After the Saints' final preseason game this summer, coach Jim Mora and general manager Jim Finks were discussing the cut-down to the team's 47-man active roster. Mora noted how other clubs had abused the rules pertaining to the injured reserve list and asked if New Orleans could take liberties as well. "Jim only brought it up because other people around the league are abusing the rules," Finks says, retelling the story. "I just told him we can't do things that way. We will play by the rules. But by doing that, I'm not giving my coach the same opportunity to be successful as coaches of other teams have. The people who play by the rules become a bunch of chumps."
The injured reserve list was set up to allow a team to protect an injured player without forcing it to give up a spot on its active roster. If a player is placed on injured reserve during the preseason, he is ineligible to play or practice with the team all season. If a player goes on IR after the final roster cut, he can't play or practice for at least four weeks. But the perception around the league is that some of the stronger teams stash prospects on injured reserve to give them an extra year of seasoning and also to keep them from being claimed on waivers by other teams.
Recently these abuses have become more of a concern to the teams that honor the rules, and last March the league's competition committee, chaired by Finks, urged commissioner Paul Tagliabue to be more vigilant in making sure teams adhere to the rules. The committee empowered Tagliabue to strip a club of a second-round draft choice in a case of flagrant cheating.
In June, during testimony in the NFL antitrust trial in Minneapolis, plaintiff Lee Rouson, a former NFL running back, said that when he was a rookie with the Giants he was told by a member of the team's medical staff to fake an injury in the last 1985 preseason game. New York didn't have a roster spot for Rouson but didn't want to leave him exposed to other teams; after the game Rouson reported a pulled hamstring. In pointing out another violation by the Giants, Rouson testified that he worked out regularly with the team during the time he spent on injured reserve. A source with the Giants last week confirmed that Rouson was asked to fake an injury in '85.
Many club officials throughout the league say the Redskins are the biggest abusers of IR rules. One former Redskin still playing in the NFL says he knew of Washington players who were asked by the club to get hurt in the preseason. He says team members "always knew" a young quarterback would come up with an injury so he could spend time developing as a pro and learning Washington's complicated offense.
In five of the last seven seasons, the Skins have put a young quarterback on injured reserve around the final cut date. They drafted Mark Rypien in the sixth round in 1986; he went on IR in '86 (knee) and '87 (back). In '90 Cary Conklin, a fourth-rounder, went on injured reserve after being hit on a knee during a drill. Last year Conklin played the fourth quarter of the final preseason game, and the Redskins didn't list him as hurt afterward. But three days later he went on IR with another knee injury. And this year fourth-round pick Chris Hakel went on injured reserve with what Washington said was a tired arm. (In '88 yet another quarterback, Stan Humphries, Washington's sixth-round pick that year, was stashed on the non-football injury list because of a blood disorder that he has had throughout his career.)
"The best story," the former Redskin player says, "was a lineman we had who let the cat out of the bag. He told [center Jeff] Bostic to hit him in the back so he could go down. We all decided nobody was going to touch him. So halfway through the drill, when somebody bumped into him, he went down and grabbed his back. He was screaming and moaning, 'Oh, my back.' "
The Redskins deny any wrongdoing. "All our injuries have been written up and properly documented," Washington general manager Charley Casserly said last Saturday. "The league has had a policy of bringing in injured players from time to time and checking their injuries, and the last year they did this, we had 13 guys examined. They were all confirmed to be hurt."
NFL spokesman Joe Browne says Tagliabue probably will examine several IR cases himself, sending some players to physicians that have no affiliation with the league. The NFL also can randomly request practice tapes from teams to see if players on IR are practicing illegally. But cynics around the league will believe the NFL is cracking down only when they see it.
STATS OF THE WEEK
•Eric Dickerson has rushed for a total of 86 yards in two games for the Raiders. His replacement with the Colts, Rodney Culver, has run for 97.
•By halftime of the Lion-Viking game the defensive backs for both teams had combined for more interceptions (three) than all the wideouts had receptions (two).
•Total yardage comparison in Houston's 23-10 win over Indianapolis: Oiler running back Lorenzo White 175, Colts 162.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Detroit at Washington, Sunday. The Lions' third game at RFK Stadium in 13 months provides an early test of their new, bigger, tougher offense. In its history Detroit is 0-16 at Washington, with the Lions' two worst losses to the Redskins coming in '91—45-0 in the season opener and 41-10 in the NFC title game. With tight ends Jimmie Johnson (6'2", 248 pounds) and Mike Hinnant (6'3", 280) playing prominent roles, Detroit's offense is bigger this season, but is it better? This game's the yardstick.
THE END ZONE
When Falcon coach Jerry Glanville was driving to the Georgia Dome for his team's season opener on Sept. 6, the battery died in his 1950 Mercury. He made it to a gas station that sold only Interstate batteries, the brand endorsed by Redskin coach Joe Gibbs. "I got that green ugly thing in my car now, and I'm putting money in Gibbs's pocket," Glanville said. "I can't think of a worse combination." How about a trifecta, Jerry? On Sunday Gibbs's Redskins beat Glanville's Falcons 24-17.
SIZZLE TO FIZZLE
It was a beautiful day in Toronto on Sunday, and the Canadian Football League's Argonauts rolled back the roof of SkyDome. Heaven knows the Argos, the defending CFL champs, could use a little sunshine. But only 29,004 fans showed up to watch a matchup featuring Toronto runner-receiver-returner Raghib (Rocket) Ismail and Calgary Stampeder quarterback Doug Flutie, and the crowd went home disappointed. Calgary beat Toronto 31-0, the first time the Argos had been shut out in 15 years.
Flutie completed 19 of 36 passes for 281 yards, threw for one touchdown and ran for another as he guided the Stampeders to their seventh win in 10 games. He has thrown 22 interceptions this year, but he's on pace for his second straight 6,000-yard passing season, with 3,658 so far. He also ranks fourth in the league in rushing.
But Ismail, the $18.2 million import from Notre Dame, continued to have a disturbing second season as a pro. Rocket's performance on Sunday was typical: two catches for 18 yards, one carry for minus five, three punt returns for 38 yards and five kickoff returns for 111. Early in the fourth quarter, after players from both teams got into a brawl along the Toronto sideline, Ismail was thrown out of the game for repeatedly trying to kick Calgary fullback Andy McVey.
In seven games this season Ismail, who missed three other games with a hyper-extended knee, has only 410 yards from scrimmage (98 on 20 rushes, 312 on 19 receptions), though he's still among the league leaders in punt returns (9.6 yards per return) and kickoff returns (26.3). He fumbled five times in a loss at Hamilton two weeks ago. The 3-7 Argos aren't getting much bang for their buck.
"We haven't gotten him the ball nearly enough," Toronto general manager Mike McCarthy said Monday. McCarthy confirmed a report in Sunday's Toronto Sun that he has fined Ismail this season for being late to team meetings and missing treatments for his knee, but he said the part of the story that said the Argos couldn't handle Ismail's $3.4 million salary and were looking to dump Rocket is false. "We've never talked about getting rid of him. The kid's been great. We still have 10,000 more fans in the seats than we did before he came. Plus, why would he leave? He's doing three national commercials in Canada. He's probably making $5 million combined this year."
Ismail, whose NFL rights belong to the Raiders, says he intends to fulfill his four-year agreement with Toronto, but he issued this typically (for Rocket) cryptic quote about his future: "It ain't over till the extremely fat person sings, or until the extremely fat person cuts you."