King for a Day
Everyone should have the kind of day Colt coach Rick Venturi had on Sunday. Here was a guy who hadn't been a winning head coach for 4,439 days, since Sept. 15, 1979, when his Northwestern team beat Wyoming 27-22. Here was a guy who, three days before Sunday's game, had told the most famous Colt since Johnny Unitas—running back Eric Dickerson—that he was suspended for four weeks without pay. Here was a guy whose team hadn't scored a touchdown in seven weeks.
Now you can understand why, after Indianapolis beat the Jets 28-27 in the frigid mist of Giants Stadium, Venturi looked as if he had been shot out of a cannon. "Except for some personal, family things," said the bright-eyed, hyper Venturi when he stopped jumping up and down long enough to talk to the press after the game, "this is the best feeling I've ever had in my life, without a doubt."
New York led 14-0 late in the second quarter and was jamming the ball down the Colts' throats with the rushes of Brad Baxter and Blair Thomas. The score would have been worse if declining 40-year-old Jet kicker Pat Leahy hadn't missed a 22-yard field goal in the first quarter, his shortest miss since 1977, and a 44-yarder in the second.
But just before halftime, the fortunes of the woebegone Colts underwent a remarkable transformation: After going 57 possessions without a touchdown, Indy scored a TD on four straight series. Jeff George threw a 49-yard TD strike to Jessie Hester a minute before halftime, Clarence Verdin weaved and sprinted 88 yards with the second-half kickoff for another touchdown, and George found Hester and Billy Brooks with third-quarter touchdown throws. Twenty-eight points in 14 minutes! The football gods had finally smiled on Venturi.
Meanwhile, three time zones away, Dickerson watched Star Trek instead of football at his Southern California home. The Colts suspended him for insubordination, after Dickerson said he had hurt his leg during a practice and was too injured to continue. The team says it has witnesses who heard Dickerson say, "I'm not hurt, but I'm not practicing," midway through the workout.
The suspension could cost Dickerson some $585,000, but he and his lawyer, Marvin Demoff, were expected to argue his case for reinstatement in binding arbitration this week before mediator Sam Kagel in San Francisco.
Dickerson says he's most worried that teams who might want to deal for him after the season will shy away because of his umpteenth incident in a nine-year career. "I'll take the heat for a lot of the things I've done," he said on Sunday night, "but this is just unfair and unjust."
If ever a franchise needed a football czar—a proven NFL presence such as Bill Walsh or Bill Parcells—to come to its rescue, it's the Bucs, 2-8 after a 30-21 victory over the Lions on Sunday. Here's how screwed up Tampa Bay is: A month before the start of last season, Ray Perkins, the Bucs' coach at the time, dealt their 1992 first-round draft choice to the Colts for unproven and whiny quarterback Chris Chandler. Also in 1990, only one Tampa Bay player—cornerback Wayne Haddix, who intercepted seven passes and returned three of them for touchdowns—was named to the Pro Bowl. Last week, the Bucs cut Chandler and Haddix on the same day.
The man who pulled the trigger, general manager Phil Krueger, was feeling the heat during another pathetic week for a pathetic team. "I'm being treated like the Ayatollah down here," said Krueger. "Hopefully I won't be assassinated." Don't worry, Phil. There's plenty of blame to go around.
•Blame Perkins. "I still like Chris Chandler," says Perkins. "I thought we'd get a player that was an up-and-coming guy. If I had it to do over again, I'd do it again." This is like Ralph Branca saying he would throw the same pitch to Bobby Thomson.
•Blame Chandler. He complained publicly about coach Richard Williamson's unwillingness to stick with one quarterback as the starter during the first half of this season, yet Chandler's record as a starter with Tampa Bay was 0-6. He completed 51% of his passes in a Buc uniform, with five touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a miserable 44.9 quarterback rating.
•Blame Williamson. He waffled on which quarterback—Chandler or Vinny Testaverde—was his man, and he allowed a war of words between the two players to fester. He hasn't shown feistiness or leadership and is overmatched in this job.
•Blame Testaverde. The days of excuses are over for the No. 1 pick of the 1987 draft. Testaverde is the lowest-rated starting quarterback (58.3) in the league and the only one completing less than 50% of his passes. For his career, he has thrown 30 more interceptions than touchdowns.
Tampa Bay owner Hugh Culverhouse has had nothing but heartache with this team since it made a strike-season playoff appearance nine years ago. At season's end, he has to move decisively to install a football person to shape the Bucs into a winner. That person could be Parcells, who might be persuaded to leave the tranquillity of the TV studio for a coach/general manager position. Or it could be Seahawk coach Chuck Knox, who's rumored to be unhappy with owner Ken Behring in Seattle. Get the checkbook out, Hugh.
Stats of the Week
•Dolphin linebacker E.J. Junior has five sacks this year, all against Patriots quarterback Hugh Millen. He had one sack in Miami's 30-20 victory on Sunday night.
•Warren Moon of the Oilers and Troy Aikman of the Cowboys combined to complete 65 of 95 passes (.684) for 692 yards in Houston's 26-23 overtime win. Moon was especially remarkable, going 11 for 11 in OT while hooking up with six different receivers. Amazingly, there was only one TD pass, by Aikman.
•The 6-4 Lions, who are 0-4 outdoors, have been outscored 130-34 underneath a real sky, including Sunday's 30-21 loss to the Bucs.
No Delay of Game
Federal judge David Doty, who will preside over the NFL Players Association's free-agency suit against the league beginning on Feb. 17 in Minneapolis, recently fined the league $12,395.75 for attempting to delay the trial. NFL attorneys tried to add some "newly discovered evidence" to the court record, but Doty, after examining the papers, ruled that the league was attempting to start a lengthy appeal process and thus delay the trial. Doty called the NFL's move "utterly baseless."
Game of the Week
Buffalo at Miami, Monday. We haven't even sliced the turkey yet, but if the Jets lose to the Pats this Sunday and the Bills beat the Dolphins, Buffalo, now 9-1, will clinch a tie for its fourth straight AFC East championship. No wonder the Bills kept filing past a TV in their locker room on Sunday, wondering how the AFC Central-leading Oilers (8-2) were faring against the Cowboys. Buffalo was already looking past the division championship and thinking about home field advantage in the playoffs. "Home field advantage means a lot to the Buffalo Bills," says quarterback Jim Kelly, "and I'm sure it means just as much to the Houston Oilers and Kansas City Chiefs [7-3]."
The End Zone
After their 32-30 come-from-behind victory over the Browns, the Eagles presented game balls to Carson, McMahon and Doc—defensive coordinator Bud Carson, quarterback Jim McMahon and team physician Vincent DiStefano, who worked with McMahon all day Saturday and Sunday morning to get his puffy throwing elbow ready for the game. The treatment worked: McMahon completed 26 of 43 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns.
Let's get one thing straight about Cowboy wideout Michael Irvin: He wants the ball. He wants it thrown to him often, and he wants it thrown to him now. That's the way he has wanted it since arriving in Dallas as a rookie in 1988, and finally it's happening. In the Cowboys' 26-23 overtime loss to the Oilers on Sunday, he made seven catches to raise his season total to 53—best in the NFC.
On draft day in '88, after being the 11th player picked, Irvin looked into the Dallas TV cameras and said, "Go tell [Cowboy quarterback] Danny White I'm going to put him in the Pro Bowl." But Irvin had only 78 catches in his first three seasons, and he missed a total of 14 games in '89 and '90 while on injured reserve with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. So, entering this season, his career had been a disappointment. All he had done was confirm the reputation he had earned at the University of Miami as a big mouth, because he was—and still is—a great interview.
"I don't doubt that's what people thought of me," says Irvin, "but I've been hurt, and I've been through three offensive coordinators and three different offenses in four seasons. Now I've got an offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, who from Day One this year told me he believed in me, and I've got a great quarterback, Troy Aikman, who's really made a difference in my game. Troy knows that all he has to do is put the ball in my vicinity and I'll go get it."
Irvin runs the 40 in a mediocre 4.55, and he's almost slight, at 6'2" and 199 pounds. "Other guys have better numbers and skill, and people in the league like to evaluate a player on numbers," says Turner. "But Michael believes he is a great football player, so that's what he makes himself. He goes out and proves it every week."
Last season, when Irvin lined up in only his fifth game after having undergone knee surgery, Jet cornerback James Hasty looked at him and snarled, "Michael Irvin! I've been waiting for this day all season!"
"What have you been waiting for?" Irvin replied. "A butt-whipping?" He went out and caught four passes for 93 yards.
Irvin and Aikman, a quiet Oklahoman, got on track early this year, working together in Dallas on patterns several times a week beginning in April. "We're like Paula Abdul's song Opposites Attract," says Irvin. "But we get along so well because we both want to win so bad. I knew this would be a great year for us last spring when he came out to throw one day, so excited. He said, 'Hey, Irv, let's eat 'em up today!' He'd never been [as excited] as that. I knew then he'd be dangerous."
As, finally, is Irvin. "It's been such a long time coming," he says. "I love this game so much now. I wish the games were six quarters long, not four."
Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, who set an NFL record on Sunday when he extended his streak of consecutive pass attempts without throwing an interception to 308, realizes that the mark is something of a fluke. When Eagle cornerback Ben Smith picked off a Kosar pass in the second quarter of Philadelphia's 32-30 victory over Cleveland, it was the first interception thrown by Kosar since Deion Sanders of the Falcons swiped one of his passes on Dec. 16, 1990. But in one game alone during the streak, against the Steelers on Oct. 27, three potential interceptions were dropped.
"To go this long without an interception in the NFL, with all the great defensive talent out there, you've got to have some breaks," says Kosar, whose record surpassed the mark of 294 passes without an interception set by Packer great Bart Starr during the 1964 and '65 seasons. But Kosar's streak hasn't been built entirely by good fortune, either, as a couple of factors indicate.
•New coach Bill Belichick changed the Browns' blocking schemes so that his linemen meet the rush head-on at the line of scrimmage instead of stepping back. Last year Kosar had to fight through lots of traffic in the pocket because the offense called for him to take mostly three-and five-step pass drops, but his linemen continually fell back as if he were taking the standard seven-step drop.
•Belichick has been maniacal in insisting that his 4-6 team not commit turnovers. "For us to be competitive, I just can't afford to make mistakes," Kosar says. "Bill loves when it rains during practice, so we can get used to protecting the ball in bad weather. And last week he had the balls greased for practice, so we'd concentrate on being careful with the ball." Cleveland has the fewest turnovers in the NFL this season.
To measure the statistical significance of Kosar's streak, SI calculated the average 308-pass performance of one top quarterback in each of the past five decades. Here are those numbers and Kosar's interceptions per 308 passes thrown during his career.
Sid Luckman, Bears
Otto Graham, Browns
Joe Namath, Jets
Terry Bradshaw, Stealers
Joe Montana, 49ers
Bernie Kosar, Browns
Kosar's totals in record streak
Starr's totals in his streak