

•The 49ers fell 17-14 to the Vikings on Sunday for their second straight away loss this year. After their last such two-game dip on the road, in 1988, they won their next 21 away games.

•The Bears are 22-2 in the month of September since 1985.

Life with Sam
The 0-3 Bengals are the NFL's most disappointing team, but assistant general manager Mike Brown says he plans no major changes involving coaches or players right now. Cincinnati coach Sam Wyche certainly doesn't expect any moves to be made, judging by his reaction when a writer asked him about the emotional toll of losing 14-13 to the lowly Browns: "I'll be danged if I'm going to listen to you people or anybody else make us feel like we ought to die, or feel like dying, because it isn't worth it. This game isn't worth it, the NFL isn't worth it, and listening isn't worth it. If a writer here wants to go on some campaign to fire the coach, we're going to have a good chuckle about it. If there's a bunch of people on talk shows saying, 'Change this, or change that, this is horrible, horrible, horrible,' well, what's horrible about coming to see a good football game knowing there's always one winner and one loser by rule. There's golf to be played and tennis to be served out there, and other things to be done out there other than worrying about some frigging football game."

Heinie of the Week
The Patriots are still bringing up the rear. New England's Bryan Wagner, punting from his own end zone, had his kick blocked by the buttocks of Eugene Lock-hart, the upback in the punt formation. Lockhart took a step back to block, and Wagner booted the ball into Lockhart's derriere. The Steelers fell on the ball for an insurance touchdown in a 20-6 victory. Said New England coach Dick MacPherson, the Casey Stengel of the NFL, "I guarantee if we were out there alone, we'd have won."

Dispatches
The Cowboys gained yardage on only seven of their 19 first-half plays in their 24-0 loss to the Eagles, who sacked Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman 11 times. "They were hitting us from everywhere," said Cowboy tackle Nate Newton. "It felt like I was at Pearl Harbor."...In their win over San Diego, the Falcons got an assist from backup quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver, whom Atlanta acquired from the Chargers on Aug. 28. Tolliver roamed the sideline trying to steal San Diego's offensive signals across the field. "Hey, a guy's got to earn his keep somehow," said Tolliver.... Who, or what, is a Bryce Paup? He's a 6'5", 247-pound plodding inside linebacker from Scranton, Iowa (pop. 583), who plays for Green Bay. A sixth-round draft pick out of Northern Iowa in 1990, Paup was a backup last season, but his playing time has increased significantly this year. With inside linebacker Brian Noble out with a strained ligament in his right knee and pass-rushing demon Tim Harris holding out in a contract dispute, Paup is making headlines. In Week 1, he knocked Randall Cunningham out for the season with a knee injury, and he had 4½ sacks on Sunday against Tampa Bay. "This is a day I'll remember forever," Paup said. "I'm just trying to show the coaches I'm not a flash in the pan."...Bills defensive coordinator Walt Corey probably will have Bruce Smith back on Sunday for a game against the Bucs. The All-Pro defensive end missed the first three games of the season while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery in the preseason, and the Bills have allowed 28.6 points without Smith in the lineup. "If he doesn't come back soon," Corey says, "there's going to be a moving van in front of my house."

Game of the Week
Seattle at Kansas City, Sunday. When these two teams played last season in Game 9, the Seahawks were looking to break a 10-year losing streak at Arrowhead Stadium. On the last play of the game, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas, who already had made a league-record seven sacks, steamed in and wrapped his arms around quarterback Dave Krieg once again. But Thomas's momentum caused him to lose his grip on Krieg, who then found Paul Skansi for a 25-yard TD. Ball game. Seattle 17, Kansas City 16. Thomas is still haunted by the play. "If I make that play," he says, "we'd have been home for the playoffs." Instead of winning the AFC West at 12-4 and hosting a divisional playoff, K.C. finished 11-5 and met the Dolphins in a wild-card game in Miami—which the Chiefs lost, 17-16.

The End Zone

In the spirit of the Miami Dolphins' Don Shula's being one victory short of winning his 300th game as an NFL coach, it is worth noting that the coach of the league's other franchise in Florida, Richard Williamson of the Tampa Bay Bucs, is also on pace for 300 wins.

At his current rate (Williamson's career NFL record is 1-5), he will reach 300 coaching victories in the year 2104...at age 163.

PHOTOBILL SMITHAfter Handley's tirade, Rodney Hampton and his mates nearly pulled off a Giant comeback.PHOTOJIM SPOONTZ/ALLSPORT USAThe 5'7½" Higgs, with 328 yards this season, is running for his NFL life.PHOTODOUG PENSINGER/ALLSPORT USALohmiller's vision of perfection came to life.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

After each of his first three NFL seasons, with the cowboys, Eagles and Dolphins, respectively, running back Mark Higgs was left unprotected—eligible to sign with any team that wanted him—under Plan B free agency. But what Higgs wanted was the chance to establish himself as a bona fide pro in one place. So last winter, instead of leaving Miami to sign with his fourth team in four years, Higgs asked for and received assurances from the Dolphins that he would be included in their plans when training camp opened.

Then Miami went and drafted Aaron Craver, a versatile running back from Fresno State, in the third round of April's draft. That put Higgs fourth on the depth chart, behind starter Sammie Smith, veteran Marc Logan and Craver. "After Craver was drafted, I was really on the edge," says Higgs, this season's unlikeliest sensation. "I don't think anybody thought I'd make it."

But a funny thing happened to Higgs on the way to being cut: Smith strained a ligament in his left knee on Aug. 10, Logan held out until Aug. 20 and Craver sprained his left knee on Aug. 24. As a result, Higgs gained additional playing time in the preseason and was the team's leading rusher. Miami coach Don Shula had little choice but to start Higgs in the season opener—and Shula has had no reason to take him out of the lineup since then.

Higgs, who gained 146 yards against the Bills, then 111 against the Colts and 71 against the Lions, was second in the league in rushing after Sunday's games, with 328 yards to 334 for Thurman Thomas of the Bills. Says Shula, "The things that have happened to Higgy are the things that make you feel good about being a coach."

Higgs, at 5'7½", runs like a rocket-propelled bowling ball. "I burst through the line quick so that my linemen don't have to hold their blocks very long," he says. "My first 20 yards, it looks like I'm faster than Carl Lewis."

He felt nervous in Game 1—"If I screwed up, I knew I'd never get the chance to play again," he says—but was more relaxed in Game 2, the way he remembers having felt when he set the Kentucky single-season rushing record as a senior. "I might be a little different in that I run every run like it's my last," says Higgs. "I always think I'm going to score, on every run. I have to, because I can never be sure if I'm going to get to carry the ball again."

Logan now backs up fullback Tony Paige, and Craver is running behind Higgs, but Smith, who rushed for 831 yards last season, will come off injured reserve after next week's game and will probably be ready to play in a few weeks. Job security is never far from Higgs's thoughts. "I might feel secure someday," he says, "if I get 1,000 yards."

PRO FILE

Chip's Shots Go a Long Way

Redskins kicker Chip Lohmiller woke up on Monday, Sept. 9, in a hotel near Dallas, and he did what he always does on game day: He looked outside to see if the trees or hotel flags were blowing. The flags were limp, and it was hot and muggy. It'll be a perfect night for kicking, he thought.

So perfect, it turned out, that in Washington's 33-31 victory over the Cowboys that night, Lohmiller had the best kicking game in the 72-year history of the NFL. He converted four of four field goal attempts—from 53, 52, 45 and 46 yards—and three of three extra points. Also, four of his eight kickoffs were touchbacks.

On 21 other occasions in NFL history, kickers have made two field goals of at least 50 yards in one game, but in none of those games did the kicker make two additional field goals of at least 40 yards.

A magical 12 hours began for Lohmiller at 4 p.m. CDT, when he left his hotel for Texas Stadium. "I went out on the field early for a few kicks with Jeff Parsons, one of our equipment guys," Lohmiller says. "I kicked 10 or 12, before the band chased us off the field, and I was thinking how well the ball was carrying. I said to myself, This is going to be a cakewalk. I hope I get some chances tonight."

In warmups Lohmiller kicked his usual 75 or 80 balls from different spots on the field. During the game Lohmiller followed the same routine before each field goal: He paced off the distance he wanted to be from where the ball would be placed; visualized a perfect kick sailing through the uprights; looked at the holder, Jeff Rutledge, who said "nice and easy"; stared at the spot of placement; awaited the snap from center John Brandes; and drilled his right foot into the ball.

The first kick, from 53 yards in the second quarter, looked as if it would have been good from 60. From there it was a cakewalk. On the kickoff following his fourth field goal, which put the Skins ahead 33-24 with 5:39 to play, Lohmiller heard the tired voice of a teammate pleading, "Everybody's dying! Kick this one out!" Lohmiller obliged, getting his fourth touchback.

Lohmiller was too excited to sleep on the plane to Dulles Airport. When he picked up his car and headed home at 5 a.m. EDT, he still felt as if he were in a dream. "I congratulated myself," he says. "It was a career day. It may never happen again."