Dishing It Out Right
What pops into your mind when you hear the name Cris Dishman? Jerk? Hot dog? No-talent bigmouth, perhaps? Actually, none of those characterizations fit the 26-year-old Oiler cornerback anymore. Now you can think of him as mature, a big-play guy and maybe even as a Pro Bowl player.
Before this season, the enduring image of Dishman was that of former Houston coach Jerry Glanville's hit man, the guy who dished out the cheap shots and taunted the player who had been laid out. In 1988, after Bengal quarterback Boomer Esiason was sacked at the Astrodome, Dishman stood over him and screamed. "You're in the House of Pain, Boomer! You're finished now!" In '89, Dishman peered down at Minnesota tight end Carl Hilton, who lay on the ground injured, and barked at him like a vicious dog.
Then in the 1990 preseason, while running for the end zone with an interception, Dishman held out the ball to taunt the Vikings—and dropped it near the goal line. Minnesota recovered. "What a mistake," he said on Sunday, after Houston had beaten the Dolphins 17-13. "I live with it to this day, and I always will."
As has been the case in most games this season, Dishman—a Spike Lee look-alike, right down to the horn-rimmed glasses he wears off the field—was at the forefront of a resurgent Oiler defense that has helped Houston to a 6-1 record. In the second quarter on Sunday, he deflected a Dan Marino pass into the hands of cornerback Darryl Lewis, who ran 33 yards for an Oiler touchdown. With 3:10 to play, Miami running back Sammie Smith fumbled while diving for the end zone, Dishman recovered, and Houston ran out the clock. Dishman is tied for second in interceptions in the NFL, with four, and has recovered three fumbles, returning one for a TD. "I try to come up with the plays that win games," he says.
The Oilers' young secondary—the average age of the four starters is 24 years-picked oft" Marino three times in the second quarter, and the up-the-middle run defense, led by linebacker Al Smith, who had seven tackles, was once again tenacious. Houston, which has allowed only three rushing touchdowns in seven games, ranks sixth in the league in scoring defense, yielding 14.6 points a game.
That's quite an improvement for this defense, which was ranked 26th in points allowed in '89, and it coincides with Dishman's personality change. "I'll never knock Jerry, because I wouldn't be in Houston if he hadn't given me the chance," says Dishman. "But those things I did before, I was trying to do them to keep my job. At the time, that was the real me. But this year is a new era for me."
A talking-to from Houston defensive end Sean Jones helped turn Dishman around, and the cornerback also received subtle pressure to change his act from Jack Pardee, who replaced Glanville as coach in '90. Jones told Dishman, "Don't worry about being a great Oiler. Worry about being a great football player."
He's on the way to becoming just that. "Hopefully, I'm doing enough things to overshadow my history," Dishman says.
Irony of the Week
During the Plan B free-agent signing period last winter, new Ram defensive coordinator Jeff Fisher flew to San Francisco to recruit safety Ronnie Lott, who had been left unprotected by the 49ers. They weren't strangers; they had played together in John Robinson's defensive backfield at Southern Cal in 1979 and '80. But Fisher didn't do a good enough sales job. "I don't know how I would have been with him as a coach," Lott says.
Soon after, Lott met with Raider managing general partner Al Davis, who wanted Lott to play for his team but didn't make him a lot of promises. "He told me, 'You have an opportunity here,' " Lott says. "It was exciting to think about an opportunity with the Raiders."
That opportunity, coupled with a contract offer that included a lucrative second year, swayed Lott into signing with the Raiders, instead of the Rams or 49ers. In the Raiders' 20-17 victory over the Rams at the Coliseum, Lott's presence in black and silver made a big difference. He intercepted quarterback Jim Everett twice in the last seven minutes to help the Raiders overcome a 17-10 deficit.
There was a poignant moment after the game, when Robinson, now the coach of the Rams, came into the Raider locker room, waited for Lott to finish a radio interview and then hugged him. "You should retire," Robinson told him.
Ground Control to Major Tom
The winless Colts, who were 17-6 losers to the Jets on Sunday, have scored four touchdowns in eight games. That's the same number of TDs that Bills wideout Don Beebe had in 33 minutes against the Steelers on Sept. 8. "When you're executing at the level we're executing, you're not professionals," said Indy center Brian Baldinger after the game with New York. "We don't belong in the NFL. Right now we're not capable of beating an NFL team. I'm not naming names, but we've got guys lost in space."
Stats of the Week
•The Lions (5-2) have an average winning score of 26-15 and an average losing score of 40-2.
•When Browns running back Joe Morris plunged one yard for a touchdown in Cleveland's 30-24 win over the Chargers, it was his first TD in 1,050 days.
•Through Monday, the Dolphins and the San Jose Sharks, an NHL expansion team, each had one victory in October.
Game of the Week
Washington at Giants, Sunday. When New York coach Ray Handley picked Jeff Hostetler over Phil Simms after a preseason quarterback derby, he benched the field general who had put together one of the best records in the league against Washington. Late in 1979, Simms quarterbacked the then woeful Giants to victory over Jack Pardee's Redskins, who went on to miss the playoffs. When Joe Gibbs replaced Pardee in '81, Washington lost its first five games, including one to the Simms-led Giants. Lately, Simms has dominated the series, throwing 15 touchdown passes to lead New York to victory in nine of the last 10 games (excluding the strike game in '87).
The End Zone
Over the years, the Broncos have had good success stopping Chiefs power back Christian Okoye, who carried 15 times for only 35 yards in Denver's 19-16 victory. He has rushed for a total of 181 yards in six games against the Broncos, so he was asked after Sunday's game: Do the Broncos have your number, Christian?
Okoye looked puzzled. "Do they have my number?" he said. "I don't know. Do they have a guy with the number 35?"
Ruminations at the midpoint of the 1991 season
Who Are These Guys?
Three players who came out of nowhere to have an outstanding first half:
1. Clyde Simmons, DE, Eagles: Since the start of the 1989 season, Simmons has had 30.5 sacks and All-Pro linemate Reggie White 30.5. But you would never know it, because you never hear anything about the whisper-quiet Simmons. The closest he has come to being famous was when he played on the same Babe Ruth baseball team with Michael Jordan in Wilmington, N.C., 13 years ago. Simmons has seven sacks this fall.
2. Gaston Green, RB, Broncos: A first-round draft choice in 1988, the 5'11", 192-pound Green turned out to be too small for the Rams' power rushing game, and he was considered a throw-in as part of an off-season trade in which L.A. acquired tackle Gerald Perry from Denver. But when running back Bobby Humphrey walked out of the Broncos' training camp in a contract dispute, Green had a job. The results: In 1990, Humphrey rushed for 573 yards during Denver's 3-4 start; in '91, Green has 554 yards in six games for the 5-2 Broncos.
3. Mike Kenn, T, Falcons: A five-time Pro Bowl player, Kenn, 35, was thought to be washed up as the decade ended. Banged up for most of the past two seasons, he reported to camp healthy and won a fight to retain a starting job. This year Kenn has lined up across from Scott Davis, Chris Doleman, Charles Haley, Ken Harvey, Leslie O'Neal, Pat Swilling and Derrick Thomas—and held each of them to no sacks. "It was like playing against a human textbook," O'Neal says.
Where Have You Gone, Harry Usher?
Here's how the combined 1991 NFL stats of World League of American Football offensive players compare with those of players from the old United States Football League:
Quotes of the Half
Defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti of the Dolphins, who were ranked No. 1 in defense at the midpoint of 1990 and are 25th this year, after Buffalo shredded Miami for 583 yards in the season opener: "These are the games that make you want to sell insurance."
Giants general manager George Young, on the New York tabloids' feeding frenzy when the Super Bowl champion Giants started 2-3: "The New York media and fans are becoming like Paris during the French Revolution. They need to see somebody go to the guillotine every day."
The Players' MVP
When SI polled 191 players on their choice for the NFL's Half-Season MVP, it was no contest—Lion running back Barry Sanders. "You can't prepare for the things he does," says Cowboy linebacker Jack Del Rio. "You just have to plan on catching him and hanging on." Here are the results of the balloting (three points were awarded for a first-place vote, two for a second and one for a third):
Team (first-place votes)
1. Barry Sanders
2. Thurman Thomas
3. Jim Kelly
4. Warren Moon
5. Pat Swilling
It's Never Too Early...
...for the first mock draft, especially when this could be the best draft in years. With the big day still six months away, here's a preview of the first round (asterisk denotes underclassman):
1. Colts, *Steve Emtman, DT, Washington
2. Bengals, *Terrell Buckley, CB, Florida St.
3. Redskins (from Chargers), Bill Johnson, DE, Michigan St.
4. Packers, Vaughn Dunbar, RB, Indiana
5. Colts (from Bucs), *Bob Whitfield, T, Stanford
6. Dolphins, *Keith Hamilton, DE, Pitt
7. Cowboys (from Vikings), *Alonzo Spellman, DE, Ohio St.
8. Steelers, Levon Kirkland, LB, Clemson
9. Patriots, David Klingler, QB, Houston
10. 49ers, Dale Carter, S, Tennessee
11. Browns, *Desmond Howard, WR, Michigan
12. Rams, Ray Roberts, T, Virginia
13. Falcons, Howard Dinkins, LB, Florida St.
14. Packers (from Eagles), Chris Mims, DE, Tennessee
15. Jets, Leon Searcy, T, Miami
16. Seahawks, Eugene Chung, T, Virginia Tech
17. Dolphins (from Cards), Quentin Coryatt, LB, Texas A&M
18. Giants, Courtney Hawkins, WR, Michigan St.
19. Raiders, Ken Swilling, S/LB, Georgia Tech
20. Chiefs, Casey Weldon, QB, Florida St.
21. Lions, Kurt Barber, LB, Southern Cal
22. Cowboys, Troy Vincent, CB, Wisconsin
23. Broncos, *Carl Pickens, WR, Tennessee
24. Bears, Bernard Dafney, T, Tennessee
25. Bills, Greg Skrepenak, T, Michigan
26. Oilers, Phillippi Sparks, CB, Arizona St.
27. Saints, *Terry Smith, WR, Clemson
28. Redskins, *Russell White, RB, California
THE MAGIC FLUTIE, AGAIN
Doug Flutie has finally found his Pro Football Niche, albeit with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. Flutie, whose 5'9" height and mediocre arm plagued him in NFL trials with the Bears and Patriots, has passed for more yards this season (6,053) than any other quarterback in pro football history. And the 9-7 Lions still have two regular-season games left.
"The Canadian game is suited perfectly for Doug," says Edmonton Eskimos coach Ron Lancaster, whose team has yielded 1,340 yards and seven touchdown passes to Flutie in three games this fall. "He scrambles and buys time and uses the whole field. For him to play in a structured style like the NFL, I don't know. But here the game's made for him."
"I feel like I've been given a chance to use all my abilities," Flutie says. "In the NFL, I felt like a robot."
So it's no surprise that Flutie, who becomes a free agent after this season, is content to stay in Canada—where the gridiron is both longer and wider than that of the NFL—for the rest of his football career. "I have no burning desire to return to the NFL," Flutie says. "The NFL is all hype anyway."
The last time a hugely successful CFL quarterback came south was in 1984, when Warren Moon left the Eskimos to sign with the Houston Oilers after having set the CFL single-season passing record (5,648 yards) that Flutie broke. But Moon is six inches taller than Flutie, and he has a shotgun arm. "I don't think you can compare Doug's arm with Warren's," says Dallas director of player personnel Bob Ackles. "And Doug's size is a problem in the NFL."
In any case, here are Flutie's 1991 stats and how they stack up against the best passing seasons in every other outdoor pro football league.
Doug Flutie, B.C.
Jim Kelly, Houston
Dan Marino, Miami
Joe Namath, Jets
Tony Adams, S. Cal
Otto Graham, Cleve.
Stan Gelbaugh, Lon.